Many of the websites and conversations I interact with frequently decry the incivility of the political Right and particularly the rhetoric of the Tea Party movement, including people like Glen "run from social justice churches" Beck and Sarah Palin. I'm not unsympathetic to their annoyance. I find it very hard to give sustained attention to these voices. It is just to irritating.
But what astounds me is that so many of these people talk about the reasonable and civil dialog that people like Brian "Western economics is a suicide machine" McLaren and Jim Wallis promote. Craig Carter, professor at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto (describes himself as catholic Evangelical influenced by Barth and Yoder), recently dissected a piece Jim Wallis posted at his God's Politics blog. He begins:
Jim Wallis thinks Left-wing socialism is Christian but Tea Party libertarianism is not. He wants a debate. Fine, let's have it. I'm ready to debate Jim Wallis anytime. In what follows, I respond to his article. My emphases in bold and my comments are in [square brackets and red.] ...
I'm not necessarily agreeing with every position Carter articulates, nor am I defending libertarianism. He gets a bit snarky as well. But I think what Carter shows is that Wallis' post is filled with hyperbolic caricature all in the name of the civil aspiration of "beginning the dialog." His means for "beginning a dialog" goes something like this, "Okay, you selfish, anti-government, bigots, how do you justify being such reprobates?" Then he closes with:
"So that should get us started. Let’s have the dialogue about how Christian the Tea Party Movement and its Libertarian philosophy really are. Jump in!"
What is particularly Orwellian is the Sojourners' "comment code of conduct" at the end of the post (particularly note #3 in light of his post):
- I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree—even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)
- I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)
- I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)
- I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)
- I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)
What is the surest sign you have encountered someone living in an echo chamber? When they say, "My side is so reasonable and civil, but see how mean and hateful the other side is."
The fact is that hyperbolic rhetoric is part and parcel of American politics. It ebbs and flows in intensity but there never was some golden age of nonpartisan government from which we have fallen. So I expect hyperbolic rhetoric from all sides. What I do take exception to is people engaging in hyperbolic partisan rhetoric while purporting to speak with a moral Christian authority. I don't care if you name is Jim Dobson or Jim Wallis.