Back in November 2020 as COVID-19 cases soared in Manitoba, I shared about churches flouting pandemic restrictions. I aired some of my own experience of navigating theological and philosophical differences with my own local churches during the first six to eight months of the pandemic, using it and other sources to encourage critical thinking and send a message to Christian evangelicals in my area.
One of the types of responses I got from a few Christians was an ask to not be held in the same category as the churches I was addressing. The sentiment from those people seemed to be, “Whoa. The ‘Western Church’ is too broad a subject for your critique. Don’t lump me in with them. Yes, there are Christians who are anti-mask, anti-science, conservative, right-wing selfish uneducated conspiracy-theorists. But don’t lump me in with them. Not all churches are like that.”
I know notallchurches. That’s not even the discussion. But the notallchurches position is harmful and here’s why.
When someone critiques the behaviour of a social group to which you belong or subscribe, especially when the critique involves an element of trauma, wrongdoing or hurt, denial or deflection is inappropriate. We all know what denial is, and to deflect something is to cause that thing to change direction; in psychology, during an argument this is done to protect yourself or to control someone else.
Saying notallchurches is not quite denial, but it’s definitely deflection. It immediately attempts to claw back ground the subject of the critique feels has been lost or tarnished, even by the mere supposition of being associated with the argument.
When you see the deflection that comes with a pretty obvious #notall_____ tag, it’s a way to know you’re entering into a “bad-faith argument”. The deflector believes the critic is presenting an argument in bad faith; the deflector’s position, values or identity must be defended. “Oh, she’s [radicalized against me, angry, stupid]. I must correct this.” Without weighing its merits, the argument must be immediately disregarded and the one bringing up the critique is positioned as someone bringing forth an argument with a maligned agenda, out an inappropriate place of emotion, or not being fully informed.
#notallmen falls into this category, as do #notallpriests, #notallwhitepeople, #notallgunowners, #notallcops, and more.
I’m not immune. As a journalist, I’d love to use a good #notallmedia.
In almost every case where a critical discussion is taking place and a #notall____ argument comes up, it’s not going to move the discussion forward anymore. This is usually fine with the deflector as it serves their purpose (unintentional or not) which is usually to avoid confronting a bid for change, answering an ask for help, or validating an expression of pain, etc.
Validating an expression of pain or acknowledging an error does not mean accepting personal responsibility for all perpetrators of said pain or said errors. From a public relations perspective, refusing to validate or acknowledge a crisis comes off as more culpable, not less.
So, churches, deflection is not OK.
Hello, evangelical leaders, keeping your congregations safe by opening slowly and intelligently. I see you. And I wasn’t talking to you in my original post. If you are doing good, continue to do good, for the “good that is done in secret will be rewarded.” See? Thou doth protest too much.
When evangelical Christians speak out about how other evangelical Christians are messing up, it’s actually less about you than it is about them, especially if you are genuinely not part of the problem.
Now, some will argue that religion in general IS the problem, patriarchy is the problem, racism is the problem and I would be one of them. These are all blinky red lights pointing toward the fact that people are dying to talk about how systemic oppression IS the problem. Divesting yourself of participating in that discussion because you aren’t part of the problem IS the problem, and feeds into a false presentation of competition of needs.
Acknowledging the valid argument of someone naming oppression creates the safe space to finally have a progressive discussion on real and damaging issues. Allowing someone safe space does not mean less safe space for you. This creates a competition for safety that simply does not exist and speaks directly to privilege if you find yourself defending a position that is already powerful, safe, and upheld by multiple societal systems.
I’m afraid I may be getting too far away from my point. Yes, the church is big and diverse. I have seen churches handle pandemic restrictions with integrity and react with actions of love, messages of hope or the legitimization of situations that others are enduring. The messages preached and work done in love stand up on their own merit, when measured against the lives of those directly receiving good and seeing good done by the church, and by God/dess who is pleased by faith and acts of service, and love. Keep going.
There is also work to be done, as evidenced by the handling of the pandemic among faith communities. There is much work to be done, and if a man-made religious or societal structure can be shaken by hardship and conflict, it deserves a good shake. Let’s investigate why it’s shaking. Let’s listen and walk more humbly.
I started with a reference to my November 2020 post and I’ll close with an encouragement from my November 2020 post.
“My message today is not fear mongering, and certainly not an admonition to not enjoy and love your beautiful life and family. It’s a call to walk in someone else’s shoes. Unless you have undergone social, economic, or physical or mental health struggle without a system of support you find acceptance in without question and readily available to you without great cost, you do not get to speak now.”
Maybe don’t speak. But keep going. Keep going.
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