In his book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, Pete Scazzero shares a story from Ed Friedman about a stranger who approaches a man and hands him the end of a rope. The man, who is tied to the other end of the rope, proceeds to jump off the bridge. Now the man is stuck here having to abandon his own dreams to keep this other fella from dying. He pleaded with the dangling man to take measures to climb up the rope and end this ridiculous situation, but the man had no interest in such an idea. So the man will hold the rope — until he has an idea . . .
New Situation, Same Story
A local church pastor labors to plant a biblical faithful church in his community. His community context within an urban-Metro area, as you would expect, looks much different than a rural church in Big Sky country. His strategy will be different, he will use different words in different ways, his application points, his concerns, his emphasis from the biblical text, and much more will be different than the other pastor in the upper Midwest.
Our urban pastor has some measure of success and his church is featured in a national newspaper for their work feeding the homeless and providing education assistance to impoverished teens. It’s not all they do, of course, but this is what the media picks up on and it’s the focus of their piece. When he shares his story the words and phrases he uses and the way in which he is doing ministry brings about a check in the Spirit of our other pastor. It just “doesn’t seem right”.
The Big Sky pastor, who has a relatively wide-reaching internet presence, decides to use his influence to call out this urban pastor. He’s bothered by his use of phrases, the way he seems to be influenced by secular theories, and a host of other things. He doesn’t believe this brother is faithful in his ministry and he feels it to be his responsibility to let others know.
Here, urban pastor, hold the rope for me . . .
Hold the Rope? Well, Maybe Not
Back to our bridge. Eventually the man told to hold the rope took his stand:
“I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; I hereby give back the position of choice for your own life to you.” (Scazzero, 134)
The other man would have none of it. He accused the rope-holder of being selfish and uncaring. And he blamed him for all his troubles. If he was a good man he’d keep holding the rope. But eventually the rope-holder accepted the choice of the dangling man—who gave zero effort—and let him plummet over the bridge. (You can read the whole story here)
I thought of that story\ when I read an exchange on Twitter by John Onwucheckwa. John used a phrase (“white gaze”) that drew the ire of some in the anti-CRT crowd. “White gaze” doesn’t mean what you probably think it means, and John was being misrepresented. Here is the crux of his argument:
Black & brown communities need the freedom to plant churches responsive to their own contexts & needs, free from the white gaze…Black Christian history teaches us it’s possible to work on separate fronts while supporting one another in the same war.”
My point here isn’t about whether or not you agree with John or Thabiti in the article, but it’s about how John responded to this. I found this to be particularly compelling:
John’s response is that of the man who refused to hold the rope for someone who doesn’t actually want rescued. And I think this is a path forward for us with many of our social media arguments. If people are not interested in good faith arguments we do not have to continue holding the rope. Furthermore, it’s doubly foolish for us to give a platform to the one with the bad faith arguments. Doing this is comparable to asking every passerby to hold the rope.
You don’t have to spend time arguing and conversing bad faith takes when you have work right in front of you.
This brings me to my final observation—and it’s a tad prickly. I believe part of the reason why continue to hold the rope—why we keep conversing with “bad faith takes”—is because we don’t actually like the work that is set before us. This is also the reason why people are handing ropes to others and then leaping off bridges. We don’t like the world in front of us so we attempt to shape a new identity online.
In his work, Breaking the Social Media Prism, Chris Bail notes that most “extremists on social media…often lack status in their off-line lives” (Bail, 56). Is it possible, for instance, that some of the vitriol directed towards someone like Beth Moore has less to do with her authority and reach and more to do with the lack of actual authority pastors are experiencing in their local churches?
The answer to some of this social media craziness is for us to be honest with ourselves and our neglect of cultivating the things which are right in front of our faces. And we likely need to deal with some of our own hurts and disappointments in our local contexts. If we don’t, then we’ll attempt to provide healing by putting on a false online self.
It’s possible that some of our ministry is to an online field. There is value in this. I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t believe that. But our online ministries will always be tainted if they’re not an overflow of our local and right in front of your face ministries. This goes for discernment ministries as well as advocating for the vulnerable. If I’m not doing it locally it’s probably a projection of a false self online.
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.