Recently, Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson was ousted from his post at Southwestern Seminary.[i] The firing began not with a dramatic revelation, but with a public statement Patterson made some 18 years ago. In that statement he said that he had never counseled couples to separate or divorce.[ii] The trickle turned into a stream and then a torrent as other statements and counsel surfaced (including discouraging a female student from reporting a sexual assault on his campus). The external pressure from the mounting claims made Patterson’s firing all but inevitable.
I believe the outcome was just. But ten years ago Paige Patterson would have never lost his post. It is only in a day and age where every statement is public and permanent that these moments could be brought to the forefront in such a short time period. And it is only in today’s world that the voices of those injured by Patterson or upset with the trustees at Southwestern Seminary would have been heard so quickly and had such an impact.[iii]
Every word is public.
Every word is permanent.
I grew up in a mega-church. From time to time our pastor would reflect on the difficulty of his family living “in a fishbowl” where everything they did was monitored. In 2018 we all live in that fishbowl.
There are obvious dangers of this reality in the world we live. But there are also wonderful opportunities.
Who could disagree with James’s admonition about the tongue? “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.”[iv]
I still remember the first time that someone stated their concern over a status I “liked” on Facebook. In 2018, even our social media “likes” shape our reputation.
Every conversation we have should be held as though the “other” were standing right next to us. How many sermons have you heard that assume the unbeliever isn’t present? Or that a particular sin was not wrestled with by the congregation? How many small group conversations have you listened to that assumed everyone voted for the same party?
We set ourselves up for failure in proclaiming the good news of Jesus when we thoughtlessly offend and create unnecessary obstacles.
The good news about living in a world where every word is public and permanent is that we have the opportunity to have conversations with those whom we would never be able to have otherwise. And there is the ability to live out the authenticity of our faith to a watching world.
I’ve been shocked by who reads my blog. There are posts that get responses from people I would have never guessed would have given me a solitary second of their attention. What an opportunity! What a shame if I waste it with thoughtless inflaming words.
Here is some advice for all of us in living in a fishbowl world:
1) Always speak as though the outsider were present.
2) Transparency is powerful. Wield it carefully. Be willing to thoughtfully share the good, the bad, and the ugly. When you show yourself, surprising people will watch and listen.
3) Be careful with explosive topics. Ask yourself what the cost of posting on that political issue will be and why you are compelled to do so. We should speak to political issues, but we ought to be thoughtful and careful when we do so. There are those who will tune us out once they determine we’re not on their “side”. Don’t live a clickbait life.
4) Depth sustains. Don’t get sucked into trying to generate an audience or a platform. That’s a fool’s errand. People might be drawn in by transparency, but there are times and places to try to maintain privacy in your life. I’ve seen many who have drawn an audience because they are “raw” exhaust and push away people because they have slid from transparent to inappropriate one time too many. Lead transparently, but lead with a depth of thought.
5) Cultivate a strong inner life. What habits do you practice that are cultivating true and lasting character? Lead transparently, but lead with a depth of character.
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[iv] James 3:5a-6