Yesterday, I wrote a silly, fun post, and we had a good chuckle about dumb signs.
Today, though, as Mrs. Potato Head might say, I’m putting on my angry eyes.
I just finished reading blogger Jared Wilson’s response to a controversy that an earlier blog post of his sparked in the Christian blogosphere. I’ll leave it to Rachel Held Evans to explain the details, but the short version is this: While writing about his views on male/female complementarity, Jared quoted some text that many others, including Rachel, found extremely offensive.
Now there are lots of things about this controversy that we could discuss. We could debate about the idea of “complementarianism” versus “egalitarianism.” We could dissect the passage itself and discuss why it is offending so many people. We could also have a conversation about why it’s so problematic for men especially to use rape in jokes, metaphors, and illustrations. All of these are important topics, and many of them are already being discussed on Rachel’s site and the others addressing the controversy.
What hit me like a punch to the gut, though, was Rachel’s strong and insightful quote, which I already posted separately a few minutes ago:
When your sister in Christ tells you that your words trigger upsetting images of rape and sexual violence, you should listen to her, not dismiss her.
Comedian Daniel Tosh got into trouble earlier this week when a blogger wrote about a bad experience at one of his standup performances. There are, I gather, different versions of what happened, but according to her, he made a joke about “rape jokes,” and when she objected, she says he brutally poked fun at her for the objection using even more rape imagery. To his credit, Tosh did later apologize, though the woman in question says that he wasn’t very apologetic at the time.
Jared Wilson, for his part, has responded to his controversy with a post essentially saying (as I read it) that he doesn’t get what all the fuss is about, and that people either just didn’t understand what he meant or else are simply looking for something to criticize.
But here’s the thing.
I believe that Jared didn’t intend to hurt or offend anyone with his post. I think he was genuinely surprised at the uproar. And I get that Daniel Tosh is a comedian whose shtick is pushing the envelope past the line of taste.
But as Rachel’s quote points out, when you hurt somebody, it doesn’t matter if you meant it or not. If you care at all about the person you hurt, your first response needs to be seeking to understand them, not going on defense. And that is especially true when you wound someone as deeply as these two men did.
All of us have sometimes hurt someone without meaning to. You say something that you mean as a joke, and they take it to heart. Or you innocently do (or forget to do) something that ends up causing someone you love a lot of pain. Or you write a blog post meaning to address one issue and find that you’ve offended someone with your words in an unexpected way.
It happens. And when it does, and the offended party confronts you about the hurt, it’s natural to try to defend yourself. “That’s not what I meant!” “You misunderstood!” “You should have thicker skin!” “Other people weren’t offended; why were you?”
It’s human nature to respond that way. But Christianity has always been about rising above our human nature. As Christians, we should love people the way God loves them, treating them the way we would want to be treated. And that means that our first response in these situations must be to put our own wounded pride aside, find out why the other person is hurt, and seek to make it right. Starting with a sincere apology.
Look, I’ve been there. Earlier this year, at a conference of the Gay Christian Network, I made the decision to have a public conversation with a notable ex-gay leader. My intentions were very good; I wanted to be gracious to someone I disagreed with and also publicly address our points of disagreement. But some of the people who were there (and others who weren’t but who care about our organization) were hurt by my decision. Some had endured traumatic experiences with this individual’s organization, and they felt betrayed by my failure to warn them in advance of the day of the conversation. Just hearing about the event triggered emotions for some people that I hadn’t meant to trigger.
I thought I had handled things well. I thought I had provided enough notice. My intentions were good. None of that mattered to someone who was hurting as a result of my decision. I had to publicly apologize, and I’m still working to repair the relationships I damaged.
Everyone makes mistakes. Some of them are bigger than others. And apologizing for a mistake doesn’t make it go away. But it’s an important start, and defending yourself instead of trying to understand the person you hurt only makes things worse.
This is true when you outrage women across the internet, and it’s true when you accidentally hurt a family member’s feelings.
And one final thing. When you apologize for your mistake, make it genuine. It ticks me off when I hear (usually male) comedians trivialize this process by saying things like, “Guys, you’ve got to learn that your wife is always right,” accompanied by an exaggerated eye roll and a patronizing chuckle.
No. No one is “always right.” But everyone’s feelings are real, even if you don’t understand them. So when your sister—or your brother—tells you that you’ve wounded them, then if you love them, you must take that seriously.
Don’t do it to keep the peace. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.