Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Motives, Mom-Blogs, and Over-Generalizations

Adam4d.com is a pretty great Christian webcomic. He has a gift for capturing foibles and errors--either of the world or the church--in just a few frames of comic. But sometimes, he goes too far--and because of his popularity and his proven track record, people go right along with it. And that's problematic.

In this comic, titled "The Rise of the Special Christian Mom-Blogs," Adam takes on the rise of "Christian Mom-Blogs," blogs that discuss certain aspects of life, from cooking recipes to Christian theology, from the perspective of a mom. And some of them--the "special" ones--have, according to Adam, abandoned orthodoxy and begun the descent into subjectivity. As the comic puts it:

"'Is there really a hell?' they asked. 'Is sin really sinful? What about sins that our contemporary society has decided to accept? Are they really sins anymore? Is the Bible really trustworthy?'"

I hated this comic. I hated it. I originally began this post with a discussion of the parts that I agreed with, but this is too important. 

This comic crossed the line

Because he did not confine himself to describing actions. He did not say "This is what they are doing, and this is why it is harmful." No. That was the first quarter of the comic. And then, without so much as a pause, he went straight into "They're doing it because they want the money/book deals/celebrity-status that comes with being heterodox in an age that prizes heterodoxy and heresy."

And that's not alright. That's so far from alright that at first I couldn't believe he'd done it. But he did, and we--we being orthodox Christians--should call him out on it. 

Because in assigning a single (very uncharitable) overarching motive to such a class of people, Adam engages in the same sort of hate-mongering and ridicule that we accuse them of when they paint orthodox Christians as hateful inquisitors.

I disagree strongly with certain aspects of "mom-bloggery". But to accuse them--all of them--of greed is not only counter-productive, but hateful; and not righteous hatred, but the childish, petty hatred that resorts to name-calling instead of argument. Because the truth is, the vast majority of these mom-blogs are likely people who have put thought into this, and who sincerely believe that what they are writing is true.

And that's important. Because if we want to engage with people, if we want to talk with them and not at them, if we want to fulfill our calling to charity and love, then we need to treat people charitably and lovingly--which means not assuming the worst of their motives without evidence. 

I feel like I'm just repeating myself now, because this issue is so mindbogglingly obvious. But if you disagree, I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Now: here's the bit that originally came first, before I realized that I really needed to call out the bad parts of the comic before-hand. It still holds, but I wanted to make it clear that his comic was not ok, and that it's something we should come down hard on. 

I share Adam's disdain for such an approach to Scripture, and I especially despise how such blogs are often done under the apparently unassailable mantle of "vulnerability." The particular approach of the "mom-blogs," combining disarming charm and rhetoric with a noticeable disdain for "theology" (the domain "where ideas are put above people") and orthodoxy, is often quite appealing to a (growing) segment of evangelical Christians, and that troubles me as well.

I can only imagine that he's targeting blogs such as Beth Woolsey's "5 Kids is a Lot of Kids", who has a lot of good things to say, combined with a few that I believe are ultimately harmful (though they go down sweet). And of course, Rachel Held Evans misses being included merely by the fact of not being a mom (at least, I think so). Both of these bloggers pit "love" against "theology", and, as another celebrity Christian-turned-heterodox said a few years back, "Love wins."

The fact remains, though: They hold to this position because they have thought it through, and not because they are greedy/doing it for the book sales. We owe them that assumption, until it is proven otherwise. And to do away with that assumption is to fail at the charity that we are called to. 


  1. Great post. It really does make me happy when people engage with others complexly instead of just hiding behind "party" lines and defending them practically to the death. I appreciate you defending the motives of bloggers you disagree with. I am obviously and unashamedly more liberal than you. I'm not sure if you would call me a heretic or just heterodox, and you'd probably call me progressive, but thank you for believing that people like me would have reasons for our views beyond financial gain.

    To continue the conversation: I don't see it as "love" vs. "theology", but as "love" vs. "tradition". "Theology" to me is the study of and writings about God. It is reason and logic and Biblical interpretation. Study and reason have brought me to my current views; there is not a conflict between love and theology. I do however, see a conflict between love and tradition, or at least traditional interpretations of Scripture. I agree that there is a common thread of unified Christian thought, but I also think that focusing on what is dominant now masks the pluralism and progress that has also existed for millennia. And I'm not just talking gnostic gospels, heresies, and the like, but stuff like Paul vs. circumcision (Gal 2), Jerome vs. Augustine on Bible translation, the entire split between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions... and more "recently", abolition of slavery and dealing with racism.

    I see progress in allowing Gentile Christians and freeing slaves. I see pluralism in having Presbyterians and Baptists in the same town. I also see progress in women preachers and contraception. We can talk about gay marriage another day. I value love, people, and Jesus over any one traditional view on an issue. If people did not ever challenge tradition, we would still be living in a world with slavery, racism, and treating women as property. Many people still live in that world. Kidnapped Nigerian students and honor killings in Afghanistan come to mind. Valuing love over tradition (and applying Scripture/theology) has allowed Christians to better the world. That is the core of why I consider myself "progressive": I want to continue the progress towards loving, valuing, and protecting humans as God has always done.

    1. Jessica, great to hear from you again!

      I deliberately avoided the "heretic" label in describing them, because that's a term that should apply to issues affecting salvation, and I don't think these issues (by themselves) cross that line. Of course, in certain cases they may be linked to issues that affect salvation (Jesus being merely human, Jesus being divine merely in the "all humans are divine" sense, Christianity no more or less true than any other belief system), but in an of themselves I don't think they are.

      Of course, as you noted, you and I are substantially separated in terms of theology and tradition. I would merely push back that many of your examples of progress are merely a reversion to how those issues were originally taught and practiced (ie. orthodoxy).

      Just as one example, the whole European/Western "systematic, life-long slavery of people who aren't really people" thing (and the twisted biblical warrants for it) didn't come about until, what, the 1500's? That was a deviation from what had come before, an instance of innovation and "progress", not tradition or orthodoxy. (Augustine himself was African!). Of course, it eventually *became* a sort of "tradition" which had to be challenged, but it was a relatively recent deviation, as opposed to an unbroken streak of orthodoxy or tradition. It was "progress" that allowed that form of slavery in the first place (see "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"): It was a reversion to the truth of Christian orthodoxy that reversed that "progress".

      You might argue that the same process is taking place for homosexuality. But in the case of slavery, you had a "tradition" of 2-3 hundred years, embraced by a portion of the visible Church (to my knowledge, Eastern Orthodoxy did not participate in the life-long, race-based, subhuman slavery that we generally speak of today). And in the case of homosexuality, you have the united voice of the entire Church for the last nigh-on-2000 years (ever since Paul, in fact).

      That's a big difference.

      However, I affirm your emphasis on "love, people, and Jesus", and it's an emphasis we ought to have. And, admittedly, the first two are areas where the mainstream church in the US has fallen woefully short in dealing with homosexuality. However, at the end of the day, we disagree on what that looks like, because our theology differs.