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Recommended Reading: KKDM on critiquing (& platforming?) harmful ideas, Diana Butler Bass on evangelical wreckage
Kristin Kobes Du Mez has a great piece on her Substack about trying to strike a balance between publicly critiquing ideas we consider harmful, and whether by doing so, we amplify the very ideas we hope to discourage.
The entire piece can be found here:
Du Mez is, of course, the author of the widely read book Jesus & John Wayne, which has been met with considerable pushback in conservative evangelical circles ever since its publication. She writes a bit about her experiences where both her and her work became “lightning rods” for evangelical takes and reviews:
Truth be told, when Jesus and John Wayne first released, I was hoping for a little pushback, especially from people with platforms. I was relatively unknown outside of academic history circles and I had a very small platform of my own. I knew that I’d benefit from outrage reviews as much as from positive ones, if not more. And so I waited. Whether by instinct or agreed upon strategy, the “theobros” said almost nothing for the first several months. With the exception of an odd and not exactly glowing review published at Christianity Today, which provided an undeniable sales boost, there was relatively little negative chatter about the book. A few months after publication, things changed. The negative reviews started coming fast and furious, sometimes several a day, most on blogs and Twitter threads and very, very few of them containing any sort of substantive critique. This was what I’d been waiting for. And it worked. It kept my book in the spotlight, outrage sparked backlash outrage, and all of this led to more sales and several additional printings.
This is the potential life of any writer or creative now—especially those that engage with and critique conservative spaces and traditions. (While conservative/liberal nomenclatures are necessarily reductive, they are useful when describing social media and especially Twitter, which by its nature is reductive.)
In an earlier phase of my public work, I was much more involved on Twitter. In the past year, my use of the platform has decreased, and my engagement has dipped considerably. That being said, I recognize its value in the media ecosystem, even as it continues to lose its luster and market value amidst Elon’s buyout shenanigans.
I wrote at length about the role Twitter has played in allowing for “counterpublics” to flourish here:
My own hopes about Twitter in particular being a place for counterpublics to flourish has continued to diminish since I published that essay in April. My experience of Twitter is increasingly that of hot takes and viral tweets and a place for billionaires to air grievances to fawning publics. It also remains a bastion of conservatism, despite conservative complaints to the contrary, and many people continue to engage this conservatism through quote tweet dunks or via sincere engagement, with unclear results.
This is where Du Mez’s experiences shed further light, as she highlights the value of taking this approach. She emphasizes the value of making public critiques, because of who responds:
Surfacing issues on social media also helps to reveal alliances. Seeing SBC-connected figures like William Wolfe (no relation) champion the work of the other Wolfe makes visible affinities and points to the importance of tracking networks. The current Christian nationalist discourse reveals a web of connections and potential connections between people like the Wolfes (plural), Al Mohler, Doug Wilson, Michael O’Fallon, outlets like the Daily Wire, World, and Sovereign Nations, sites like Gab, organizations like the Heritage Foundation and Claremont Institute, and funding networks like CPI/the Clubhouse. Expanded out, the networks are extensive. Understanding the rise of Christian nationalism and connections to a rising extremism requires understanding these shifting networks and alliances. Surfacing conversations on social media often helps to enhance the visibility of these networks.
I recommend the whole piece, which you can find here.
Listen to my 2020 interview with Kristin Kobes Du Mez here:
And read my review of Jesus & John Wayne here:
Over at The Cottage, Diana Butler Bass reflects on an experience at Theology Beer Camp, the recent-event-I-totally-don’t-have-FOMO-about-missing (this is a lie):
In this piece, she shares a great bit about the preponderance of ex-evangelicals at the event, and the say-something-good-about-evangelicalism loaded prompt she got at a church immediately afterward:
I wish you’d been there to see the persistent courage of those who sensed that the God of the Cosmos was not the God of evangelicalism — and they chased down that pearl of great price no matter what it cost and what they lost in the process.
Had you been there, you never could have asked me a question about what’s good in evangelicalism — because the testimonies and witness of all those ex-evangelicals is the living answer to what is, in this room, only a theoretical question. Ask THEM the question — the people, the human beings who were treated as litter by evangelical leaders and institutions on a crusade for religious, social, and political power, a quest that wrecked their souls and their sanity.
Regardless if someone uses a term like exvangelical, ex-evangelical, etc - the consequences of what Bass calls “evangelical wreckage” are real and widespread. Inasmuch as I wished folks still within evangelicalism would listen, the actions of evangelical institutions and their leaders indicate they will not—a choice that is to everyone’s detriment, but most especially those who remain under the care of evangelicalism. I wrote as much last year for RNS.
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