Words without Nuance: Three Challenges to Public Theology




Sometimes I want to stop writing for the Huffington Post or on my blog. I have felt that way a lot this week. Next Sunday I will be a guest on Ancient Faith Today, where I will discuss gay marriage and Orthodox politics. I was offered this opportunity because of what I have written about gay marriage for the Huffington Post. (My articles can be found here.)

I have been trying to find time to prepare for this interview. I am grateful for friends who have alerted me to online criticism. It is a call-in show, and I want to be ready. I will post links, but not yet. I am working on a formal response to some criticism first.

But this has given me the opportunity to think a bit more about the nature of public theology and part of what makes it so difficult.

  1. Clarity and brevity often come at the expense of precision. – I do not have the luxury of footnotes when I write online, and I cannot use technical terms because I am writing to a diverse audience. So I sometimes have to hope that people use the context of my articles to interpret the meaning of individual statements. That does not always happen.
  2. Imprecision lends itself to misinterpretation. – A lot of criticism traffics in straw man fallacies. Apparently some readers think a 1200 word article is attempting to be a comprehensive politics, ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), or biblical hermeneutic (how we read and interpret the Bible). Nobody likes to be misrepresented in public.
  3. Criticisms get personal. – We all know that comments on blogs can sometimes get nasty. This gets especially difficult when lots of different blogs are all talking about you. It is very tempting to want to jump into the fracas. Imagine if someone called you ugly or stupid. Rationally, you might know there is no truth to it, but you would probably still feel upset about it at some level. I can handle criticism in small doses, but these week I have had to work through heaps of it. It has been a bit of an ego-bruiser.

I will continue to do public theology because I am encouraged by people who have gotten in touch with me, thanking me for saying out loud what they were unable to say (because they could not find the words) or unwilling to say (because they feared reprisal).

But it gets hard sometimes. (When it does, I try to remember this.) I am very happy to participate in what I was promised would be a respectful discussion, but right now, I can’t wait till this is all over.

2 thoughts on “Words without Nuance: Three Challenges to Public Theology”

  1. David! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the second time in recent weeks ( at least that I’m aware of) that the concept of “Hawg Wrasslin” has emerged. #whentheuniversewhispers


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