Yesterday, the internet exploded.
In case you somehow missed the insanity, A&E suspended Phil Robertson from its popular Duck Dynasty show following comments he made about gay people and African Americans. After A&E’s announcement, the internet went nuts as angry fans expressed their outrage, while others were outraged about the outrage.
It was not a great day to be on social media.
Now, I have my own opinions about this whole thing, but I’m not going to share them here. Instead, I want to tell you what I learned yesterday after I watched the debate go down. It is this:
Most Christian bloggers are not interested in teaching.
By “teaching”, I am here referring to the important work of shaping minds, the art of participating in a learner’s transformation. Teaching, in that sense, is a very different activity than merely spouting off. It is also different than simply standing in front of a classroom and reciting information. Teaching, in a classical sense, is not ranting and raving, and it is not information transmission. Instead, teaching has the growth of the learner as its end.
And I’m not sure many Christians today are very interested in that.
I say this because most Christians I know, and most bloggers I know, said exactly what you would expect them to say yesterday. The conservative bloggers argued for Robertson’s First Amendment rights, and more progressive bloggers condemned Robertson and his remarks. On both sides, there was dogmatism without much complexity.
Aside from the fact that this is not at all surprising, it reveals an underlying misunderstanding and/or indifference to the art of teaching. When your audience agrees with you, you aren’t teaching them. It might feel good to vent and take a stand, but all you’re really doing is tickling your readers’ ears, fortifying their already held beliefs.
Among learning theorists there is an idea that, for real learning to take place, a learner must experience a thing called “disequilibration.” This term refers to the disorientation of the learner. When a learner hears something that challenges pre-existing knowledge or beliefs, she experiences “disequilibration”. This is the kind of thing that happens when young Christians go to college and take their first class in Religion. It is what happens any time an experience does not fit into your pre-existing categories. It disorients you, and it can be scary, but it is in that moment that you learn and grow.
Good teachers seek to disequilibrate their students from time to time. You see this whenever a blogger or teacher capitalizes on the trust they have built with their audience to say something hard or challenging to them. But more importantly, you see this a lot in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus loved to disequilibrate his listeners. Depending on the audience, he over-turned traditional notions about the law, about holiness, and about the Messiah. Jesus was constantly disequilibrating people.
But yesterday, I didn’t see much of that. Most bloggers weren’t interested in disequilibrating their readers. To be sure, most wrote passionately and sincerely, but they wrote nothing that their typical reader would not disagree with. They were, to borrow the saying, preaching to the choir.
There were a few great exceptions to this trend. At The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter called out Robertson’s troubling comments about race, and Jared Wilson challenged the notion that Robertson’s rights had been violated. Then on Time‘s website, Brandon Ambrosino, an openly gay man, made the important distinction between homophobia and sincere disagreement or unwitting ignorance. In each of these three instances, these men capitalized on their clout, speaking into their sphere of influence to disequilibrate their readers. They received push-back, of course. Jared Wilson, I believe, was called a Nazi sympathizer. But for those who had ears to hear, for those who trusted these men, even when what they had to say was hard, real learning transpired.
I’m not sure many people are genuinely interested in the hard work of helping someone learn. It involves restraint, and winsomeness, and the ability to listen. Learning usually occurs one baby step at a time, and most people don’t have the patience for that. They want total agreement, right away.
But for those of us called to teach, this is something we need to take seriously. It’s important to consider your audience–who is actually reading your blog or listening to your podcast–and teach them. Not the people out there, not the people you disagree with and who probably don’t read your blog anyway, but the people within your sphere of influence. How can you help your actual readers to grow in the Lord? How can you help them to live out the gospel in an exceedingly complex world?
You will not accomplish this if you are not disorienting the people who like you and read you. Sometimes you have to say hard things to the people in your camp. Many of them won’t like it, and many of them will call you names, but some of them will learn something, and some of them will actually grow. As teachers following the way of Jesus, that’s what we are called to do.