In Defense of Leadership Journal

Earlier this week I returned home from a family camping trip to find an eruption of social media outrage directed at my friends and colleagues on the Leadership Journal editorial team. Once I got over my sense of confusion and shock at a few attempts (via Twitter) to pull me into the mess while I had been sitting by a campfire in the woods (my senior editor role with Leadership Journal is a very big-picture role and involves more writing than anything else; I’m not a member of the Leadership Journal editorial staff, and I don’t have any involvement in editorial decisions or read articles before publication), I spent the next few days watching in shock as fellow Christians, some of them my friends, absolutely skewered a few of my beloved brothers in Christ.

Eventually I spoke with some of these Leadership editors, and I got to hear about some of the specific personal attacks they have faced for the last several days. My heart is still heavy as I grieve over what this incident has revealed (again) about the ugliness of the human heart and the power of social media to magnify angry words spoken in the name of righteousness.

Now, I’m setting aside the content of the specific article which garnered so much outrage. Plenty has been written about that, and there is no shortage of forums available for that conversation. My concern is over the way the response to that article was delivered. Every writer and blogger knows the Internet can be a dark and abusive place, and anyone who throws her words out there for public scrutiny is exposing herself to the worst of what humans can do with words. We’ve all been bruised and lacerated by anonymous (and sometimes open) attacks. In fact, I regularly read complaints from other writers, detailing some of the horrific personal attacks that are hurled at them in response to a few words penned and posted with the best of intentions and productive purpose.

That’s one reason I was so disheartened (and I’ll admit it, angry) to see some of these same writers lash out at Leadership Journal’s editors in response to an article that appeared on their website, repeatedly inflaming the passions of people who were eager to step in and deliver written attacks that I would be willing to bet are worse than any those writers have ever faced. Even after Leadership Journal and Christianity Today as an organization apologized unreservedly for the article, those attacks have continued. And some of my friends are subject to what amounts to the digital form of a constant public flogging. Fellow Christians are throwing them under the bus, capitalizing on the shameful incident to gain attention for themselves, and stumbling over themselves in their effort to distance themselves from a publication that has served the church with excellence and dedication for almost 35 years. To what end? What good and godly purpose does it now serve to kick a man who has apologized and spent several days being bloodied by blows from every direction?

My friends at Leadership don’t need my defense; they’re professional journalists, and they all know this territory. And their apology acknowledges that their editorial decision required correction. But I need to say something for my own sake. The correction is not my issue–it’s the gleeful disregard for behavioral standards befitting a follower of Christ. I’m not stupid enough to be surprised at what people can do to each other, especially when digital space allows people the false impression that they are addressing their abusive words at a nameless, faceless, heartless glowing screen. But on the other end of those words is an actual human being, as vulnerable to wounds as anyone else. And in this case, those people are our brothers in Christ.

Does Matthew 18:15-17 mean nothing in digital space? What about Matthew 7:12? Believe me, no one would want others to say to them what is being said to these brothers. I’ll be honest, I have not seen much of the fruit of the Spirit on display in this frenzy. Where is the gentleness of Galatians 6:1, the goal of restoration, the humility that comes from the realization that you might make the exact same mistake (or a more horrific one) tomorrow? The maturity that comes from practicing James 1:19-20, knowing that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires”? What of the warnings in James 3? “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness…My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

Sisters and brothers, we are the church. We are people who profess to be equally sinful before God, equally unworthy of his grace, and equal in our status as redeemed people bought with the blood of Christ. We do not belong to ourselves; we belong to the one who loves us at our very worst–and who is the only one who can legitimately claim to be more righteous than anyone else. If these words do not apply to us in the social media world, to all of us in all spheres, to whom do they apply?

“Dear friends, let us love one another” (1 John 4:7).

  1. Connie says:

    Amen! Words hurt, even written words!

  2. Adam Shields says:

    Honestly, no I don’t think Matt 18 has anything to do with this case or most cases of journalism. Something is written publicly, people respond publicly. There are better ways to respond and worse ways to respond. But we can’t invoke Matt 18 everytime we wish people would come to us privately when the whole point of journalism is to write publicly.

    Matt 7:12 has some relevance here. But the vast majority of the responses I heard were all about Matt 7:12, just about focusing on those that were victims of sexual abuse, not those who perpetrate sexual abuse.

    There are alway people that say mean and inappropriate things. And yes as Christians we should remind one another that doing so is inappropriate. And maybe I am just on the wrong side of the internet. But I haven’t seen much that I think really was inappropriate. Overwhelmingly I saw people applaud CT for backing down and offering a complete apology.

    I think there are things that we can learn from this, but I don’t think what should be learned is that social media is bad.

    • Travis says:

      I don’t believe Ms. Simpson was saying social media is bad or that public criticism is wrong and evil. I get the sense that she and other writers get personally attacked and lambasted by good people that are emotionally invested in a topic and somewhat ignorant about context and/or intent of an article or post. Sure, part of that is the writers responsibility to articulate well, but this post is about the personal attacks and completely Un-Christlike responses her Christ-loving friends have endured.

  3. Thank you Amy for this necessary course correction. May we all heed your words. And I’m sorry for you and all of your friends/co-workers (even though I did not participate in the skewering).

  4. Vicki says:

    Thank you, Amy, for being concerned that “grace” as well as “truth” is being practiced. We Evangelicals can be brutal at times. I read the article as a church planter in Latin America, and as a mother of three young adults. I actually think the writer gave us church leaders some very good insights into prevention. Too bad some readers didn’t see it that way.

    I was able to read the entire article here without a subscription to CT:

© 2014 Amy Simpson.