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Stop engaging swarms.

May 5th, 2023 | 3 min read

By Jake Meador

There is a simple reason that many neo-fundamentalists and progressive evangelicals keep swarming, harassing, and slandering people on social media: It keeps working.

If it works, why would they stop? If you want them to stop, you need to ignore them.

As long as institutional leaders lack the courage to do this, the mobs aren’t going to go away.

To take just one example, this pressure worked on The Gospel Coalition in the case of Joshua Butler’s book. (And no, I didn’t like the excerpt I read. I fully agree with Matt’s critique of it and also think Dani Treweek’s piece on it was good. But Matt and Dani also took the time to write out something lengthy and careful and didn’t participate in the Twitter pile-on. I’m also reserving some space to change my mind about all this after I read the book.)

Within a day or so of the excerpt publishing on TGC, mobs on Twitter were exerting pressure on book endorsers to retract their endorsement. To their shame, two of them did—while also admitting that they hadn’t even read the book before endorsing it. Jen Pollock Michel, on the other hand, showed how to handle these things. Also credit to JPM for, you know, actually reading the book she endorsed. The most farcical part of the whole affair, an affair which involved “people endorsing a book they hadn’t actually read”, somehow came later when Barna decided to extend an invitation to one of the retractors to co-host a podcast on, I kid you not, resilience.

Additionally, TGC president Julius Kim published a public apology for the excerpt which basically amounted to a public grovel.

Bullies are not stupid. When this is how institutional leaders respond to being bullied it tells them “we’re winning.” I don’t think we should tell bullies that bullying works.

Besides, capitulating to them isn’t going to help you. The move will then simply become “I’m gonna bully people until they cave and then I’ll bully them over how they caved.” You can’t win, no matter what you do. So don’t try.

There is a broader issue here as well: Online networks tend to rally around common hatreds. The easiest way to create a platform for yourself is to be really pissed off about something and spend hours every day whinging about it and getting people to react—positively or negatively—to your whinging. (And since the Twitter algorithm was open sourced we can now say definitively that this is how Twitter works.)

Because it is easier to build coalitions around common concerns or criticisms rather than common loves, we have lots of mainstream evangelicals working with the neo-fundamentalists and lots of neo-evangelicals working with progressive evangelicals. All of that needs to stop on the institutional level.

In reality, the mainstream evangelicals and neo-evangelicals have far more in common with each other than they do the people on either of their flanks. But because we meme ourselves into letting common hatreds create our coalitions, that fact often ends up being fairly irrelevant since mainstream evangelicals and neo-evangelicals tend become most animated by different things.

What needs to happen: Institutional leaders that are more mainstream evangelical types need to stop building with or listening to neo-fundamentalists. Sometimes they need to fight them publicly.

Likewise, neo-evangelicals need to do the same with progressive evangelicals. We should not be platforming in our institutions people who have capitulated to the sexual revolution. We should not communicate in any way that moral orthodoxy is a matter on which Christians can disagree without a breaking of ecclesial fellowship.

Certainly, we can and should be friends with people outside our blocs within the Protestant world. What I have in view here is narrower: I’m focused specifically on the way that institutional leaders as leaders handle these issues within their institutions.

It’s also important to remember that Twitter is not the real world. Twitter is used by a relatively small number of people and the overwhelming majority of activity on Twitter comes from an extremely small share of Twitter users.

Ultimately, we have to remember that shame is a primary tactic used by both the right and left wings of the evangelical movement in America. Until we learn to stop listening, they will continue to use it to bully people and pressure them into affirming the stated orthodoxy of the right or left wings of the movement.

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Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).