Beth Moore Deserves Better
Yesterday Aimee brought my attention to a recent post by Beth Moore. In it, Moore complains about the scurvy treatment she has received online. As I read the article, I could not help but think that Beth Moore deserves better, much better.
That feeling surprised me. I generally do not have a lot of sympathy with those who complain about being rubbished online. Yes, people can be vile and it always hurts a little when someone takes an unfair or jaundiced swipe at you. But I still have the naive belief that most people see vileness for what it is. Plus, the fact they are being vile in a public forum is a reminder of something really rather delightful: you do not live in North Korea.
Public figures are fair game for public criticism, even bad and unfair public criticism. It is part of holding them accountable, and it can also help prevent laziness and complacency of thought. No public figure should have a free pass simply by virtue of the fact that lots of people think they are good or find them helpful. And if you perform a public action – preach a sermon, write a blog – you are a public figure and are going to receive criticism, some or much of it being nasty. To quote from the legendary Master Po of the 70s series, Kung Fu: Grasshopper, when faced with the inevitable one must simply prepare for the inevitable.
Yet I do think Moore makes a good point when she highlights the hashtag that has been coined to discredit her. It is one thing to engage with somebody’s view in a measured way and in detail with a view to critiquing it; it is quite another thing to throw out a bilious hashtag or a defamatory tweet. That is just malicious internet thuggery and one of the many reasons I despise twitter as a medium for anything other than linking to longer articles.
Of course, it also undoes the very thing it is supposed to achieve: the exposure of Moore's teaching to necessary scrutiny. Instead, it hands the moral high ground to Moore, along with a perfect diversionary tactic: she is able to elide the difference between those who engage in appropriately argued polemic with her and those who are simply trying to stir up a pitch-fork wielding mob.
Beth Moore should not be too distressed, however. She clearly enjoys considerable immunity from those who might actually do her real damage: women who know their Bible and their theology and have the public platform to speak out about her. Indeed, it would appear that she is a great example of the way in which a system of patronage shapes evangelicalism in America. Those who should criticize her will not do so because it might harm their platform and their prospects. The great patrons of the American evangelical world have long memories, sensitive public relations antennae, and a deep dislike of those who cause them problems. The silence of the competent and the howling of the hashtaggers: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
In short, Beth Moore deserves better, much, much better. Yes, indeed: she deserves a more thoughtful, more measured, and thereby more effective and pungent critique, than either Team Hashtag or Team Theological Woman look likely to provide.