It’s been a few weeks now since That Interview was published in South African newspapers and online. To some degree the storm has abated a little and I thought it might be a good opportunity to throw my hat in the ring, for what it’s worth.
Where to begin? The article itself? The article’s unfortunate title? The variety of comments the article inspired? What about the level of hatred and condemnation thrown at me by incensed Christians? The smell of burning Tree63 CD’s wafting across the hills and valleys of Christendom?
The response the article generated showed me a few things: firstly, that people are starved for intellectual debate. Human beings long for a reason to rip out the drip feed of modern media and lunge with their brains at each other. Secondly, there are many, many more disenfranchised, disappointed ‘Christians’ out there than the modern church would like to acknowledge. George Barna was right, after all. Thirdly, judgemental, self-righteous hatred knows no bounds in the modern church. I’d momentarily forgotten how ugly Jesus’ ‘followers’ can be, and boy was I reminded. Fourth, the general populace is less and less able to read critically as the years go by. Status updates will be the death of the human race. Oh, and lastly, it seems that the most vitriolic amongst us always sign our names ‘Anonymous’.
I laughed a lot at some of the comments the article received online. The guy who said, “Christian singers are traditionally poor spokespersons for Christianity because they are biblically illiterate and theologically naive… Ellis proves that point. Ellis' BA thru UNISA won't help him a bit as UNISA is so far left of the truth that they couldn't find their way back to the truth if they had a GPS lead them out of the morass of philosophy”. (That was a BTh pal, from one of the most highly-regarded theology programmes on the planet). Or the person who decided that the article was some kind of ‘publicity stunt’ to sell more records.
I cringed with embarrassment too. The average response from Christian readers was a condescending “I’ll pray for you”, as though I’d fallen off some great height and was lying in traction somewhere. I was accused of being “asinine… pathetic… deceived… Bono”. Bono?! One ex-CCM American person even decided to remind me how unsuccessful Tree63 really had been in the U.S., just in case I actually did think I was ‘the poster child of Christian rock’. Non-Christians wading through this morass of invective were noticeably puzzled by it all. “Aren’t you guys all Christians?” someone asked, as though that would somehow automatically curb infighting.
There was good news though, as there always is. Firstly, the positive, affirming, supportive responses, from Christians as well as non-, far outweighed the negativity. I had not set out to hurt anybody, and most seemed to have been able to take it for what it was: a shock-journo improving newspaper circulation. Sure, I was a little stung by some of the comments, but overall I ended up feeling supported, encouraged and more than a little strengthened by the majority of responses. That’s a gratifying feeling when the flames are licking at your feet. Secondly, the article inspired people to think, weigh in, contribute, and talk. That is what I’m most excited about: stirring up debate that requires people to at least think about these important issues and be prepared to discuss where they stand on them. We don’t need mindless vitriol and knee-jerk ugliness, we just need to be prepared to think as individuals and toss ideas back and forth as we all walk that dusty road to or from God.
So, to those encouraged: thank you, it’s going to be an exciting journey. To those who were hurt: cut off the headline (it’s hilariously outrageous!), re-read the article, and read it carefully this time. You might find some surprises there.
Right, now for round two: