We Are In Trouble

The rise of abuse in social discourse concerns me.

The confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee for the US Supreme Court, have added to my sense of dis-ease.

I don’t claim to know what happened to Christine Blasey Ford. Her trauma and pain were evident. I do not doubt that something dreadful occurred but precisely what took place is unclear.

Nonetheless, the lack of respect shown to her is cause enough for worry.

Many comments have been shrill, and the mocking antics of the US President at a recent rally, which were met with glee by the crowd, were clearly meant to demean her.

Here, we witness a discourse aimed at humiliation.

There are issues of gender here, as well as a demonstrable lack of civil discourse.

Several commentators have noted the contrast between the measured testimony of Blasey Ford and the jarring response of Kavanaugh.

If Blasey Ford had spoken in the same way as Kavanaugh, her testimony would have been ridiculed.

This is odd because, in my estimation, she had a better claim to outrage. Potentially, Kavanaugh’s reputation has been sullied, but her body and person were violated.

Society continues to hold women to a different standard than men.

Moreover, when victims come forward, they are often disbelieved, rendering themselves vulnerable to being re-traumatised.

The advent of the internet had the potential to promote a world in which more people could hear different points of view. However, the opposite has occurred.

We are more shrill, more prone to verbal abuse, and increasingly we inhabit silos of the like-minded. I suspect that the response to Blasey Ford had little to do with her, and more to do with which silos the respondents occupied.

We rely less and less on reasoned argument, and more and more on outrage accompanied by increasing levels of shouting. Ratings climb when the shouting escalates.

Understandably, many retreat from this toxic space.

One of the challenges facing the church is equipping its members with a new agenda as to how different views can be respected. Then, we can return to the public space.

As I reflect on a gospel response to this issue, I become aware of Jesus as a pioneer; he left behind the silos of his day to meet those who struggled in life.

Moreover, he counselled his followers to go further – to look at the world through the eyes of the pained. What does the world look like from their perspective?

Such an empathic stance does not require that we agree with what they say, nor assent to their perspective. It does require that we first engage the issue through their eyes.

If such counsel had been enacted today, Christine Blasey Ford would have been treated with respect.

If such counsel had been enacted, one more safe public space (where shouting was not on the agenda) would have been created.