(CNN)Ed Stetzer has been blocked by his own Twitter account.
It’s one of several fake social media accounts run in Stetzer’s name, but without his permission. (Note to Twitter readers: this is Stetzer’s real account.)
Stetzer would like to shut down the fake accounts, of course, but the author and expert in evangelism has bigger issues with the internet.
In addition to his columns at Christianity Today, Stetzer is dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College and executive director of the Billy Graham Center. A big man with a big personality, Stetzer looks a bit like a Metallica roadie who found Jesus. He sees himself as a bridge between secular America and its evangelical subculture. In his latest book, “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” Stetzer finds plenty to criticize on both sides.
The cover image shows a sheep with a wolf’s fangs, a clear reference, Stetzer says, to Christians who act like sheep offline but turn into wolves when sitting at a keyboard. It’s also a nod to the fact that our online identities — like Stetzer’s fake Twitter accounts — aren’t always what they seem.
So how can Christians, or anyone for that matter, learn to respond to the outrages, faux and otherwise, that seem to ooze from our screens every day?
Stetzer said he started thinking about that question a year ago, when it seemed like our online lives couldn’t get any more confusing and caustic. And then, of course, they have.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Q: I was going to start by comparing tweets attacking you to the smite-y, imprecatory psalms in the Bible. The point being that people have always been terrible. What makes now worse, in your mind?
A: (Laughs) I may be able to find some tweets that are as bad as the imprecatory psalms.
(Editor’s note: He did. They were.)
But seriously, part of the problem we see now is in growing polarization. Democrats are more liberal and Republicans are more conservative than they have been, according to surveys.
The vitriol coming from both sides empowers the extremes, and we’ve seen how dangerous that can be, for example, with the “Pizzagate” conspiracy. Christians need to see that spreading conspiracy theories and “fake news” is a sin, and that sin can have a deadly impact.
Q: Your book is on some of the same bestseller lists with “The Trump Prophecies.” What does that say about American evangelicalism, that such different books could find such a wide audience?
A: It says this is a very strange time we are living in, and it shows how much evangelicals need some theological and missiological clarity.
The fact that the “Trump Prophecies” is even a thing is a mystery to me and most other evangelical leaders. To see President Trump, or any president for that matter, as some sort of prophetic figure is bizarre at best. It runs counter to the gospel and 2,000 years of Christian tradition.
Jesus is not coming back on Air Force One, and he is not coming back riding a donkey or an elephant. For Christians to be “all in” on any politician or candidate is literally dangerous to their faith.
Q: Evangelicals are more likely than other Americans (49% to 38%) to connect with people like themselves on social media, according to your book. How concerned are you about echo chambers?
A: It’s a twofold problem. The echo chamber first affirms your ideas, then it amplifies them, and you can start to believe the worst things about people you don’t agree with.
If I am a conservative evangelical Christian and I perceive that the Left is out to destroy me, and my only solution is to kick back, then we are all going to wind up with a bunch of broken shins.
Q: Ouch. What do we do about that?
A: It starts with the house of God. I think we need to get our house in order because it’s not. We’ve seen the media reports about how Russian trolls targeted my people (conservative Christians) and that is deeply problematic. Christians have to be far more discerning. Who wants to bepart of a group that is always angry and easily fooled? I don’t think that’s a winsome way to approach the culture today.
Q: What about the political battles waged by evangelicals? A lot of non-evangelicals say they are outraged by prominent evangelicals’ support for Trump, and I’ve even heard some evangelicals grumble privately about it. But in public, many pull their punches.
A: There’s a sense that we don’t do a lot of internal self-criticism. One of Billy Graham’s rules was not to criticize other ministers, and so I don’t do it often, but I have done it on occasion.
It’s a question of, do I want to turn into a “watchblogger,” using my platform to call out other people. And the answer is no. I would rather call people to a better way. It’s easy to be a person who constantly critiques other religious leaders.
Q: Sure, but a lot of the outrage on the Left seems to be coming from a perception that many white evangelicals embraced the “values voters” label and yet voted in large numbers for a President who seems to defy core Christian values.
A: It’s a misreading to say that top evangelicals have not said things to one another about that. I have said things to people. It is often done privately. You may not hear about it in the media, but those conversations are happening.
The other thing I would say is that, when I show up at church on Sunday, I have to preach to and teach people who see Trump as a choice they had to make, not one they wanted to make. And I get why people begrudgingly voted for him. For me to start tweeting about that misses the responsibility I have to pastor a whole congregation of people. There has be a greater sense of caution in how we engage. Overly partisan engagement turns you into a partisan hack.
Q: How much of evangelicals’ concern is driven by the sense that America is becoming less of a white, Christian nation?
A: That’s a huge part of it. But when I hear people say, “I want to take my country back,” I wonder, back to what? Because the height of religiosity was in the 1950s, and I don’t know many people of color or women who want to go back to the ’50s.
The other thing is that God doesn’t have a country. We have to stop thinking like we are the “new Israel.” Christian leaders have to disciple people away from that belief.
Q: I sometimes feel tempted to turn it all off and go meditate. Do you ever feel that way?
A: Yes, but at the end of the day, I can’t retreat.
The founder of my faith told me to “go and make disciples of all nations.” If that’s the case, I have to listen to Jesus, not my own frustrations or desires to leave it behind. We didn’t get to choose this mess of a time to live in, but it is our time and the key question is: How do we live faithfully in it?
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