[Published] How Christianity Today’s anti-Trump piece sparked a battle over social identity

For those questioning whether the church is guilty of worshiping a political idol, consider how defenders of Christian morality and witness must approach Christians as a skeptical, if not hostile, audience.

I’ve been writing about the evangelical dilemma over Donald Trump since the 2016 election (“Donald Trump is dividing the church”). Back then, it wasn’t rare to find church leaders as outspoken critics of the Republican nominee. But those voices have quieted, some even reversing course, through President Trump’s first term.

So it was interesting to see the reaction from the politically religious (or is it religiously political?) Evangelical church when Christianity Today published an editorial calling for Trump to be removed from office.

Touching on findings from my dissertation about dual religious-political identities and research into Christian nationalism by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, I take a look at the bigger picture for the church:

It’s at the fusion of this religious and political social identity that Trump finds his most loyal supporters, and why anyone trying to untie that thread is a threat. The messaging by Christianity Today and by Trump and his allies exhibit the state of the church under the gospel of Trump, and a battle over who belongs.

Read the full story in RELEVANT Magazine.

See more of my media appearances here.

Dangerous and disturbed: Media misportrayals of mental illness

How is mental illness depicted in entertainment? In news? What about the healthcare professionals who treat mental illness? And most importantly, do those media depictions influence public perceptions and behaviors?

I synthesized decades of research on the topic from diverse academic disciplines for a chapter in the book, Communicating Mental Health: History, Contexts, and Perspectives (Lexington Books). The findings were troubling: Continue reading “Dangerous and disturbed: Media misportrayals of mental illness”

Donald Trump is dividing the church

As women of faith find their voice and Millennial Christians question the Religious Right, what does making Donald Trump the candidate of the faithful mean for the church?

I was traveling through the Mississippi Delta when I heard the tape of Donald Trump’s “locker room talk.”

“How can he recover from this,” I initially reacted, before reminding myself how many times we’ve wondered that before.

But as the weekend progressed, the backlash was stronger than any Trump controversy to date, as more establishment Republicans disavowed their own candidate.

Trump couldn’t have been luckier from a news cycle perspective. The tape leaked on Friday afternoon and the exodus followed while most of us were watching football. By the time we started paying attention again, the second debate had fragmented political media attention in a million different directions. And while Trump may have not won over many undecideds with his performance, he delivered enough red meat to his base to give fleeing Republicans pause.

Leaks targeted both candidates that Friday. Before the Trump tape, Wikileaks released emails containing text excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street executives. Both leaks were revelations only insomuch as they confirmed things we already knew about each person’s character.

But the Trump audio was the far bigger story. For one thing, it was more visceral. We could hear the crude words from Trump’s own lips, as opposed to reading the pandering words attributed to Clinton.

More importantly, while the Clinton excerpts outraged people who were never going to vote for her, the Trump tape caused division among his supporters… a division that’s more significant than one election.

It was the countless churches lining that Mississippi highway, and highways like it all across securely red states. Trump divided Evangelicals.

Continue reading “Donald Trump is dividing the church”

Self-censorship, speaking up and showing empathy: Reflections on a tragic week

Why is it sometimes difficult to speak, and harder still to listen? An introspective look at Black Lives Matter after Sterling, Castile and Dallas.

 

People are being killed more quickly than we can react. Tugged from one tragedy to the next, it’s difficult to contextualize and reflect.

But we’re trying, even if it reads like whiplash. My friends have been vocal on social media. Politics and prayer. Anger and anguish. Hopelessness and hope.

It’s not just the news junkies, the political commentators, or the trolls. People who use Facebook primarily for relationships, photo albums, and cat videos are entering the fray. Speaking out is stretching out.

I respect the heck out of them.

I love to teach about the First Amendment, but we self-censor way more than the government ever will. We worry what others will think. Speaking out is stretching out our neck to get guillotined by our friends, family, faith body, coworkers, or prospective employers. Maybe by people we don’t even know. And so we stay silent.

[Related: Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas]

We carefully curate our digital presence. For many of us, stepping into controversy isn’t part of the life we want to portray. That message we want to get off our chests is held down by social pressures, both external and of our own creation.

I’m talking about this today in the context of one perspective on one issue, but the principle is transferable. Continue reading “Self-censorship, speaking up and showing empathy: Reflections on a tragic week”

Is there an (((echo))) in here? Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas

Hate and harassment on social media is driving users away. The difficulty of exposing hate, protecting victims, and limiting censorship.

Any corner of the Internet that facilitates anonymity is going to attract trolls. Twitter is no different. Recently, you might have noticed users placing their names in multiple (((parentheses))). It all traces back to anti-Semitic groups. Members place this parenthetical “echo” around Jewish people or businesses when attacking them on social media, giving compatriots an easy way to search for the target and join in on the harassment. There was even a now-removed Google Chrome plugin that made echoing easy, by cross-referencing text against a database of Jews. Here’s what it looked like in action:

echo_sample
Tomorrow Comes Today // Tumblr

Vox has an explainer if you want to read more about how the echo was used, as well as how it and the Chrome plugin were discovered by the rest of us.

Point is, once the echo was exposed, Twitter users, Jewish or not, began putting the echo around their names and other content. Not only a symbolic stand, it also undermined the beacon system being used by the hate groups.

The echo was defeated by the rest of the social media community. But that also involved Google taking down the plugin, which violated its terms forbidding “promotions of hate.” And it involved Twitter banning a number of users who “promote violence against or directly attack or threaten” other users.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the like all have different policies on dealing with harassment and hate speech, as well as the ways in which they curate content. They range from Google’s broad ban on hate code to Twitter’s fairly specific ban on direct, violent threats. A few weeks ago, all three agreed to adhere to the European Union’s “code of conduct on illegal online hate speech,” which requires resolution of hate speech reports within 24 hours, be it by removing or restricting the content or the user responsible.

However, speech laws are more restrictive in the E.U. than in the U.S., and vary by country. It’s the service provider’s job to figure out if a particular post fails to meet legal standards in those various jurisdictions. Much like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which YouTube already lets rightsholders wildly abuse, companies face penalties for failing to suppress content, but suffer no consequence for blocking everything in sight just to catch a small number of actual offenders.

It’s easy to see how the social media platforms could lean on the side of heavy censorship.

Continue reading “Is there an (((echo))) in here? Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas”