Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comments to this Blog

I welcome and encourage readers of this blog to comment on posts. The purpose of a public blog is to try to stimulate reflection and dialogue on different issues. It is interesting to hear the diverse reactions that various people have to the issues addressed in individual posts. If I were not interested in the dissemination and exchange of ideas, then this blog would be private with a password shared only with friends and family.

Moreover, I do not only welcome and encourage views that echo my own or those of my guest bloggers. Contrasting views are certainly welcome and encouraged as well. We learn from one another when we hear what our neighbors believe and what their motivations are for embracing particular positions.

Though I welcome and encourage reader comments, the comments on this blog are moderated. In other words, as the editor of this blog, I must approve reader comments before they are visible publicly. However, I take a permissive approach in what I approve to be published. I have no desire to be the thought police or cherry pick the comments that I find most compelling from a substantive perspective.

There have only been a few comments that I did not publish. Until recently, they were all spam for commercial pornography sites. Indeed, I take such a permissive approach in publishing comments that I inadvertently published one of those X-rated comments a while back. Fortunately, my husband soon flagged for me that a seemingly innocent reader comment had an imbedded link to a pornographic website. I deleted the comment immediately after he flagged the issue for me. (I apologize profusely to any readers who may have been inadvertently transported to a porn site because of that oversight!)

Because my moderation of reader comments is aimed primarily at screening out offensive spam, I have permitted reader comments to be published even when the words were rather repulsive to me and were ugly in tone. A difference of opinion is not threatening to me. I’m a lawyer by training. It comes with the job that others are going to disagree with positions I embrace. That is the reality of the adversary system. I’m used to it. Not a problem.

Indeed, I have expressed before my own belief that truth will eventually make itself known. As a Christian, I try to have a sense of humility and recognize that I do not have a monopoly on understanding the truth. I’m a mere mortal, and am grateful that God is tolerant when I just don’t get it. I’m sure that happens more often that is should. Heck, when you read the New Testament, there are numerous examples of not even the disciples understanding the truth initially. If those folks who spent so much time with our Lord when he was on this Earth didn’t always understand, it is comforting to those of us who are trying to discern truth two thousand years later.

I also understand that God often uses our brothers and sisters to help guide us to the truth. In that vein, I try to keep an open mind when others express a difference of opinion on this blog (or in other venues). Even if I typically disagree with the perspective a particular reader is expressing, I do try to discern if his or her comment might contain some truth that could be enlightening to me.

I find it interesting, however, that most of the reader comments left on this blog that have an ugly tone to them are left anonymously. In my opinion, anonymity is the hallmark of cowards. If one does not have the courage to take a stand publicly and to include one’s name, to me, that suggests a lack of conviction. At least in my eyes, that also diminishes the value and amount of respect owed to a particular (anonymous) individual’s position.

That having been said, I will admit that Blogspot’s format makes posting comments a little confusing. But it is easy to submit comments on a non-anonymous basis when a reader selects the “Name/URL” profile option, then specifies just his/her name. A reader does not have to specify a URL (whatever that is!). Indeed, a reader can submit a comment that way by providing only one name, e.g., his/her first name or his/her last name. To submit a non-anonymous comment in this fashion, it is not even necessary to leave one’s e-mail address or any other contact information.

Recently, a reader left a rather long comment anonymously on this blog that I opted to not publish. It was the first non-spam comment I have not published, and I did not reach that decision quickly or lightly. I shared the comment with my husband and a number of colleagues to seek their interpretation of the reader’s words.

The gist of the comment was that there are “wolves” in the modern Christian church and President Obama is not a Christian. Interestingly, the reader was not commenting on the prior blog post about the topic of Mr. Obama’s professed Christian faith; instead the reader was commenting on other readers’ comments from the January 12, 2010 post about “Janet Parshall’s America.”

The unpublished comment also expressed the (unsubstantiated) belief that Mr. Obama was not “born here,” and the anonymous reader referred to our president by including his middle name. It is interesting how those who argue he is Muslim often feel the need to include Mr. Obama’s middle name “Hussein.” The insinuation seems to be that Mr. Obama’s religious beliefs are dictated by his middle name. It had frankly never occurred to me that everyone bearing the name “Hussein” is an adherent of Islam. Interesting. I have known several gentlemen with the name “Jesús,” but I’m not sure they were necessarily all Christians. I have also known several women with the name “Gay,” but I’m pretty sure they have all been heterosexual. Indeed, each of their husbands would have been pretty surprised to hear otherwise.

If this particular anonymous reader had only included in his/her comment the points about wolves in the church, President Barack Hussein Obama not being a Christian and the allegation that our president was not “born here,” I would have published the comment though I would have disagreed with some of those views. (The anonymous reader may have had a point about wolves in the church.) However, this particular reader’s comment also included several additional statements that were open to different interpretations, but could be fairly read as veiled encouragements to violently overthrow our government.

I carefully reviewed the reader’s words with several learned individuals, whom I respect. We puzzled over the ambiguity of the statements. Several colleagues thought the comment was innocuous and could be published in good conscience. But others thought the reader’s words were veiled references encouraging violence. The reader’s statements were very ambiguous, but ultimately I opted to not publish them because I do not want this blog to potentially be a forum for the encouragement of violence, even if the encouragement is veiled. There are plenty of other sites on the web that will provide such a venue.

To be transparent, I want to try to be clear about my own guidelines for publishing reader comments. I will continue to publish comments with which I disagree (even vehemently) because I think there is value in an exchange of ideas. However, I will not publish what appears to be spam, particularly if it is sexually explicit. And I will not publish comments that can be fairly understood to encourage violence. So, I am pretty tolerant with respect to reader comments, but I don’t want to promulgate commercials for the sex trade or veiled encouragements of violence.

Even though I did not publish this particular reader’s comment, I thought it important to mention its existence to readers. In my mind, this unpublished anonymous comment demonstrates that there is sometimes a fine line between the anti-government rhetoric we are often hearing in public discourse these days and a call to embrace violence to achieve political change. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, I think it is important to avoid crossing that line.

Indeed, even in the recent past, at times of bitter division in this country, we have avoided crossing that line. For example, in January 2001, some earnestly believed that the presidential election had been “stolen” and George W. Bush was illegally installed as president. Those individuals protested at President Bush’s inauguration parade, but I’m not aware that there was a left wing call to install Al Gore in the White House by means of violence. As I recall, the rule of law was respected by those on the left though they were bitterly disappointed by the outcome, and though some even believed the law had been abused to achieve that outcome. That hesitancy to embrace violence as a means to achieve political ends is not always present in other countries. In some nations, if the military or other powerful elites do not like the outcome of an election, they seize control of the government through violence. I am grateful we do not live in that type of political climate and I pray we never do.

Nonetheless, in the current political climate, some have openly begun to call for “Second Amendment remedies” as a sort of Plan B in the event they are not successful in the political arena. In a country that is supposed to be a model to the world that the rule of law works and should be respected, such calls are horrifying, deeply repulsive and frankly unpatriotic.

Moreover, in a country that some have asserted is founded on Christian values, such calls are particularly incomprehensible. Jesus lived at a time and place where there was truly brutal political repression and rampant corruption. Yet Jesus did not opt to lead a violent campaign to overthrow those in power. That was not his way. It would have been fundamentally at odds with his teachings. That is apparent from even a cursory reading of the New Testament.

The links below provide some background on this recent unfortunate suggestion of “Second Amendment remedies.”

Exodus 23:1

"Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.”

Matthew 26:49-54

Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

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