So about a month ago there was this piece in Christianity Today about the question of who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere. You may have read it.
For reasons that are only partly clear to me this fomented some controversy on the net. It's not that controversy on the net is really anything new or surprising. It inspired me to write a haiku a while back that goes like this--
the web glistens with
gnomic condescension and
So anger on the internet is only the usual. What may have made this dust up relatively unique seems to have something to do with what's called the Christian blogosphere, i.e. Christians with blogs and specifically women Christians with blogs. Why, precisely, this has been an issue has something to do with someone named Hatmaker. I am not entirely convinced that that concerns me. I'm no stranger to people having questions about what bloggers do and to whom bloggers are accountable or what their respective agendas might be.
Now the blog post on women and blogging that stood out (but not in a good way) at first, was from an unexpected place. Usually I expect better from Alastair Roberts. But ...
the stuff about modes of authority and how these relate to a heuristic taxonomy of modes of authority and the extent to which these modes are imaged by whom or whomever, and more specifically how the second mode is overwhelmingly though not exclusively male, seemed like a waste of time. Roberts seems more apt to think things out for the public record at his blog than Wenatchee The Hatchet. At this blog things may incubate for months before something finally goes up in the for mof a post.
The other thing is that whatever Roberts' formal training, WtH has an educational background (undergraduate though it is) in journalism. So theories of the press, concepts of the public and the media, legal concepts pertaining to what is and isn't considered responsible and legally defensible or prosecutable mass media use, these are things Wenatchee The Hatchet has thought about a little over ten years.
But, more specifically, this blog has for better or worse gotten a reputation as a watchdog blog. I could write thousands more words about sonata forms in early 19th century guitar literature, or maybe write a few thousand more words about the genius of Stevie Wonder, or I could finally write about why Hollywood so utterly failed to adapt Ghost in the Shell. It wouldn't matter. The reputation of the blog got cemented through its role as a document of the life and times of what was once Mars Hill. That probably stereotyped view of the blog won't be shaken. That's just how people on the internet work.
I don't think that theories about males and females is really all that important compared to a more basic question of who even has access to mass media, of whcih social media is a part, and who is given a platform. If Jen Hatmaker had not been given a platform and then promoted by the mainstream Christian publishing industry could there even have been any controversy about her changing views on things LGBT? No, not really. Nor would it have mattered. Lay people change their minds about things all the time with no consequence to the publishing and media industries. If you didn't like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (haven't seen it yet) does Hollywood care if you don't like it? No. As the song in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie put it, if you don't like it, we still have your money.
That bloggers can publish whatever they want and have no accountability but to anyone they choose to be accountable to was the simple theme over at Phoenix Preacher a little while ago.
Wendy Alsup touched on the matter that as she blogged over the years she was under the authority of church leaders. Of course, as we know here and there, those elders ten years ago were guys at Mars Hill.
And eventually Wendy Alsup's blogging for the record about Mark Driscoll's character and conduct and writing would be a catalyst for other people choosing to go public. Wenatchee The Hatchet had been writing about Mars Hill for a year or so, off and on, prior to Wendy Alsup writing directly about things Driscoll. The thing was Wendy Alsup ran the women's ministry at Mars Hill. Driscoll said great stuff about her. This was not someone who could be dismissed by Driscoll or his fans as some uppity power-hungry devil woman or a prestige-seeking guy who got kicked off the bus or thrown under the bus. So Alsup's criticism was impossible to dismiss and also impossible to ignore.
This kind of gets to something the blogger Rachel Miller pointed out, the problem with asking who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere is how easy it is for those people who seem to be rhetorically asking this question to forget that many times these bloggers are already submitting formally to churches that are very happy to endorse their views.
The matter is particularly dicey for Anglicans since, for instance, Bishop John Shelby Spong managed to collected a paycheck from Episcopalian church, was it? Granting that Warren and Roberts et al are not necessarily the same kinds of Anglican/Episcopal sort as Bishop Spong it does seem tough to see how merely being submitted to a formal church ensures anything by way of accountability for doctrinal purity.
If a blogger that frustrates you is a member of a church that says whatever he or she is writing is okay then aren't we just back at the same old thing? Someone is wrong on the internet and you can't sleep until it's confronted?
But in the case of women bloggers and the Christian blogosphere I wonder if the people who have concerns are really soft pedaling the nature and scope of the concern. Janet Mefferd confronted Mark Driscoll on air back in 2013 about what she regarded as evidence that he had plagiarized the work of others in his book. She didn't stop there, of course. She had a blog post in which she presented what she regarded as evidence that plagiarism had occurred. She wasn't even the only blogger who fielded the issue of the integrity of Mark Driscoll's intellectual property. But her being a woman in the rough and tumble new Calvinist scene may have added a special flavor to the awkward.
A few years down the road Rachel Miller would blog about problems in a book by Douglas Wilson and Randy Booth called A Justice Primer. That book would get rescinded on account of evidence of plagiarism. Lest this seem to be a matter merely of popular level (rather than scholarly) books published for Christian studies, Jim West has noted a couple of more academic cases.
So while some would like to make the topic of women blogging about things on the Christian blogosphere into a question about the doctrinal purity of what these women publish it seems that if we look back at the last few years of controversy we need to remember that bloggers don't end up having book deals out of thin air. If bloggers end up writing traditional books some company has to decide to throw time, money and effort into promoting that author. A Rachel Held Evans or a Jen Hatmaker can't become a sensation without that corporate investment. The gatekeepers of the media industry have to either invite you to the party or you have to be enough a member of the gatekeeper set in mass media yourself to host your own party.
It's not that bloggers don't publish things I've found exasperating. It happens often enough, though much of the time I opt to simply not read those bloggers. If I regard Rachel Held Evans as a spotlight seeking hack comparable to Mark Driscoll that's something people can agree with or dissent from. My larger point is that these sorts of hacks get promoted by the publishing industry before they can upset people like, say, Frank Turk when he debated the merits and demerits of Mark Driscoll back in 2009 at Internet Monk.
Funny thing was that iMonk pointed out that Mark Driscoll was not and could not be held accountable by anyone he didn't want to be held accountable to. No bloggers, no matter how vociferous or prolix, were going to change anything about Mark Driscoll's role as a pastor in Mars Hill. Now if there have since been those who might say that bloggers somehow "did" change things at Mars Hill there might be a useful point to make about this proposal, those bloggers or that blogger were pretty certainly not Frank Turk nor anyone in any way associated with Team Pyro. Maybe those guys wanted to imagine their blogging spoke truth to power about the character issues of Mark Driscoll but ...
say ... wait a minute.
Why would guys feel like they should be able to do this but have issues with women doing it? Did Deborah not serve as a prophet and judge in Israel? Well, sure, it might be said by some guys that her being a prophet and judge was an implicity judgment on the men of Israel for failing to be godly leaders and ...
okay, so if women blog about men who have forsaken gentleness in church leadership by what alchemy have things changed to the point that women don't get to blog? Not quite seeing the connection there.
How about Huldah confirming the veracity and content of the book of the Law for the court of Josiah? It seems that if men want to say that women having such potent roles of influence and/or authority are exceptional cases in light of system corruption and spiritual incompetence in leadership so disastrous God has to shame them through women it's not clear to me why we aren't at that point now. This is just a matter of simply taking the axiomatic observation of some Christian guys about how if women are prominent leaders the men have failed and granting them that point to suggest this tells us more about their failure to lead properly than of the women whose influence the men are concerned about.
It does not seem to be for nothing at all that women bloggers have played roles in highlighting plagiarism egregious enough to bring down the books and at times the careers of men who have styled themselves as tough non-nonsense guys. Driscoll talked like he was doing Mefferd a favor back in 2013 when she confronted him on air. Now he's all about father wounds and the father heart of God as if he completely transformed into what he would have called "a pansy-ass therapist" back in 1998 when he was being interviewed for an article in Mother Jones. He's even sharing tales about how while it may be his name on the title President or CEO of the new church it was really his kids' idea to just start a church. Is there anything more manly than hiding behind stories of your children as the explanation for why you started a church of which you're president and CEO?
I suppose by now you've seen I'm a little bit skeptical about men who are skeptical about the influence of women bloggers. if the industry of Christian publishing didn't let these women become celebrities to maybe half the level that male bloggers have celebrity then the pivots in public on stuff to do with sex wouldn't even be news. It's hard not to get the sense that the bloggers that are worrisome have a bottom line somewhere. You can only get disinvited from conferences if you've been invited and you seem to only get invited to conferences if you have a message or a product to sell.
Do women on the Christian blogosphere write stuff that's heretical? Sure, I'm sure it happens. It also happens with male bloggers on the Christian blogosphere. But at their worst, the most heretical Christian bloggers are not likely to get visitors from the Internal Revenue Service like Hinn's HQ got in the last few weeks. Bloggers would have to do something really unusual to become defendants in civil RICO suits. Bloggers only have as much of a platform as the gatekeepers of the publishing industry decide they get to have. more often than not the mainstream press and institutional media treats blogs like they don't even exist. It's the flip side of the question as to who is in charge of the blogosphere, who actually takes bloggers to actually be writing stuff that's influenced the public? is there even a way to measure the influence of blogs?
Perhaps a new way to ask this old question is to ask why the mainstream Christian popular publishing industry has been so quick to throw its money and influence behind promoting people who, as time goes on, say and do things that suggests that maybe they got promoted too quickly? There may be such a thing as laying hands too quickly on the next monetizable thing.
After Mark Driscoll's years of having controversy swirling around plagiarism and the Result Source promotion of his book in the 2013-2014 news cycle, after Doug Wilson and Randy Booth had their plagiarism scandal, after any number of pastors had marriages fall apart only to have them sprint back up to the pulpit the idea that there's a crisis because women with blogs need to be held accountable when many of these women are probably already bloggign in contexts in which they are at churches that are okay with what they blog (per Rachel Miller's observation) seems to be missing the point. The graft and venality of the pop Christian media industry seems to be more of the real problem.
We've seen mass media explode in unexpected ways ni the last thirty years. Conventional media has withered in a lot of ways. Traditional journalism has been supplanted by electronic journalism. Social media has exploded and is a form of mass media so pervasive I doubt a majority of Anglo-American Christians have even successfully wrapped their heads around the idea that it's mass media, if a relatively recent form of mass media. As I think Terry Teachout put it a few years ago, our popular level use of this new form of mass media has vastly outpaced our ability to think through the ethics and constraints of how to responsibly use it. Teachout has been a professional critic and journalist for decades. It's hardly a shock if those people with training in how to responsibly participate in the public sphere may have a clearer understanding of what is and isn't appropriate use of a mass media platform. So, sure, journalists and pastors who decide to use social media such as blogs or twitter or Facebok will have a clearer understanding of what is and isn't likely to be responsible behavior.
I think we should be asking ourselves how a guy like Driscoll managed to publish "Pussified Nation" and successfully scrubbed it from pubic view within months f its publication while a Jen Hatmaker is somehow a new cause for alarm. Nobody who is just a blogger becomes newsworthy. Its possible to publish material and then have other journalists or even other bloggers scoop it and get coverage in the press for running with a commentary on something you may have published first. I've seen that happen, yes. The fascinating thing is that it's possible to publish stuff for which the institutional press makes no nods at all, information that will get reported in the mainstream press as though the mainstream press had access to the information or documents, even if that content may have first been published for public consideration at a blog.
The star-making industry should reconsider who it decides to grant star status to before its participants at the blogging level or the op-ed level get too sure that the problem is which women bloggers have been allowed to become stars. If there was no star-making machinery they couldn't even become the stars they've become, and that goes the same for male bloggers, too. Let that blogger who won't parlay his or her blogging into a book deal themselves cast the first stone.