Censorship, criticism and editing

Well, that’s twice in a row now! On two separate occasions I’ve been accused of trying to get someone censored.  The first was when I challenged David Robertson’s  Premier Christianity article about Donald Trump’s twitter account being suspended. The second follows my suggestions for a bit of editing to an article by John Benton for Evangelicals Now.

In the former I was concerned that language about a small group of secretive billionaires controlling everything was unhelpfully picking up the very language involved in the specific conspiracy theory that was behind the Capitol Hill riots.  Does that mean I think that David Robertson is an alt-right conspiracy theorist? Of course not, he is a respected former pastor, commentator, writer and apologist. Indeed some of his comments have got him attacked by the conspiracy theorists. I can distinguish an unwise, unhelpful bit of wording from the person.

Similarly, with the EN article my problem was with this bit.

Further, the ‘soft totalitarianism’ of the pending ‘woke’ avalanche we will face in coming years, gives even more force to my point. The pervasive influence of politically-correct ‘social justice’ in our society will mean that Bible Christians will be increasingly misrepresented and vilified for our ‘patriarchal, racist, homophobic, repressive’ faith. [1]

The issue I have with this is that the word “woke” is etymologically of Afro-American origins and it refers to the idea of being woke, awoke or awake. First, it is about African Americans being awake to the dignity and freedom they should have. Specifically in a Christian context, it includes the sense of being made in God’s image and free in Christ. It is a beautiful word. It also is a challenging word.  It reminds people that their consciences should also be awoke or awakened to the burning injustices of slavery and racism.

Now think about the implications of taking that word and sticking it as an umbrella term to include LGBTQ, abortion, etc. First of all, those who have attempted to co-opt this struggle are engaging in a little bit of cultural appropriation. But also, the word has then been picked up as a replacement pejorative term for political correctness on the right and it is increasingly finding its way into conservative evangelical language.  My concern with this is that first of all, this has then been turne into a means of attacking faithful and godly men like Thabit Anyabwile and Tim Keller to give the impression they’ve gone all liberal. Secondly, when I see a concern to oppose racism wrapped up as equivalent to being pro LGBT I don’t see that as very helpful toward the local church context I’ve worked in for the last decade and the one I grew up in. It is ironic then to have an article about the local church’s importance that is potentially going to be read negatively by people in local church contexts.

Now, my reaction to the David Robertson article was that it was a bit of a stinker. He has written much better articles in the past and much better ones will follow in the future. But I wish he had not written it and that Premier Christianity had not published it. Does that mean I am censoring him? No, I am just expressing a feeling and a wish.

In John’s case. To be honest the article was a bit dispiriting.  Yet I felt that reflected the heart of a man who was discouraged. I desperately wanted to put my arm around a godly man who has served faithfully, not to gee him up with false hope but to encourage him with a different perspective.  But of course he is entitled to his view and the EN are entitled to freely publish as they choose.  However, I thought the paragraph in question would have benefited from some judicious editing.  Again I’m not sure how that amounts to censorship.

Censorship would be if someone with the power and technology to do so blanked out the two publisher’s websites or the articles were taken down by such a power. Censorship would be me getting a bunch of mates to stand outside Christian bookshops picketing to stop people going in or seizing and burning copies of the offending articles. Censorship might also include if it hadn’t been two well established  men in the two main Christian monthly journals but rather some young theological student  getting a call to say that there was general unhappiness about a blog article havee had written and what if curacies now being considered and all, he might want to reflect on it.

Censorship is different from criticism. Criticism is about disagreement and challenge. It’s different from critique. Every so often, a friend will say to me “I don’t think you wrote that well.” They want to help me be heard better. I do well to listen to them. Similarly, that’s the difference between good editing and censorship. I’ve just written a chapter for a book and the editor sent it back with suggestions for changes, he wanted some wording changing, some bits taking out and (for a nice change) he told me I was under word count and could write a bit more. His aim is to ensure that the audience in mind are able to hear me well.

Once again, I think we’ve become so defensive, maybe from where we’ve experienced real attack that we seem to struggle with the concept of iron sharpening iron.


[1] Whatever happened to the local church? | Evangelicals Now (e-n.org.uk)

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