Elizabeth Cook: ‘Trouble with Christians’ struck nerve

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, June 13, 2015

Question 1: Should a newspaper tell its readers only what they want to hear?

Answer: That’s an easy one. The answer is no. To fulfill our job of reporting the news, we have to report the good, the bad and a lot of stuff in between.

Question 2: Should a newspaper’s opinion page  carry only those columns that will tell the majority of its readers what they want to hear?

Answer: Again, I say no. While Rowan County is a conservative, Bible Belt community that votes heavily Republican, not everyone holds that view.

Besides, shutting out different viewpoints has the effect of putting a person in an echo chamber. What you say just comes back to you again and again. That isolation cuts people off from new information and different insights.

Back to Rowan’s diversity. In party registration, Rowan’s 88,761 registered voters break down like this: 41 percent Republican, 32 percent Democratic, 27 percent unaffiliated. No one has a majority in official registration.

When it comes to religion, Christianity is far and away the dominant faith in Rowan. Christians share some core beliefs, but we’re hardly of one mind. According to 2010 data from the Association of Religion Archives, Rowan has 213 congregations with 64,727 members. Those congregations cover a broad spectrum.

I bring this up because of a My Turn column that appeared in Tuesday’s Post entitled “Trouble with Christians,” by Glenn “Butch” Hudson.

As he said in very strong terms, Hudson has a lot of trouble with Christians and the use of Christian prayers to open local government meetings. Our county commissioners recently voted to appeal a federal court ruling on this topic.

The column gave me a jolt — maybe even whiplash — when I first read it. As a Christian, I felt insulted and misunderstood. To my mind, Hudson was condemning us all for the actions and attitudes of a few.

Hudson’s column gave me an inkling of the perception non-Christians  might have of us as a group, a caricature that we would barely recognize.

Some who theorize about mainline churches’ declining membership blame those denominations’  tendency to adjust to the times and moderate stands on social issues. Conservative, evangelical churches are growing, according to these theorists, because people want certainty and principles. Good vs. bad. Right vs. wrong.

Could that kind of thinking be a double-edged sword, attracting some people to churches while pushing others away from Christianity altogether?   

I asked Hudson via email if, upon further reflection, he wanted to tone down his verbiage. He could make his case on the prayer issue without phrases like “man-made fairy tale” and “puppet-master God.” .

Hudson has been a professional writer; he chose every word deliberately and said he wanted to stick by them all.

So we went to press with the column as is.

I knew reaction would be strong, and it was.

Hudson’s column drew online comments from more than 34 individuals. Some of those comments filled up Friday’s Opinion page in a special, one-topic Talkback column.

The responses came from Christians who were offended by Hudson’s words and some who seemed to pity him. Several non-Christians weighed in, giving Hudson an attaboy. And there was a lot of back and forth between the two sides.  I’m pretty sure no one’s mind was changed by the debate.

A few Christians who took issue with Hudson’s column in general said they, too, had trouble with the actions of some fellow Christians.

None of us is perfect.

The good thing about taking in a variety of opinions is that you can find some to reinforce the position you’ve taken — because they agree with you exactly or disagree with you in such an illogical way that you know you’re on the right track. You get that feeling of, “See, I told you so.”

Now and then an opinion makes you look at an issue differently, or concede a point.

That’s the point of a newspaper opinion section. It won’t always tell you what you want to hear or present opinions you like, but should make you think.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.