I had an encounter this last weekend on a leading social media site. It was not pleasant and I waited for a couple of days to think, pray and meditate on what happen in the encounter before I decided to write about it.
It occurred on a page which is pretty popular and deals with military issues and the man that runs that page I enjoy very much. He frequently brings up very pertinent issues dealing with military issues, strategy and tactics, foreign policy and national security policy as well as social aspects of current military life.
I got involved in an debate, probably not the best thing to do because the debate had already degenerated into a pretty vicious cesspool of recriminations between pro and anti-gay rights supporters. The subject was the actions of the Officers Wives Club at Fort Bragg North Carolina to initially reject the entry of the lesbian wife of a female Army Lieutenant Colonel for membership, the subsequent court battle and the wives club’s grudging issuance of a “guest pass” to the woman.
What got me to comment was the absolutely venomous tenor of the gay rights opponents, their often obscene comments about the lesbian couple and how many self identified as Christians or supporting Christian values. It wasn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing about policy and interpretation of law or even the validity or sincerity of their beliefs, it was the shameful way that they demonized and dehumanized the people involved as well as those that pointed out an opposing viewpoint.
I hesitated at first but then having seen such how such clubs deal with those different from their majority of their members I wrote this comment:
“in my experience of 30 years commissioned I have found many Officers Wives Clubs to be a cesspool of gossip and self-righteousness covered with a veneer of respectableness covering up their own vanity. Most often they are the domain of white women, who do not work and historically have shunned male spouses of female officers, wives that are working professionals whose identity is not built around their husband’s achievements as well as minorities, the physically disabled or wives of officers who spent years as enlisted men. The treatment of the Lesbian wife is another chapter in officially sanctioned discrimination. Chaplain wives organizations are similar, except you can toss in the stigma of not being a Evangelical or Conservative Protestant. Wives of Chaplains that don’t fit that mould are marginalized, be they Mainline Protestants, Jews or Mormons and of course wives whose faith is different then their husband, such as a Protestant Chaplain with a Catholic wife. My view, if they want to be a private membership that excludes those that they don’t think fit in, then meet off base…”
I don’t think that my comments were off base. They actually seem to describe the history of these organizations fairly well. However, my post attracted the ire of a relatively recent Army retiree and stupidly I shot back with a flippant comment. He had already been heavily engaged in the debate and the fact that I was a Chaplain gave him all that he needed to begin tThat comment was ill advised. A Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel friend of mine noted that I shouldn’t wrestle a pig. I ignored his advice as well of the advice Judy also tried to warn me off.
My flippant comment elucidated an attack from the man that went well beyond dealing with policy, law or even faith, it became a personal attack. To him my arguments did not matter, it was a matter of not only attempting to defeat what I said but to discredit and destroy me in the process. When I attempted to build bridges to dialogue and invite him to actually get to know me, he attacked more vehemently and personally making accusations about me, my character and my beliefs. Instead of debating any of my defenses of my position, theological or constitutional he dismissed them. His characterizations and comments that were so off base and wrong that anyone who either knows me personally or reads this site regularly would know that they were absolutely false.
But the attacks wounded me and left me incredibly angry. But that was not a bad thing. They caused me they think back to a time early in my ministry when I did similar things to those whose doctrine, beliefs or practices that I believed were wrong. I was very good at it. My Chaplain Assistant who is now a relatively senior Army Chaplain used to call me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh,” even though I was not a Roman Catholic. A very conservative and reactionary Roman Catholic journal called The New Oxford Review published two of my articles back in 1998 and 1999, which ended up getting me banned from publishing for years by my the second ranking bishop of my former church. I was accused of being “too Catholic” and the irony was that he left that church well before I was forced to leave becoming Roman Catholic and writing similar articles to mine for a major Catholic apologetics online website.
So as I said I was good at this. With precise logic I could devastate others. The man that attacked me was much like me. I was seeing my old self in a mirror and it was not a sight that I enjoyed and it tempered my remarks to the man that I made in my defense.
It seems to me that those that argue most strenuously and personally are not necessarily bad people. They are consumed with zeal. Jesus had to deal with such people during his earthly ministry and every time he left them perplexed. I am not that good at this point in doing that. I simply gave up and told my attacker to “pound sand.” Jesus was much better at ending debates like this one than me.
I felt like George Costanza of Seinfeld trying to get the last word. Not very Jesus like, but revealing to me. Revealing to the point that I was reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words that “nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent in ourselves.” It is a hard lesson to learn and it seems that I have to learn it more times than I like. In a sense it was like looking in the mirror but seeing me more than a decade ago.