The Painful Lessons of Looking in the Mirror of Social Media


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.


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

8 responses to “The Painful Lessons of Looking in the Mirror of Social Media

  1. Daz

    I spent much of my early life in RAF married quarters (lower ranks). While much of it was somewhat over my head at the time, I vividly remember the same extremely petty social snobbery based on husbands’ ranks and so on that you describe. I have no doubt that it was even worse in officers’ quarters.

    As regards online debate/arguing, it’s my belief, backed up by having seen a fairish amount of testimony to that effect, that the person you’re debating isn’t likely to have any change of heart or thought, but many lurkers—those who aren’t as set in their beliefs and attitudes—will spot which party is being prejudicial, using bad logic, playing word-games to avoid the issue and so on. Which thought, hopefully, might be of some comfort.

    • padresteve

      Interesting how social snobbery is part of so many societies and communities, especially in relatively closed societies such as the volunteer military.

  2. Ironically, I experienced the same from a “Harvard homosexual” because I stated that the USMC cannot simply decide to ignore DOMA to avoid controversial press. If/when DOMA upheld or declared unconstitutional then the CMC can direct MCCS, etc. on how to operate spouse groups in relation to Non-SOFA/DEERS enrolled same-sex partners. That is a bad precedent for senior leaders set.

  3. I’ve had my fair share of online “debates”. The vast majority are simply one side shouting what they believe at the top of their lungs. One gent in particular stated we were getting involved in Libya “to steal their water”. (No mean feat that, eh?) When I pointed out the illogic, he came at me with the terroristic tendencies of the west, and quoted the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo in WW2. (Right into my forte!) When I started questioning his “unsupported attacks” rhetoric, he quickly descended into deriding ALL my facts as “lame-stream media BS”, yet he used only one author as a source to support his, whose Wiki page (yeah, I had to look the guy up, he was so popular!) clearly stated the author was (and I’m condensing things here) a right-wing conspiracy-theorist whack-job. When my “debating” opposite started calling me names, I told hm quite literally he was full of crap and walked away from the site.
    You’re never going to change the minds of hard-coded hate-filled folk like that. Save your blood pressure for fights where you might actually make some progress.

  4. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World
    Nothing new tonight but I was thinking about something I wrote about a year and a half ago about the shameful way that some people demonize and try to destroy others that disagree with them on social media. What triggered this was a comment I got about last night’s article by someone in Texas, I know that because I googled his name and he is the only person in the United States with it, I do love google search, but I digress… Anyway in his comment which was all capitalized, which means that he must not have thought that I would hear him, I don’t hear well but still all caps is kind of rude. The man wrote in response to my journey “YOU CAN’T SERVE TWO MASTERS.” Of course he didn’t elaborate but I assume that he wasn’t insinuating Jesus and the Koch brothers or Ayn Rand. Since I try, often not very successfully to serve Jesus, being that I am a “Mendoza Line” Christian, meaning that my batting average as a Christian is about .200, just enough to keep in the league but not Hall of Fame material. Likewise I serve my country, which I have done for almost 33 years with no end yet in sight. I guess that does mean I serve two masters, but even then I doubt that is what my new buddy Graland from Burleson Texas meant either. I think that he was talking about the Devil, who I probably shook hands with at least once in my life. Anyway, I have had some times on social media where I have behaved pretty badly and thankfully, with rare exceptions I am able to refrain from getting nasty on social media. On those occasions I am reminded of my own faults, and sometimes looking in the mirror of social media isn’t fun. But anyway, I am off to the ball game tonight despite the heat index being near 100 degrees here in Hampton Roads. So have a great night, be safe and thanks for reading and putting up with me.
    Padre Steve+

  5. Chad

    No issues of putting up with you Padre; I am relatively shorter in years compared to you, but I do see and hear the ‘talk’; you discuss. From my foxhole in life, being lambasted into non-relevancy as I attempt to debate my points of view can be taxing, and just another day in the office. If you have your views, and make them public, the last thing we think about is the ‘returned fire’ aspect of debate. It’s not the debating that so worrisome to me, but the blind vitriol that can be used. In the end, it is public and out there. All that is left is the perception of others.

    I guess this is why I am attracted to your blog, thusly; I make room for the controversies in life. As you discuss and talk on your social/moral views, it gives me a chance to do an ‘azimuth check’ to insure I am on the path. In the end I think I’ll just stick to history and lean from the lessons of the ‘Great Captains’ and maybe sprinkle in some Marx, Martin Luther, the Council of Trent for good measure. After all, in the realm of military history, the differences between military revolution and RMA can be vast or just good neighbors; depending on your point of view.

    Please keep posting Padre, I will defiantly be reading.


    • padresteve


      Thank you for your comments. I love people who take the time to read, think and reason and remain polite. So blessings!

      Padre Steve+

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