Monday, March 10, 2014

Fraternal Order of the Charity Police

The charity police have particular skill at tracking down negative or critical comments wherever they are found on the Internet. These folks seem to consider it their calling to inform those posting negative comments or criticism that they are being uncharitable. So, what can we do when we encounter these folks?

1. Consider it Seriously
An accusation that we are being uncharitable is a serious accusation, and we should not just automatically ignore it. Is there some merit to it? Was our criticism or negative comment rightly motivated or was it an expression of hatred of the person or group targeted? If it was wrongly motivated, we need to repent of the hatred, confess our fault, and seek to remedy it.

2. Take it with a Grain of Salt
Keep in mind, the charity police are not always unbiased critics. When you criticize a celebrity pastor, the folks who immediately rush to accuse you of a lack of charity may be doing so more because of a fanatical devotion to the celebrity than because of a careful evaluation of your motives and the merits of your criticism. The same is true when you criticize a religious system (Mormonism for example) or an aspect of such a system (such as the papacy). So, while we should take criticism seriously, if we conclude that we had right motivations and legitimate criticisms, then we shouldn't let these accusations keep us up at night.

3. Recognize its Inevitability
I doubt that any apologist or evangelist on the Internet who has been posting for long has not been accused by the charity police. Indeed, for some of them, it has become a routine things. One of my apologist friends sometimes mentions how a particular web forum is filled with people who appear convinced that he is unloving. These accusations against him come from this firm opposition to their religious views. Those who, like him, oppose those religious views are likely to be treated the same way.

4. Avoid Joining It
Remember that we should be slow to judge, and that we should judge with the measure with which we would wish to be judged. Determining a person's motives is often a very difficult task. So, while a negative comment or criticism may seem to us to be improperly motivated and unfair, we should avoid immediately leaping to the conclusion that it comes from a lack of charity. After all, such an accusation itself may be uncharitable.

5. Avoid Excessive Replies in Kind
When being accused of a lack of charity, it is tempting to immediately respond by pointing out the charity police's own lack of charity. Try to limit this. First, it's sometimes hard to distinguish between people who sincerely believe you are being too harsh and people who are just upset that you smashed their idol. Second, it looks like an appeal to "two wrongs make a right." If it's wrong to be unloving, it's not a defense that your critic is also being unloving.

6. Avoid Excessive Defensiveness
You may want to explain your previous statements when you think they could legitimately be misunderstood as hatred. Nevertheless, don't feel as though you have to explain yourself to absolutely every officer of the charity police. You don't just have a right to remain silent, you are free to disregard their comments.

Concluding Thoughts
I've had a few run-ins with the charity police over the years. In a few cases, I've modified my posts to avoid undue offense. In a few cases I've had to seriously re-evaluate whether I was being too harsh. In many cases I've just recognized that the charity police was just confused or blind to the actual situation. Dealing with the charity police is a difficult balancing act: it would be foolish to completely block them out, yet it would also be foolish to let them dictate the terms of our communication. If and when you run into the charity police, hopefully you will be ready to deal with their citations, summonses, and so on.


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