One of my occasional hobbyhorses is the tone of civil discourse in general and online discourse in particular; at least when it comes to persuasion, I’m a firm believer in honey over vinegar: the first attracts more flies than the second.
But I’m also a convert to this approach, and a work-in-progress at that… after over 20 years of internet arguing, I’ve simply been more successful when I’ve bitten my tongue and at least tried to rein in my desire to unload on the abortion-rights advocate/atheist/fundamentalist Baptist/liberal Catholic with whom I’m talking.
The problem for me is simply that I love to argue, as family and high school classmates can tell you. But the point in evangelization isn’t to win arguments but to win souls, and in my experience, the latter is no guarantee of the former.
Let me give an example.
Back in February of 2003 I discovered a forerunner of the New Atheists: The Raving Atheist. I alluded indirectly to him in a couple of posts, and as a result, found myself the recipient of his Godidiot of the Week award. I engaged him in his comment boxes, doing my best to appeal to his sense of reason and avoid biting back overly much.
A couple days later, he wrote this post:
A Valentine’s Day Olive Branch
February 14, 2003 | No Comments
Via Veritas, this sensitive, intelligent and excellent new pro-life blog, After Abortion. It appears, so far, to be firmly grounded in the only true sources of morality — human emotion and experience. Yes, there’ll be a fair amount of God-talk, but I’ll overlook it in the service of a good cause.
See what you get when you’re nice to me?
After this, there was little interaction with Raving… our conversations didn’t seem to go anywhere, and he seemed to most enjoy getting those who disagreed with him riled up. I didn’t want to let that happen, so our interactions came to an end.
Six years ago, I was mildly surprised (but not shocked) to discover that The Raving Atheist had converted, and was now The Raving Theist. I commented on one of the newer posts, congratulated him and asked if I’d have to give my previous award back. 🙂
In an email response, Raving wrote the following:
Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comment on my blog.
I thought of you a couple of months ago when I left this comment on the personal blog of my friend Carla, the team leader for Operation Outcry Wisconsin and a moderator at Jill Stanek’s blog. As you can see from the last line of that comment, and as I have told countless friends, my debate with you in early 2003 is what led to my pro-life advocacy. Feeling uneasy about the way I had treated you, I went to you blog, found a link to After Abortion and posted it on my blog as an “olive branch” (the link to that post is here; the link to it from Carla’s blog broke after my recent changeover to WordPress). That link led to a friendship with Emily Peterson, which led to my involvement with Ashli’s McCall’s pro-life work after I met her in the comments at AA. I never would have found that blog if you had not directed my attention to it; and I would never have linked to it had you not been so civil. [emphasis added]
You can keep the Godidiot award, but I’ll give you something better: credit for so many e-mails like the two below received recently at Beyond Morning Sickness. They’re a small sampling of the 1,500 we’ve received over the past eighteen months.
You’ve saved quite a few lives.
Yours in Christ,
The Raving Theist
Now, I’m not prepared to agree with Raving’s claim that I’ve saved lives… a few steps too removed for me to feel I can take any credit for that. But I do want to note what I bolded: at least in this instance, turning the other internet cheek had an impact, even if I didn’t know it back in February of ’03.
By virtue of our baptism, we are all missionaries and evangelists, and it’s incumbent upon us that we employ methods which will bear the most fruit, even if it remains hidden from us.