Today I think it would be good to start what will hopefully not be too frequent a column, and that is examining the communications that I receive and, without giving too much information away about who sent the message to protect anonymity, comment on what could have made the message better and why it is that the message did not succeed despite the best intentions of the person sending the message. Hopefully you, dear reader, can learn from the process as I ponder what it is that makes a message miss the mark and figure out how to word things in a way that gets the point across without causing offense.
Recently I was forwarded a message that dealt with the general mode of the health and political crises that we have been dealing with, and though it was clear what the person writing the message was trying to get across, the message came off as highly hypocritical. This was so even though the message came from a point of view that was not particularly distant from my own in many respects, having dealt often with the tension that negative views of authorities in particular and having a high degree of respect for institutions and authority in theory causes in my own particular approach. It seemed as if the author was trying to use language to appeal to those who, like me, do not find masks to be efficacious and who think the public health angle that many states and local jurisdictions have been using in the past few months to be tyrannical and grossly ineffective. Obviously, when people feel this to be the case, the mere obedience to rules that require the wearing of masks in certain places is about all the compliance that can reasonably be expected in a situation that is immensely tense. To ask that people change their views and opinions and beliefs in the absence of evidence is asking too much.
The part of the message that bothered me the most, though, and the reason I decided to write about it, however obliquely, was that the author disparaged the concern for rights in these times. I completely disagree with this point. To be sure, it is always of the highest importance that we restrain ourselves in love and put up with the differences that we have in others. However, far from diminishing our personal concern with rights, these times should accentuate them. There are states and local jurisdictions, quite a few of them, who deserve to be sued out of existence because of their use of a supposed public health crisis to restrict the unalienable rights of people and in particular for the biased enforcement of those rules to favor certain things (leftist urban terrorism) against certain other things (religious assembly, etc.). Far from urging people to calm down and not demand their rights, a more appropriate reply in these times would be to prepare one’s legal counsel to defend the rights of brethren to peacefully assemble and worship in those places where that right has been unfairly targeted.
Now, it may be argued that the point of the message was more to avoid political provocations that might threaten the position of the church further or might cause division between brethren of different political views in these times. It would be quite irresponsible, after all, for people to deliberately act in ways that would provoke the coercive power of the state against the church through failing to follow guidelines, although it must be admitted that social distancing is not something that we tend to do very well. To the extent that this was the goal, the approach of the author in trying to urge compliance with rules, even rules that we highly disagree with, to avoid making things worse, I can agree with that goal and wholeheartedly second it. Yet there has to be a way to say it better. If you are writing to people whose nerves are frayed and who really are not in the most peaceful and content mood, you have to greatly go out of your way to respect and address their concerns, especially if you are asking upon them more restraint than is reasonable to ask someone in our mutinous and revolutionary times. To the extent that it is necessary to ask people to behave in ways that go beyond their eagerness to comply, one has to be very clear about the motivations that drive you to urge what is difficult. I feel this could have been done a lot better, and I hope if it is necessary for repeated communications along these lines that they are done with an understanding that any request for restraint is asking a lot, and therefore a high degree of understanding must be shown to those whose patience is nearing an end with the folly of our present evil age and the incompetence we find in high places.