CNN.com asked me for my feelings as a gay Christian about the death of Fred Phelps, the notoriously anti-gay preacher famous for the phrase “God hates fags.”
Here’s what I said.
The words and actions of Fred Phelps have hurt countless people. As a Christian, I’m angry about that, and I’m angry about how he tarnished the reputation of the faith I love so much.
But as a Christian, I also believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it. So I don’t view Fred Phelps’ death or the suffering of his family as a cause for celebration. Instead, I pray for his soul and his family just as I pray for those he harmed.
It’s easy for me to love someone who treats me kindly. It’s hard for me to love Fred Phelps. To me, that’s the whole point of grace.
Here’s the article in which they quoted my reaction along with others’:
Should we celebrate Fred Phelps’ death?
We all know the feeling: You’ve just read a great blog entry or news article or Facebook post, and then you start reading the comments on it, and you suddenly wish you hadn’t.
Because it’s all fun and games until you come to that one comment that makes you go:
There’s even a Twitter account called “Don’t Read the Comments,” which is good advice almost all of the time.
But sometimes you can’t avoid the comments—especially if it’s your blog or article or Facebook page. So since a lot of you have been asking me about this lately, here are my personal tips for responding to internet comments that make you want to throw something.
1. Force yourself to stay outwardly calm, even if you don’t feel calm.
People always ask me how I stay calm in the face of angry or hurtful comments. The truth? I’m not impervious to harsh words; I feel them just like anyone would, and I get angry, hurt, and upset just like anyone else.
But I’m in a public position where I get attacked a lot, so I’ve practiced staying outwardly calm and taking time to think, breathe, and pray before I respond. What’s amazing is that staying calm on the outside actually helps me feel calmer on the inside. Try it.
2. Try to understand the other person’s point of view.
This one is tough, but it’s so worth it.
Put aside your own frustration for a moment to try to see things through their eyes. Think: Why did they post this? What’s their motivation? What are they feeling? If it helps, close your eyes, imagine that you’re them, and imagine what you’re going through that would cause you to write what they wrote.
Did they, perhaps, misunderstand the point? If so, maybe you could explain it another way.
Or might the thread have touched on a subject that has emotional baggage for them? If so, maybe you just need to forgive their overreaction.
Remember, everyone sees themselves as the protagonist of their own story. That means that in this person’s eyes, their comment makes perfect sense. If you can figure out why, you can respond with grace.
3. Consider your own emotional baggage.
Stop and think for a moment: Why did their post make you so angry? It might not just be the other person; some of it might be your own baggage.
My grandfather was shot and killed when I was a baby, so I get emotional on the subject of guns. Does that disqualify me from having opinions on the subject? Of course not. But when I find myself getting angry in conversations about guns, I need to remind myself that this subject has baggage for me that it doesn’t have for the other person, and they’re not responsible for my emotions.
Otherwise, I might wind up sounding like the crazy ranting guy when someone accidentally pushes my buttons—or misinterpreting others as trying to stir things up when they’re not.
4. No matter what they say, always treat the other person with respect—even if they didn’t treat you with respect.
Yes, we all like to imagine our snarky revenge, but in real life, treating people respectfully is always the right thing to do.
And if that’s not enough reason, here’s another: On the internet, other people are always watching. You may not ever be able to win over that frustrating commenter, but by responding with kindness, you’ll influence countless others who see you demonstrating grace.
5. Be willing to apologize, even if you don’t think you should have to.
Have you ever been in an internet argument where someone accuses you of saying something inappropriate or offensive, when they’re clearly the offensive one, and you’ve been a model of restraint and civility?
In situations like that, it’s easy to become defensive and make things worse—especially when you feel like you’re being misinterpreted. But you know what? Just offering an apology makes things so much better, and it costs you nothing other than your pride.
6. Don’t post while you’re angry. Ever.
Make it a hard and fast rule in your life: When you feel your blood pressure rising, step away from the keyboard. You can come back to it once you’ve calmed down.
If a post has gotten under your skin too much for you to put aside your frustration, just ignore it and let someone else respond or let it go entirely.
In the heat of the moment, it can feel like terrible things will happen if this jerk’s wrong comment goes unchecked. But however important that comment seems at the time, nothing you post in anger is going to make the situation any better. Seriously.
7. Remember to respond to positive comments, not just negative ones.
If the only comments that get responses are the negative ones, they’ll take up a disproportionate amount of space, and you’ll be sending the message that people have to make waves in order to get noticed.
Besides, responding to positive comments makes you and the other commenters feel good. Give positive comments more attention and let the negative ones wither and die from lack of interest.
8. Don’t feed the trolls.
Sometimes, someone is just looking for a chance to stir up controversy and make people angry for their own amusement.
If you try once to engage respectfully with someone and they don’t respond kindly back, just let them have the last word and move on. Winning the argument isn’t worth poisoning the comment thread for everyone else.
Besides, you’ve got better things to do.
So… how do you handle frustrating internet comments? Let me know in the comments! (And be nice!)
Anonymous said: Hi! You've probably gotten this question before, but I didn't see it on the FAQ. I see in your photo that you don't have hair or eyebrows. As a leukemia patient, this entrigues me- do you have alopecia? Or is it by choice? Thanks!
I do have alopecia! Good catch!
For my other readers, I should explain that alopecia areata is a genetic autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. I first lost my hair when I was four, and it’s come and gone throughout my life. I usually keep my head shaved, because it makes my life simpler. :)
Also, it means I can pretend to be Patrick Stewart when I order a cup of Earl Grey. ;)
queermormons said: I can't believe I wasn't following you before. Your blog is fantastic.
Why thank you! I’m glad you’re following now. :)
Anonymous said: Does the GCN happen to do internships gay Christian teens could possibly apply for? Would you consider having interns?
We totally do have interns from time to time. You can contact our office to learn more. :)
When conservative Christians find out I’m gay, they almost all say the same thing: “I know gay people think Christians hate them, but I don’t. I love gay people. I may not agree with them, but I love them.”
You’d be surprised how often I hear this. Christians are constantly telling me how much they love me.
If they treat me disapprovingly, it’s because they “love the sinner and hate the sin.”
If they preach at me, they’re “speaking the truth in love.”
If they distance themselves from me, it’s because they’re showing “tough love.”
Yet they wonder why gay people don’t feel very loved.
It reminds me of a scene from the 1960s musical film My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl, has worked hard to overcome her Cockney accent and pass as a proper English lady, but she eventually tires of being treated as a trophy by her diction teacher and others. So when a young suitor named Freddy—who barely knows anything about her—begins to sing a song professing his love, she humorously interrupts him with a song of her own:
Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through,
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above;
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams filled with desire;
If you’re on fire, show me!
“Show me,” she says. As a gay man, I feel the same way.
Do you love me? Don’t talk about it. Show me.
You know why LGBT people have such a bad impression of Christians? It’s not because of protesters with “God hates fags” signs. We know they’re extremists. It’s because of daily being dehumanized by the Christians who lecture and preach at us, treating us as issues instead of as human beings—and because of the Christians we know who stand idly by, thinking that if they’re not actively hating us, that counts as loving us.
That’s not love. Talk is cheap. Telling me your opinion on my life is easy. Real love takes more than that.
Sing me no song; read me no rhyme!
Don’t waste my time! Show me!
Don’t talk of June; don’t talk of fall;
Don’t talk at all! Show me!
Never do I ever want to hear another word.
There isn’t one I haven’t heard…
It’s true. Anything you could say, all that “speaking the truth in love,” I’ve heard it all before. So if you’re really serious when you say you love me, you’re going to have to prove it. Show me.
Not sure how? Here are some ideas.
Most importantly, don’t do any of these things with a hidden agenda. Do them because you love me. You said you love me, right? Okay, then. Show me.
A note: I’m now getting a lot of visits to this post from people who have never read my blog before. If this is your first time, I suggest visiting this welcome post to learn more about me and my blog before commenting. Welcome!
For more stuff like this, check out my book, TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate.
Anonymous said: Since God created Adam and Eve in the beginning and told them to procreate, why would God create as you say a person with an orientation toward the same sex?
Thanks for the question! I have a couple of thoughts on this.
First, I can’t begin to speak for God; I don’t know why God does certain things or doesn’t do others. Some people say that a same-sex orientation is a gift from God, because it provides a unique perspective on the world, among other things. Others see it as a challenge, not a gift—something that’s a result of living in a fallen world. (Interestingly, if you ask members of the Deaf community why they think some people are born deaf, you’ll hear a similar spectrum of answers.)
Personally, I have no idea why gay people exist; all I know is that we do, and that we don’t choose our orientation. I can say that I’ve experienced many blessings from being gay, including the fact that I’m able to understand and speak to a lot of people who are angry with the church in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
As for procreation, I’d say that it was important for Adam and Eve to procreate when they were the only two people on the earth, but that doesn’t mean that God requires every human being to procreate. We’ve done a pretty good job of populating the earth at this point, and in fact, many of the Bible’s most important heroes either weren’t married or didn’t have children. My biggest concern is with sharing Christ’s love with the world, and if being gay helps me do that, then I’d count it a blessing.
Anonymous said: I read your book in October and it seriously has rocked my worldview so hard, we have so many of the same views and I would love to talk to you! Where are you from? Do you meet with people to talk? Also, do you have to answer all of these publicly or could I come off anonymous and ask you things to have you answer them privately?
Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. :) The easiest way to contact me privately is through my Facebook page. (Keep in mind, because of the way Facebook handles messages, I’m more likely to see your message quickly if you add me as a friend first, but you don’t have to do that; I still try to check my “other” box regularly.)
Sometimes I miss Facebook messages, so if you have trouble getting a response, need to hear from me quickly, and/or have a question about something work-related—like booking me for a speaking engagement—contact my office instead, and they can get in touch with me.
First, a little background. Michael Coren is a conservative Catholic TV host in Canada. He’s known for being deliberately provocative at times, and he doesn’t shy away from controversy. He’s been called “Canada’s Bill O’Reilly” at least once, though he doesn’t see himself that way; he says he’s less polarizing than that.
But when he recently took a public stand against Uganda’s vicious new anti-gay law (and rightly so!), some of his viewers balked, saying he wasn’t being conservative enough or Christian enough, even claiming he must be secretly gay himself. (He’s not.)
So tonight he invited me on his show to continue the discussion and hear a gay Christian’s perspective. Some of my friends were nervous for me, but Michael was actually super nice, and I really enjoyed the conversation. Check it out.
So, I was on CNN this morning, and they were super nice. They were asking me about a new bill in Arizona that would allow anyone—not just churches and religious organizations, but anyone at all, in just about any situation—to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws by appealing to their freedom of religion. In my view, the wording of the bill actually harms our freedom of religion. Check out the video to see what I said.
If the video above won’t play, you can click here to watch it on CNN’s website.