Slinging hot grease

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One of the sad realities of the last few years is that people cannot seem to disagree amicably. Not only do many people disagree passionately, but many have also come to disagree rudely and with hostility.

And it doesn’t seem to matter what the subject is — politics, vaccines, masks, religion — many simply can’t carry on a discourse without using profanity, insults, epithets, and volume. Social media has certainly exacerbated this situation. People say online, anonymously, what they would never have the courage to say face to face.

I have been penning an opinion column for the Citizen newspaper for almost 25 years. Early on, the publisher warned me that if I couldn’t stand being splattered with hot grease, I needed to stay out of the kitchen. I would quickly come to learn that people — many people — would not agree with what I wrote.

And that was just fine. As stated, it’s an “opinion” column, not a news column, a religion column, or a gossip column. The column is what I think about a subject. In 2021, it is estimated that the world’s population is 7.9 billion. That means there are 7.9 billion opinions on a given subject. Mine is only one voice. No one is compelled to agree with it.

Sometimes the disagreements with my point of view are measured, thoughtful, persuasive, and sometimes humorous. Other times, the reactions to a column are hateful, insulting, vengeful, and … well, sometimes the responses are just pitiful.

Recently, a reader took issue with my column on “Civil Disobedience, Vaccines, and Waivers,” (August 25, 2021, edition of The Citizen). In his/her first letter to me I was informed that I didn’t care about those in my congregation and that I was “an advocate for Fascism.” Intrigued, I decided to respond to the writer in a civil manner.

In the next response, I was called “evil” and “a gullible, brainwashed fool, and a Tool.” Next came this: “…you Evil con artist. Give me a break with your pathetic pop-psych and your power trip, and just go back to pretending to be a Christian in front of your congregation, you sack-of-garbage Fascist.” I wrote back and shared that I might use his/her comments in a future column and thanked him/her for the idea. It’s not easy coming up with a column every week.

That elicited the response in which I was called “a deceitful manipulator (and/or (a) misguided Lost Soul).” In this same correspondence I was a perfect example of “an extremely dangerous brainwashed lemming, and simultaneously of an extremely dangerous Fake-Christian infiltrator who is inflicting grave harm on his flock while running cover for the Fascists.”

But, really, no one is perfect, though I appreciate the compliment. Oh, and he (I assume “he” because women are generally not this uncivil), in my suggestion I use his comments in a future article, said, “Properly attribute or be sued.” I said I would give him proper credit and asked for his name. Alas, he has, thus far, chosen to remain anonymous.

I realize I probably should have cut off this line of communication by now, but it looked as though it couldn’t get worse. But I was wrong. In the next exchange, he said I was “wounded and furious” by his comments and that I was manipulative, destructive, and misguided.” He, on the other hand, was self-described as “intuitive, sophisticated, and enlightened.” Later, I was called a fraud.

His last comment (so far) was this: “Who are you running cover for and taking orders from, while maliciously pretending to be a Man of God who cares about his congregation??”

I don’t place this information here to denigrate this person (since the person is anonymous, no one knows who wrote all this). He may even be correct in some assumptions: I have at times been gullible and I have on occasion been misguided.

The issue the writer had with the aforementioned article was that I had said I would decline to issue blanket religious waivers for the Covid-19 vaccine. I stated my reasons and also stated the circumstances under which I would issue a waiver. That’s what all this was about.

I share these comments here because it is a near perfect example of how to NOT try to get one’s point across and perhaps change minds. Shouting louder, making false and ridiculous accusations, using profanity (which this person did not do — thankfully), all serve to discount the person who employs these methods altogether.

A couple of weeks ago, I had breakfast with a man who disagreed with my stand on the vaccine and waivers. He never raised his voice, never insulted me, never even attacked my point of view. He shared quite competently and unemotionally what his position was and why he disagreed with mine. We sat down as friends and parted as friends. And, as I truthfully told him, “You’ve given me some things to think about.”

It takes no courage to cast stones from one’s bedroom behind the security of an anonymous computer screen. Certainly, as a formerly active Marine and as a law enforcement chaplain of 25 years, I have been called much worse names. But those, at least, were to my face by people with a name.

And, as a former child protective services worker with a state agency I was, as I have told people, “Screamed at, cussed at, spit at, punched at, stabbed at, shot at, and, on several occasions, had my life threatened and, on two occasions, had the lives of my family threatened. All of which prepared me for church annual business meetings!” Even there, the actions and threats were face to face.

I support the reader’s freedom to say what he will. If he experiences some sort of cathartic relief by blowing off steam at me, well, I’m glad I could serve a purpose. But, by doing this the way he did, he lost all opportunity to be taken seriously or even to be heard. And, in the end, isn’t that why we have discussions?

One observation I have is that there is an enormous amount of anger, bristling with seething hostility, out there. We see it in the halls of government and in every hamlet. Nothing good can come of it.

Perhaps I should have never responded to the first email, and I take responsibility for that. I’m still in the kitchen getting hit, on occasion, with hot grease. But at least this time, I wasn’t the one doing the slinging.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]