No, the Army is Not Blocking Evangelical Web Sites: Let's Check the Facts BEFORE the Protest
Those two words created a firestorm among many evangelicals last week when Fox News' Todd Starnes reported that SBC.net, the website of the Southern Baptist Convention, had been blocked on some military bases. When some soldiers tried to access the site, a message appeared that read, "The site you have requested has been blocked by Team CONUS (C-TNOSC/RCERT-CONUS) due to hostile content."
Starnes' report did not make the assumptions that many did. Some on the radio took it further and said it was "further evidence of the intolerance and totalitarianism of the political left." Others saw it as "just another example of the Christian faith coming under attack in the military" and urged members to send letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to "ask him to investigate why Christian websites are considered 'hostile' and to be blocked by the military."
Many of the folks who spoke out were good and well-intentioned people-- people I know and respect. Some predicated their statements with comments like, "if this were true." In the current cultural climate, perhaps this action did not shock them, and more just assumed it was true-- and they started calling for protests and letters.
After two days, however, when both the military and the SBC were given a chance to, well, get the facts, it all seems to have been innocuous. The culprit appears to have been an issue with the SBC site, which triggered the understandably sensitive blocking software on military bases. But what about the phrase "hostile content"? Aren't those code words for the SBC's views on hot button social issues like abortion and gay marriage? Not according to the military or the SBC.
Chris Chapman, the SBC Executive Committee's director of information services, said that the term is "familiar to those in the information technology field ... it simply means some sort of vulnerability or virus." Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said, "It should probably say there might be malicious software associated with this site," instead of a phrase like "hostile content."
So where does that leave us now? Are pop-up blockers and anti-virus software part of some "vast government conspiracy against Christians"? While conspiracy theories may be an inevitable part of politics, they should not be part of the way Christians react. Besides an overarching call for us to pursue truth, there are practical reasons we should resist the urge to see censorship and attack around every corner.
In my view, Christians have increasingly become gullible and prone to accept stories, some from credible sources and others from not very credible ones, which cast us in the role of the martyr when it is not warranted.
Too often, Christians are in a state of perpetual grievance, where each passing day brings another new controversy about which we must act or Christianity in America will crumble.
When we hear a story about government attacks on Christians and we disagree with the politics of those in power, we assume the worst about the individuals in the military and our government. We live out the exact opposite of James 1:19. We are slow to listen, not giving time for all the facts to come out. We are quick to speak, gullibly forwarding the emails, retweeting the links and sharing the Facebook photos.
We are quick to anger, behaving as if every rumor deserved our righteous indignation and called for temple tables to be overturned (at least on Facebook).
But then what happens when all of the facts come out and it turns out to be a simple misunderstanding?
Some have already moved on to the next controversy, refusing to admit any wrongdoing in the first place. Others refuse to believe the explanation and hold fast to their conspiracy theories. Both ruin our reputation for being concerned with truth. We become like any other political group, anxious to grab hold of any story that can be twisted to our advantage, never mind if the facts don't line up with our talking points. Christians must be different. We must have a passion for truth.
There are real issues out there-- issues of religious liberty, the marginalization of traditional Christian views, and, yes, real persecution around the world.
Like the boy who cried wolf, no one wants to listen to us when we speak of the grave ramifications on very real issues. They won't listen because we've been yelling about the Defense Department censoring an evangelical website.
When we scream so much about that which is not true, we lose our voice in the culture. We must find a way to speak prophetically on issues of real substance without becoming gullibly worked up over the latest controversy du jour.
Before we can be counted on to speak the truth, we must first be committed to seek the truth.