If you have been following the recent media debates over the SCOTUS’ Hobby Lobby decision, you may have come across this “meme” of Holly Fisher next to an international terrorist (whose identity is currently disputed). Fisher has an active online presence, garnering much attention for sharing her conservative, Christian views and commenting on controversial political topics. On Twitter, Fisher writes, “Biggest complaint I’m getting about my #HobbyLobby pic is there’s no gun, bible, or flag. Tried to make up for it”. Her earlier picture (resulting in the nickname, “Holly Hobby Lobby”) showed her smiling in front of a Hobby Lobby store while wearing a Pro-Life shirt and holding a Chick-fil-A cup.
Michael Stone, blogger for Patheos, has labeled Fisher the “New Face of American Taliban” He writes, “While Holly Hobby Lobby is just a social media clown out for attention, she represents a dangerous strand of Christian fundamentalism that enjoys flirting with, if not threatening, real violence.” Other critics have followed suit comparing Fisher’s beliefs to Islamic extremism, and some have even gone as far as issuing violent threats against her.
Supporters of Fisher argue against the juxtaposition of her photo with a terrorist’s. Charles C.W. Cooke offers to “explain the difference” in the National Review: “The woman on the left is a peaceful American citizen with a husband in the military. She has never killed anybody, and nor does she have any desire to….The woman on the right, by contrast…is reaffirming her commitment to jihad.” Fisher has responded as well, chastising “tolerant liberals” for intolerance and claiming that those threatening her “are the same ones whining about the #WarOnWomen.”
This situation offers us a chance to examine how we engage with people holding opposing viewpoints, especially in our interactions over social media. After all, it is very easy to find online commentary attacking others rather than trying to understand an argument or simply defending one’s position. Social media makes it much easier to make our remarks uninhibitedly.
But consider what the Bible has to say about our communication with others. From Proverbs 15:1 (“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”) to James 1:19 (“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”) (ESV), we are advised to be careful with our words. Jesus issues a heavy warning on the matter in Matthew 12:36: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak.” And Colossians 4:6 offers beautiful advice: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
While it may be easy to condemn the death threats and personal attacks against Fisher, how should we as Christians view her posts on social media? Is she simply exercising her right to freedom of expression, or is she purposefully provoking a reaction? Here is what she has to say about her use of social media:
I have always been extremely conservative and and [sic] passionate about my views. The last few years of the growing hate and intolerance among the “tolerant” left has made me want to stand up and speak out. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to show where I stand. I didn’t do it to try to change minds of those who disagree with me, but more so to show like-minded people that they’re not alone and it’s okay to stand up for what you believe in, even if it’s not popular right now. I want younger American’s [sic] to know it’s okay to not follow the current liberal path…
An honorable answer. But we must also carefully consider the words we use and question if we are responding in a way that promotes respectful conversation. After all, the results of inflammatory language are clear: anger, name-calling, and a lack of meaningful communication that continues to spiral downward into greater alienation.
We have a right to defend our views and disagree with others, but we also have a responsibility as Christians to do so in love and grace.