Road rage, the public square, and plebiscites

road rage, the public square and plebiscites

You and I can become especially unreasonable people in two places:

… Behind the wheel of a car and behind a computer keyboard. Road ragers on public roads. Keyboard warriors in the public square. There’s relative anonymity in both contexts. We forget other people are real. The damage done certainly is. So I’m really concerned about the debate igniting as Australia votes in a postal plebiscite over Same-Sex Marriage. Followers of Jesus must represent Jesus well not just in our view but in how we engage –how we speak, how we listen and how we love.

Many of us watched on as Daniel Ricciardo lost the plot in anger with his teammate Max Verstappen in a recent grand prix. We’re used to such scenes in professional sport. Sadly, such scenes also play out on our public roads. Almost 90% of Victorians, as detailed in this article, admit to road rage – to hand waving, angry use of the horn, swearing and tailgating. One in three drivers admit to chasing a driver to intimidate them. Here in Queensland one such chase led to murder on the Gateway Motorway. Road rage is deadly.

Road rage is a window into our anger and our hearts.

We quite literally rage at anyone in our way. We have the steering wheel in our hands and a destination on our minds. Other drivers become obstacles to our superior pursuit. Our journey matters more than theirs. They are inconvenient. They are competitors. They get in the way of our agenda. We get angry. And we even feel justified in hurting them.

Arguably, however, it’s when we’re off-road and online that our anger and outrage is most explosive. Now I don’t want to suggest that we’re incapable of being unreasonable face to face. We can rage over a ristretto, or fume over a frappe. But online, we cross a line. Facebook becomes faceless, as we forget each other, heartless as we hurt each other. And on Twitter, it’s not just Presidents who announce fire and fury. We escalate. We shout. Whether Caps-Lock is on or not. We stop listening. Like the road-rager, we forget the other. It’s all about me.

Much discussion in the Public Square is spoken now through keyboards and screens.

So I’m concerned about the intensifying debate as Australia votes over Same-Sex Marriage. I’m concerned where it will lead, stretching out over three long months, longer than most election campaigns. In 1977, exactly forty years ago, a plebiscite in the pre social media era changed something not insignificant to our national identity – our national anthem. One wonders if that plebiscite had been conducted in our present social media context, if the acrimonious aftermath would have left significant sectors of our society unable to sing the winning song. More than our singing might fracture this time round. What aftermath here?

I say all this very conscious that my online interactions are not always what they should be. I’m not just challenging your behaviour here. I’m challenging mine. I’m certainly reflecting on my poorer moments in online interaction and reflecting on changes I need to make. I want to listen better. Ask more questions. Be slower to quip. Lower the sarcasm. Leave the snark behind. This debate has focussed my attention on my contribution to civility in the public square.

My prayer is that all of us seeking to represent Jesus in this discussion represent him well.

I’m not talking about false tolerance. Not all speech against legislating for same-sex marriage is hate speech. Nor am I saying that we focus merely on tone, such that content doesn’t matter. But let’s not be tone deaf either. Let’s listen well. Let’s consider what unintended messages we might be communicating.

Most of all let’s remember Jesus. Jesus didn’t use coercion to get people to agree with him. Jesus asked questions. He listened from the heart. He listened for the heart. Jesus saved his rebuke for self-righteous religious leaders. Jesus invited the sinful and the broken to eat with him. Jesus died to bring all people home to God. That’s the truth we speak. And this truth must be spoken in love. “What the Lord has joined together…”

Steve Cree,
Senior Pastor,
Creek Road Presbyterian Church