Take a look at the “Letters” pages (48-49) in this issue. Things are a little different. As we did in the August issue, we included a “Picture this” photo as well as a “My view,” leaving just one page for letters. There are a couple of factors at work.
First, letter writing appears to be a dying art form. For decades The Lutheran received scores of letters (first in hard copy, now overwhelmingly via email). They were, more often than not, quite long and sometimes complex in the subjects addressed. It was a major task to wade through the missives to get the select few suitable for publication and edit them to a readable length. Then the Internet brought about at least two major changes: more venues to discuss topics of concern than just letters to the editor and an increase in angry content that renders a large number of correspondences unusable in a religious publication.
Be it discussion boards, blogs, Facebook, reactions and opinions about topics tackled in the magazine can and are discussed in other ways than letters.
Disheartening, however, is the rudeness if not downright hostility found in commentary directed at the magazine and the ELCA via email. Rational arguments increasingly give way to rants. It’s OK to disagree, and to say so. Exchanging ideas and debating the same are signs of a healthy community. What isn’t OK is one-upmanship and angry put-downs that have worked their way from current secular discourse into that of the church.
Many have commented on the phenomenon of growing rudeness, even Scientific American magazine. While its article in 2012 on Internet anger focused on virtual anonymity and thus lack of accountability, physical distance and the medium of writing (monologue vs. verbal dialogue), it went after another source of the problem: “Mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other” through programming that stresses confrontation and aggression. “People understandably conclude rage is the political vernacular, that this is how public ideas are talked about. It isn’t.”
The piece concluded that communication is about taking someone’s perspective, understanding it and responding — civilly.
That’s not to say The Lutheran is perfect. We do, by inclusion and omission, display our biases. I hope we keep those to a minimum, but no amount of assurances will please those who see our lapses as intentional and lambaste the magazine in no uncertain terms.
My predecessors lamented letter writers’ negativity in their day. It is a part of the job I will not miss when my duty here is done. In the meantime, we’ll keep the letters and other content as encouraging and respectful as possible.