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Social Media, Offense, and Anger: An Inferno Burning Out of Control

It started over a souvenir Trump T-shirt worn by an innocent 14-year-old girl. It ended badly; the devil won the day.

A 14-year-old girl in an upscale Houston neighborhood wore a souvenir T-shirt she got in Washington, D.C., which happened to be emblazoned with the name "TRUMP." This led a liberal activist, who was also a mom and wife, to make a horrible mistake. But she's not nearly the worst person in this story.

Read the story here. "How Houston List Its Mind Over a Trump Shirt" is the title, but it's really about the power of evil to inflame hearts and corrupt minds.

Let me summarize. It happened the day before Easter Sunday.

A woman named Kellye Burke, a councilwoman in a small community called West U, where the average household income is north of $200,000, spied a teenager wearing the "Trump" T-shirt, in the line at Tiny's Milk & Cookies. It's the kind of place where teens can ride their bikes to the drive-up window without fear; a safe community where the cookies cost $2.50 each and the residents can afford it without blinking.

Burke blurted an unfortunate aping of one of Trump's comments from the Access Hollywood tape. A fist-pump and "Woohoo! MAGA!" followed, with the teen girls wondering what burr got stuck in her designer jeans. Then they realized it was the Trump shirt.

One of the girls called Mom at home and told the story of the crazy lady with two small boys who just made a scene in the Tiny's Milk & Cookies line. The mother said to take her picture and steer clear. Afterward, the mom posted the picture and the story on Facebook, without giving it much thought. This was the spark.

In a small community like West U, posting a picture of a public person (even one somewhat insignificant in the political landscape a local councilwoman) along with a story like that will guarantee a response. Burke started getting texts on Easter Sunday morning noting the post and the comments. She reached out to the mom who posted it (who had direct messaged her, asking for a private response).

Burke apologized to the woman in person, and promised to meet with all the families involved. See, it's wasn't the Facebook-posting mom's daughter who wore the shirt. And this being the kind of community where moms compete for Queen of the Hill, when Burke's schedule couldn't accommodate a personal meeting with the mom of that girl on the Monday after Easter, the offense was given pure oxygen to burn out of control.

From there, it was a Hell and Satan-inspired spiral of awful. On Easter night, the teens' parents got together and decided to strike back at Burke, who by Monday was out buying $25 gift certificates for Tiny's and special stationary to pen her written apologies. She never got the chance.

They filed a ridiculous charge of disorderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor. When Burke went to the local police to pay the fine, and make this thing go away, she found that since she was a public official, the case was remanded to Harris County, where, it just so happened, a local Houston reporter picked up on it.

You can see where this headed. And the fire burned out of control.

Once kindled, the fire of offense becomes like an inferno. A word spoken out of anger is dumb. Burke's words were monumentally stupid; to speak them in the presence of her young children was terrible. But the angry response from parents who had hours ago returned from church, celebrating the Savior of the World's death and resurrection to FORGIVE THEIR SINS, is really much, much worse.

The Facebook post was bad, and the response was ugly. It could have been deleted (though these things tend to take on a life of their own). The taking of offense because a woman wouldn't change her kid's allergy doctor appointment on a school day off to meet with Queen Mom was just what the devil needed to ruin a few lives and keep more people from learning about the power of forgiveness.

Here's what Jesus said about anger.

Matthew 5:22: "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother [a]without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ [Empty Head!] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

Here's what the wise King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:11: 'Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense." Proverbs 15:18: "A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention."

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote (James 1:19-20): "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."

James 3:3-6 sums up the inferno:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

This wasn't about Trump, or a T-shirt. It wasn't about Democrats or Republicans, or politics at all. It was about what happens when we fail to put bits in the mouths of horses, and allow our tongues to run wild. It's about what happens when we take the daily sparks of anger and offense--real and imagined--and allow them to burn out of control.

It's also complete predictable, and very preventable.

Let it be a lesson to every Christian. If you could see where your snarky tweets, or "sheesh, this world!" stories can lead, you just might refrain from hitting the "post" button. And if you could see whose lives might be turned upside down--your neighbors, your fellow church members--from your own failure to forgive and move on, you might decide to just let things pass, and accept a word of sincere apology.

Ultimately, the devil loses every battle. But in our own lives, it's in our power to give Satan a win in our lives and the lives of others. Don't do the devil's work for him.

Well, you tried, Steve. We are never more like Christ than when we forgive.

It is NEVER ok for an adult to attack a child. Talk to the parents, yes, but verbally attacking a child, never. Everyone is responding viscerally, we all need to step back, think, and do NOT make assumptions about someone else.

@SFletcher -- If kids are on my lawn I'm going to yell at them to get off. That's what us geezers do. It's hardly "attacking" by calling out their bad behavior.

@RFlynn The girl was in a public place wearing a shirt. Not exactly tramping through the woman's flower beds. When did clothing with no foul language or pictures become tantrum worthy? And as adults aren't we supposed to set a good example? Would the woman have behaved the same way if the person in the shirt had been a 6'6" 300 lb male, I doubt it. Do think all the adults in this story set a bad example for how an adult should act.

@SFletcher -- Um, there are certainly lots and lots of absolutely offensive things a shirt could say without resorting to swear words. Do I really need to whip up some examples?

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