In the world of media, two things sell well: good stories and extreme viewpoints. It makes sense that good stories sell, but why are extreme and polarizing stances so popular? Why do the most divisive voices garner the most attention? There is something about bombast and bluster that draw people like moths to a flame—and often with the same results.
Extremism sells because it has a certain charisma. It is bold, willful, stark, concrete, and risky. It sells because it is so blatant that even those who are opposed consume it just so they can masticate and expectorate. And it sells because so many people are easily swayed by volume instead of reason, confidence instead of thoughtfulness, boldness instead of rightness. This is just as true within the church as it is in broader culture.
We in the church are as culpable as anyone of our own false dichotomies and extreme views. We pit social justice against theology and millennials against boomers. We call disparate ecclesiologies “satanic” and are quick to cast the first stone at those who interpret the Bible differently or read a different version of it. But, hey, our books sell really well. We are a regular marketplace of profitable extremism.
Of course, differing perspectives are inevitable, some right and some wrong. There will always be segments of the population finding themselves in disagreement with others. This is inevitable. But when it is done for the sake of popularity or readership, or to increase one’s platform, it is particularly disturbing.
There is a better way—the middle ground. Of course, balance doesn’t sell nearly as well, but it does a much better job of building up. When we cease walling ourselves off behind extreme arguments and accusations and come toward the middle we will find ourselves face-to-face with those we found so easy to caricature when they were far away. We will find that those liberal, untheological social activists might truly be Jesus-loving, biblically minded, compassionate people. And discover that those of different denominations and ecclesiologies don’t really resemble Satan after all.
Now, it would be foolish to over-simplify things as if all this is as easy as “let’s all just get along.” Ideologies and theologies are often mutually exclusive and even irreconcilable. But there is still merit in the commitment to coming toward the middle with our beliefs and expressing them in a balanced way. We must refuse to let pride and our desire to be noticed move us away from real people and real relationships and into our polarized world of extremes. We cannot focus on what sells but must rather home in on the better way, on finding the middle ground.