Dear Mohler: Welcome to Weinergate

I've heard that a comedian can make a whole career in Hollywood out of wiener jokes. I wonder if the same could be said for the media and Weiner jokes. This post from Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today, however, is not so much about what U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner did, but about what the congressman's actions inspired the Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to do. It began with this tweet from Mohler:

Dear Congressman Weiner: There is no effective "treatment" for sin. Only atonement, found only in Jesus Christ.

To which Grossman responded with a post at her Faith & Reason blog titled "Baptist to Jewish Weiner: Christ is the only 'treatment.'" Mohler read that post, and thought that Grossman had misunderstood him. He said he was not proselytizing on Twitter to a politician whom he doesn't know and responded with what Grossman called a "thoughtful column." He wrote

As far as I know, Rep. Weiner is not among my "followers" on Twitter. I did not assume that he was reading my posting. My message was mostly directed at my fellow Christians as a reminder of this very concern -- that the American impulse is to seek treatment when our real need is for redemption.

(Who even knows who follows them on Twitter? Grossman made that point earlier as Weinergate began to unravel.)

Mohler's response garnered to some media attention, from CNN to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. But Grossman still was not buying his explanation. This morning she responded with the latest volley in this online back and forth.

So, Mohler wasn't targeting Jews, he was using a Jewish person in crisis as a sermon springboard to preach to his known flock to return to traditional faith. Right?

But he didn't begin "Dear Christians..." He addressed his pitch to someone he knows is Jewish and then professes to be shocked when people notice.

All this background leads me to the point of this post. (Talk about burying the lede.) It's a combination of GetReligion and GetSocialMedia.

Grossman understands why Mohler would be religiously motivated to reach out to Weiner with the Good News at such a bad time. As she says, "Evangelism is Mohler's job description," though often times Christians leaders do offer unconditional support, at least in the short term.

But I think that Grossman missed a pretty common nuance of speech in the Digital Age. In fact, I can appreciate her either not noticing this or just disagreeing that Mohler was employing it because I find the gimmick of "Dear ____" so annoying.

At least once a day I see a Facebook update from a friend that, more or less, begins "Dear super rude tool talking on your cell phone in the checkout at the grocery store, no one wants to hear about your super-duper important life." Except for maybe in the instance of my most passive-aggressive friend, the aggrieved does not know the rude individual and certainly does not expect them to get the message.

Mohler's tweet seems to be in that vein. It should come as no surprise that Mohler saw Weiner's fall as a teachable moment. It's also hard to imagine the same interpretation if Mohler had written on his blog something like "Weiner needs Jesus." The difference here is just the gimmicky address of "Dear Congressman Weiner" and that Mohler used the 140-character confines of Twitter.

To me, it seems that Mohler was addressing his Christian followers on Twitter, but that he didn't open with "Dear Christians" because he was trying to use that social media gimmick of "Dear ____" as a point of reference for his comment.

To be sure, I'm not saying that Grossman doesn't get social media. (I also should disclaim that I graduated college just before UCLA got The Facebook.) She spends more time on Twitter and blogs more frequently than most any other mainstream religion reporter. I just think she misinterpreted Mohler on this one.

IMAGE: #weining on Zazzle

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