Rick Burgess and The (Social Media) Reign of Terror

Anyone who has ever read Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities or seen one of its many film iterations can easily picture the French Revolutionary Tribunal, hissing and snarling as it hands down its verdicts from which there is no appeal and death the only penalty:

“At every juryman’s vote, there was a roar.  Another and another.  Roar and roar.  Unanimously voted….  an enemy of the Republic, a notorious oppressor of the People.  Death within four-and-twenty hours!”

Thousands of times—no one really knows anything like a precise number—innocents were dragged before this bloodthirsty (and utterly secular) assembly to be accused, mocked, and ultimately sent off to la guillotine in tumbrels loaded with human cargo.  All of it done in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.

Fortunately, in the twenty-first century we are so much more civilized.

Or are we?  Human nature hasn’t changed even if the technology has.  Today’s tribunals take the form of social media.  Each day, Facebook and Twitter serve-up the accused and let the snarling, hissing mob do their work on them.  Indeed, Twitter’s “Moments,” a highly biased news feature of the app, is designed to do precisely that.

This week I took special note of the electronic tribunal’s latest victim:

Radio host Rick Burgess.

For twenty-four years Rick and his co-host, William “Bubba” Bussey, have been entertaining almost a million listeners a day on “The Rick & Bubba Show,” a nationally syndicated phenomenon.  The show is full of good humor about virtually anything, be it news of the day, the latest in movies or sports, and often their own personal lives.  Playing-up a Southern shtick and supported by a cast of characters who contribute to the antics, the show is funny and family-friendly.  It is the antidote to Howard Stern.

As a frequent guest on the show since I first appeared on it in 2006, I have known Rick and his wife Sherri for many years.  Lauri and I have hosted them in our home as they have us in theirs.  We have traveled with them abroad.  We have sought to comfort them in the loss of their two-year-old son, Bronner, as they did Lauri when I was fighting for my life in a trauma unit.  Through all of it, I can say unequivocally what can be said of very few celebrities that I have met: Rick is precisely what he seems to be on-air—a friendly, good-natured, down to earth, man of Christian conviction.

A few days ago, however, Rick was dragged before the social media tribunal.  His crime?  He does not endorse same-sex relationships.  This is not news.  Rick is an outspoken evangelical Christian and he has never been closeted about his views on the subject.  But this week afforded critics a fresh crack at the radio host when his eldest daughter came out of the closet as bisexual. (Take note: She came out; Rick did not “out” her as some have alleged.)  There could be but one verdict—guilty!—and punishment was swift:

“Rick Burgess is a joke,” tweeted one member of the tribunal.  “Worst ‘Christian’ parent award!!!”

“Rick Burgess is an ***hole,” fumed another.

Yet another, raging with the hate that is so common to social media, shrieked, “Rick Burgess is f***ing delusional.”

Finally, there was the patronizing fellow who condemned him in an open letter for the “disproportionate attention” he was giving homosexuality and then proceeded to scold him for not loving his daughter.  Never mind the fact that Rick did not initiate the discussion or publish the article intended to spark controversy in the first place.  As for Rick’s love for his daughter, it is what it has always been: unconditional.  But one quickly learns that facts are irrelevant to the tribunal.

Like the actual Revolutionary Tribunal, all of this is done under the pretense of love, diversity, and tolerance.  We have seen this movie before: Chick-fil-A, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, Hobby Lobby, and more recently, HGTV’s Chip and Joanna Gaines.  In each instance, the self-appointed representatives of all that is loving wasted no time in tweeting, Facebooking, or Instagramming a steady stream of hatred.  To be clear, there have been many expressions of support for Rick and his family.  But what is one to make of this atavistic element of the culture?  One can easily imagine these same people turning out to watch public executions while they picnic cheerily under a nearby tree.  You’d get better treatment from this tribunal were you a member of ISIS.

Or course, Rick Burgess’s real offense is that he is unashamedly a follower of Jesus Christ.  His position on homosexuality is not new even if, say, President Obama’s is.  (People conveniently forget that the Democratic President was not a supporter of gay marriage as late as the beginning of his first term.)  Furthermore, Burgess’s views are hardly anomalous.  As I wrote in an article for The Atlantic on the Phil Robertson controversy in 2013, “Christians may disagree on the details, but the Bible strongly condemns homosexuality in both the Old and New Testaments; the marriage model of one man and one woman is first given by God in Genesis 2 and reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 19; and in Romans 1 the Apostle Paul denounces homosexuality as a hallmark of a degenerate culture.  The point here isn’t that you have to believe any of this, but many Christians do believe it and feel morally bound to believe it.”

Last week, popular Christian author and speaker Beth Moore was quoted as saying that this is a generation that will “Sacrifice truth for love’s sake, and you will rise or fall based upon whether you will sacrifice one for the other.”  Moore’s observation is consistent with the recent experience of Rick Burgess vs. the Electronic Tribunal as it is in each of the aforementioned cases.  Truth, the moral good, was sacrificed to a distorted notion of love.  And if I may add to Moore’s comments, truth and love are not mutually exclusive.

Tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance, and acceptance is not the same thing as an endorsement.  I am convinced that Rick Burgess tolerates, accepts, and loves his daughter.  He does not endorse her lifestyle.  There is a difference.  That, however, is not acceptable to the tribunal.  The tribunal, intolerant and hateful to the last, demands total adherence to its ever-expanding moral boundaries.

Who’s next on the tribunal’s docket?  Zoe Saldana.  It seems the A-List celebrity had the temerity to suggest that Donald Trump won the presidential election because of the “arrogance” and “bullying” of the Cultural Left.  Uh, oh.

“Off with her head!”

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.  Yeah, right.