The recent uproar over Theological College’s decision to disinvite our colleague, Father James Martin, in response to organized pressure via social media offers several important lessons. The pattern of bullies and trolls being incited to strong-arm an organization or institution into cancelling a speaker whom they find objectionable is an increasingly common tactic among an array of ideological factions, as President John Garvey of the Catholic University of America has observed. Leaders in the church should think carefully about how to respond.
First, it is neither possible nor prudent to expect to be able to surrender to the internet troll and get to the other side of the bridge unscathed, with controversy avoided and no one the wiser. Recognizing this requires only attention to the current media environment, not theological analysis: Either the threatened disruptions or the cancellation of the speech will become the story, but once the trolls have a target in their sights, the story will not pass without notice.
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