3 Questions to Ask Before Responding to a Controversy

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? Yes, but the better question is if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, who cares? If you found out a tree fell would you go tell others? Would you blog or tweet about it? Probably not.

And that’s precisely how we ought to treat many “controversies.” A controversy is only controversial if people talk about it. If we let it lie there like the tree in the forest it’s just something dumb that was said or done and then it goes away. And far fewer people get hurt in the process too.

So many mistakes get blown into controversies by people’s responses to them. Before we decide to write, post, or speak a public rejoinder here are three questions to consider.

1. Am I really the one to respond to this?

What gives me reason to think that I should be the one raking Miley Cyrus or Brian Williams or Mark Driscoll over the coals or blasting a bunch of old white guys for hating rap or bashing every woman who sees 50 Shades of Grey whether or not she has a biblical worldview? Should someone? Maybe, but why me? Just having a strong opinion on the issue isn’t enough. There better be a doggone good reason to enter into the fray.

2. Do I have something to say that others are not already saying?

Most public responses are restatements of something that’s already been said. If you have nothing fresh to offer, please don’t offer it. All you’re doing is piling on and bringing in new readers or hearers who otherwise could innocently go about their business. Pay attentions to who is saying what so that you aren’t just another loud mouth pushing a controversy to new lows.

3. Is my response going to help solve or help escalate?

Don’t fool yourself into thinking your contribution will be the last nail in the coffin. Seriously consider whether you will be stirring up or settling down, hurting or healing. Will you be leading people further into the dispute or leading them to freedom from it?

Ego makes these questions nearly impossible to answer for ourselves, so we must have honest (and blunt) sounding boards. We need people to save us from our own delusions. Find these people and listen to them.

So often, more damage is done through spreading controversy than through ignoring it. I can already see hackles rising on many of you. “But we must respond with CONVICTION! We can’t let so-and-so- get away with whatever!” And to a point you’re right. Some actions must not be ignored. Ask yourself this before responding: Was it malicious, unjust, prominent, authoritative, or personally connected to me? If it is some combination of these it might deserve your ire. But even then, it’s often better to let the tree fall, let the echoes die away, and let it decay where it lies.


I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life