Online pop psychology has a simple solution to every relationship problem. Love and prudence call us to something messier—and better.
Everyone on social media is asserting their boundaries. Everyone is cutting toxicity out of their life. Everyone is prioritizing their own healing journey and giving up on one-sided relationships. Everyone is disarming the narcissist, protecting their space, deleting that number, going no-contact. Or at least, it feels that way.
There is a mode of self-help, overwhelmingly generated and reinforced online, that I call the “dump them” school of thought. It solves every problem with an elegant, unified simplicity of which physicists can only dream: Just dump them. Whether it’s your mother failing to respect your child-rearing rules, your boyfriend who said something hurtful, or your friend who flaked on you twice in a row, you know what you need to do: Dump them. Cut them off.
“Dump them” conversations online are rarely about the church, but the church—universal, if not always a specific local congregation—is a highly dump-able target. The universal church is filled with sinners, and particular churches bring otherwise disparate people together in the work of governing a community and discussing profoundly sensitive and important topics; they often comprise a complex emotional landscape where quotidian frustrations mingle with histories of power abuses (or worse). It would be surprising if the “dump them” school of emotional hygiene had not made its way to the church.
It’s not difficult to see why this school of advice has gained traction. For one thing, it’s extremely well-suited to the internet, where we encounter the interpersonal problems of others at a far remove. Without being deeply embedded in the real-life context of the problem …