On Thursday, October 2, during the regular chapel service at Brewton-Parker College, trustee chairman and pastor of Vidalia First Baptist Church, Bucky Kennedy, led a special time honoring the late Braxton Caner, son of President and Mrs. Jill Caner and older brother to Drake Caner. During the memorial time, Pastor Kennedy, who is also the Caner’s pastor, announced the establishment of The Braxton Caner Memorial Fund for the Prevention of Suicide and Cyber-bullying. The memorial fund was a way to honor the young Caner's brief life as well as address the painful circumstances surrounding the teen's tragic death. Indeed establishing memorial funds to both perpetuate the deceased person's influence and supply resources to inform the public or even establish actual "help centers" for persons facing particular problems remains so thoroughly embedded in our culture one would think there'd exist few, if any, who would criticize or condemn such a humanitarian effort.
Nonetheless, a group of social media abusers--few in number but fierce in behavior-- apparently could not help themselves. According to an article in The Christian Examiner, Georgia blogger, adjunct business instructor at Tennessee Temple University, and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student, Seth Dunn, along with JD Hall and Hall's organization, The Pulpit and Pen, picked up their stones after Kennedy announced the memorial fund and immediately condemned not only the fund itself as a "shameless capitalization of tragedy" which served merely as a "human shield to protect his father, uncle and those with integrity problems from criticism," but went on to suggest both the deceased and the deceased's father--Brewton-Parker president, Ergun Caner--suffered from mental illness.
The article by veteran Southern Baptist journalist and author, Joni Hannigan, thoroughly examines the issue beginning with Bucky Kennedy's testimony about how the notion initially came about for a memorial fund and his subsequent shock when some internet bullies were "speculating online about the mental health of the dead teen as a pretext to take swipes at his father, Brewton-Parker College President Ergun Caner, with claims of mental illness":
When Bucky Kennedy penned Braxton's List—reminders to Christians to be responsible when using social media—a few months back and then came up with a scholarship to raise awareness against cyber-bullying and suicide, he thought in some small way he was helping to quell the horrific pain felt by the family of a teenage suicide victim.
Kennedy went on to explain where the idea came from: "I didn't collaborate with anybody on this," Kennedy said. "The whole idea of the list came from a conversation I had with Jill."
And, according to Hannigan, after Washington state licensed mental health therapist, Kathleen Shannon, became aware of JD Hall's bullying the 15-year old Caner, and his subsequent suicide, she became livid. Shannon was clear concerning both Dunn and Hall's behavior, dubbing their attacks against the Caner family "inhumane and not intellectually respectable" while the family experiences "complicated" grief. She further indicated Hall's tagging his and Dunn's insensitive rhetoric with #BraxtonsList made "mockery of a tragedy in which he took part."
More significantly, however, is how the hate-filled, vindictive rhetoric routinely whipped up by social media abusers like Hall, Dunn, and The Pulpit and Pen contributors1 has negatively affected Ms. Shannon's perspective concerning the Christian community. Reportedly, while Ms. Shannon is both aware and informed concerning historic Christianity, she nonetheless remains very concerned for her own nine year old son should she allow him in any way to attend Christian functions or interact with Christians.
Is not even our tarnished testimony among non-Christians enough to motivate us to make a public outcry against cyber-bullying of any sort toward any person for any reason? Is the moral conscience of the largest evangelical denomination in the United States nothing more than an empty hull?
When will evangelicals generally and Southern Baptists particularly rise up and say to social media abuse, Enough!?
Read Joni B. Hannigan's "Attempt to raise awareness against suicide and cyber-bullying creates stir against Georgia family struck by teen suicide" on The Christian Examiner
Another helpful piece by Joni Hannigan: "Time to Stand up to Cyberbullies"
1Nor are these either the only social media abusers or perhaps even the chief ones. They do, however, represent well the dark moral downside of the internet social media platforms used by professing Christians and far too often by internet "apologists" who hypocritically "defend" the faith while at the same time spew human hatred toward others in the spirit and mindset of the late Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.