The Rev. Jonathan Carl glanced at Twitter and laughed out loud in disbelief.
The president of the United States had just tweeted at him, a Baptist pastor in Kentucky who up until now hadn’t had any reason to be the subject of national attention. And President Trump was, online, in public, out of the blue, insulting him.
The president had mixed up Jonathan Carl, the Kentucky minister with fewer than 375 Twitter followers, with Jonathan Karl, the ABC News reporter whose journalism had ruffled the feathers of the commander in chief.
Carl’s laughter soon turned into concern. Trump had called Carl a “lightweight reporter.” And some of Trump’s ardent fans weren’t happy with Jonathan Carl — not realizing that he wasn’t Jonathan Karl.
The “drive-by tweet” brought on “intense vitriol and hatred,” Carl said. He was suddenly experiencing what many of Trump’s intended Twitter targets go through almost daily: a barrage of infuriated tweets from Trump’s followers.
The pastor stopped laughing. And on Monday, a week after his evening as a sudden Twitter target, he published an open letter to Trump.
“Although I was an accidental casualty caught in the cross-fire of your ‘lightweight’ tweet, your attack was very purposeful and hurtful. Many others, whether American citizens or global citizens, feel wounded and hurt by the shrapnel and side-effects of your ongoing Twitter attacks,” Carl wrote in his letter.
He hurled the same insult back at Trump that Trump had mistakenly leveled at him — but then turned it into a theological point. “Let’s be honest, you are a lightweight too,” Carl wrote. “We all are. God is the only heavyweight who knows it all and gets it right all the time.”
He pleaded with the president: “Please don’t make the Twitter-universe such a dark and depressing place. It shouldn’t be a place to argue, fight, or jockey for position. We can disagree and debate without childish name-calling. You can make Twitter a better place.”
Carl, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post, is the lead pastor at South Fork Baptist Church in Hodgenville, Ky. According to an online biography, he is an Iraq War veteran, holds a PhD from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is raising three daughters with his wife.
His church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention — the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, and one of its most Republican-leaning. Sixty-four percent of Southern Baptists described themselves as “conservative” to Pew Research Center, and 9 percent described themselves as “liberal.” Last year, Vice President Pence showed up as a surprise guest at the denomination’s annual convention, where he thanked more than 9,000 attendees from churches “to the Southern Baptist Convention for the essential and irreplaceable role you play in America.”
But Carl didn’t mince words for the president. “Your heart must be in a dangerous place to have such a consistent flow of defamation and disrespect towards so many,” he said.
He interspersed his own comments throughout the letter with quotes from Abraham Lincoln, a president who never got to use Twitter but still came up with plenty of bon mots. Carl said that he passes Lincoln’s birthplace, which is now a National Park Service site, in his church’s town of Hodgenville, almost every day on his commute.
Perhaps Lincoln would not have been overly fond of Twitter, based on one 1861 quotation that Carl selected from the great emancipator: “I am rather inclined to silence, and whether that be wise or not, it is at least more unusual nowadays to find a man who can hold his tongue than to find one who cannot.”