Update 6/26/15: Today the SCOTUS made the announcement that the right to marry will be extended to those in same sex relationships. While this marks a major cultural moment for our nation, it also marks the day that my Facebook feed has been the most divided. From threats of unfriending to personal attacks to hell fire and brimstone judgements, it has not been a pretty site. I believe that today more than ever, we need to practice some of these principles. If we play our cards right this can be the church’s finest hour.
If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, this week has been a high water mark in the area of online conflict. With the unrest in Baltimore, The Supreme Court’s discussion on gay marriage, and Bruce Jenner’s coming out interview there has been no shortage in hot button issues.
In a time long ago there used to be a rule that everyone seemed to live by. In all social situations the rule that only the most most obtuse would ignore – Don’t talk about politics. It was a simple time before the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and Matt Walsh comment section. In those days if you felt strongly about a political position, you had to actually tell someone about it, to their face. If we are being honest, nobody likes to do that. Thus the “nothing political” policy was adopted by all but the most bold.
Fast forward a decade or two and we live in a different world. Behind the security and safety of a keyboard, people have become courageous in their ideas, not matter how socially unacceptable they are. We can feel as if we are invincible. This becomes obvious by watching just one episode of Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.
While those can be laughed off, some of the things people say online is downright threatening. Early this week an Atlanta Woman boldly stated:
“All Black ppl should rise up and shoot at every white cop in the nation starting NOW.”
That is online bravery gone too far.
If I am being honest I have had cases of online boldness that I regret now. I have entered into social brouhahas that I have had to repent of later. While there is a time and a place for boldness in our opinions, I have learned that the place is not always online, and that time is not when I am angry. I am the first one to tell you that we should be strong and very courageous in our convictions, but before we live that out online, I have 5 simple questions that we should ponder.
1. Do I have to respond?
Often times I find that the best response to political and theological positions that I disagree with is no response at all. In most cases you will be the only one who knew you didn’t respond. It is not like people are waiting on the other end of the internet hitting refresh every few seconds to see when someone will fight them. Sometimes it is best to just let them run out of steam.
One of my favorite things to see is when someone espouses a position online with which I wholeheartedly disagree only to be met by no response at all. Cyber Crickets. That can feel so good.
If we look at the life of Jesus, he often used this tactic in his own ministry. The Pharisees often tried to catch Jesus in his own words. They would ask him hard questions where he would have to give unpopular answers in front of a hostile crowd. Jesus’ response in those cases was often silence.
If we are to follow in His foot steps, there will come times where our beliefs will be unpopular in the ears of some audiences. Those audiences will be found on social media. Just because we believe it doesn’t mean we have to scream it. Sometimes our best option is silence. [bctt tweet=”Just because we believe it doesn’t mean we have to scream it.”]
2. Can I be quick to listen?
Jesus’ bold little brother gives some advice on handling conflict that applies to online conflict just as it does face to face. James 1:19 tells us:
“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”
Truly timeless words.
Before we jump into an online discussion, we need to be people who take the time to listen. Try to put ourselves in that other person’s shoes. Why do they feel that way? Are they being sincere? Am I taking offence where none was meant? Am I giving them the benefit of the doubt?
Many times if we really listen to what they have to say, and put ourselves in their shoes, it gives us new perspective.
Does this mean that we have to accept their opinion, or that it morally equivalent to ours – No! You can certainly disagree with someone and still try to understand their reasons for their opinions. I find that approach to be healthy.
3. Can I address this in private?
Call me crazy, but I believe that Jesus’ words about handling conflict apply in both face to face and online interactions. He gives us some clear instruction on the issue in Matthew 18.
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”
Somewhere along the line many of us have missed this teaching when it comes to online interactions. If someone we know and love holds unhealthy views in areas where we are more enlightened, it is our obligation to approach that person outside of the social context.
Disagreements in front of others have a much higher likelihood of escalating. No one likes to be corrected in public. It makes us feel weak.
If we see something that absolutely has to be addressed, let’s make sure we follow Jesus’ command and address that in private first.
4. What is the best possible outcome?
I have been around the block a few times and have yet to see a person’s opinion about a national debate change because of a correction in the comment section of a message board. It just doesn’t happen.
In most cases it is the same old comments that you read all the time. “The bible clearly says,” “Love the sinner hate the sin,” “In all things love,” are all good statements. But they are not the best statements in all circumstances. When they are used as cyber potshots, or online gotchas they actually lose their power. Let’s help each other out and only use them when they are most appropriate.
If I really ask myself the best possible outcome question and my answer is “They will change their mind about X,” where X is a small political issue of our time, I fear that would be an example of winning the battle but losing the war.
Our best possible outcome is for the world to come in to a life changing relationship with Jesus. If someone growing closer to the Son of God is not a possible outcome, it probably isn’t worth posting.
5. Can I find a way to be humble?
This last question is the hardest for me, but is probably the most important. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the idea of winning an argument that it becomes no longer about God and his purposes and all about winning. We have a reputation to keep after all.
I am of the opinion that humility is a prerequisite for every move of God. James 4:6 tells us something about this. [bctt tweet=”Humility is a prerequisite for every move of God.”]
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Maybe you are different from me, but I do not want God to opposed to me. When our online conversations descend into arguments that are all about being right, we align ourselves in opposition to the God of the universe.
The alternative is much kinder. When we put his ways first, and choose to take a humble approach, even when our enemies are totally in the wrong, God promises us Grace. That is the camp I want to be in.
What about you?
Do you find yourself getting sucked into the online fracas?
How do you guard yourself from letting it escalate?
Do you have a beef with anything I’ve said? If so – Bring it on!