The rise of social media and blogging over the past decade has opened the door to a new avenue of public discourse. As I've said on this site before, we should not stifle the right to be heard. Freedom of speech is crucial. And social media is a unique, powerful mode of ministry. However, problems inevitably arise because anyone can write a blog post or status update, send it out to the world, and for all intents and purposes move on without repercussion. In light of this, there is a tendency to write "hit pieces" -- attacks on an individual or group -- under the guise of free expression of opinion.
And why not write sensational pieces? You can attract a lot of attention to your work. A recent example is the article written by Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports regarding Tim Tebow, Robert Jeffress, and FBC Dallas. Doyel extracted quotes from Jeffress's sermons, likened him to a mild-grade version of the Westboro group, and started the frenzy that caused Tebow to skip out on his scheduled appearance. (Oh, and Gregg Doyell got a lot of pub for himself.)
This kind of work is no stranger to the Christian world of social media. In fact, it's disappointingly common. Some were upset about Kevin Ezell's now-infamous critique of "bloggers who live with their mother and wear a housecoat during the day," but he's been given ample ammunition to make that sort of claim. Let's face it: Blogs are used as bully pulpits far too often.
Now, we may expect this from professing nonbelievers. But when this happens in the Christian community, a disconnect occurs.
Scripture and Conflict
Most people are aware of Jesus's command in Matthew 18 that begins with, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." And we've probably heard Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 5: You should expel a person in the church who sins without regard.
But how should a people respond when a brother (or sister) writes, says, or does something that they don't like? It's not sinful, it's not an offense against you -- you just simply disagree.
When dealing with online dialogue -- whether sinned against or not -- the two parties should mimic the new life Paul describes in Ephesians 4:
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Remember: It's not a sin to publicly or privately disagree with someone, nor is it evil to show concern about something they've said or done. When these conversations are healthy and informative, they can be truly helpful. But tone is important. Snark, misrepresentation, and attack on another's character should disappear when we ponder our redeemed lives, the reality of Satan, and the implications of Christ living in us (Gal. 2:20). The cross levels the playing field and demands grace as the immediate response.
Practical Tips for Online Disagreement
Imitating Christ should be our foundational aim. This ought to bring pause to our knee-jerk reaction to assault another. (And might save our keyboards a little stress, too!) Beyond that, here are some thoughts to remember when engaging in online dialogue.
- Those you cyber-fight are real people. A fact lost on many is that you're dealing with a real person, with real feelings, a real family, and real flaws -- just like you. Treat them as such. Take a step back, do your homework, and make a fair attempt to understand their position.
- It's much easier to blast someone from your computer screen than actually talk to them. Our first inclination should be to speak with that person about the issue. You might find that the person meant something else, regretted their decision, or has a legitimate explanation for what happened. It's not holy or helpful to shoot arrows across the interwebs.
- God searches the heart. Scripture is full of reminders that God knows our motives (Ps. 139:1; Jer. 17:10; Rom. 8:27; 1 Thess. 2:4). There are likely not many pure reasons for publicly attacking another, so pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal your intentions.
May we all glorify God in our public, and private, disagreements.