Internet Trolls in Church Clothes

Desiring God: Internet Trolls in Church Clothes

How now shall we comment? Consider some examples of the kind of questions we can ask ourselves before posting.

  • Am I speaking from a soul satisfied in God or from my discontent?
  • Have I prayed for this person to whom I’m about to respond?
  • Have I labored to understand what he is saying?
  • Do I love this person (1 Peter 2:15–17) — even if they feel like an enemy (Matthew 5:43)?
  • Am I merely trying to one-up him?
  • How would I phrase this critique if I had to speak it to him face to face?
  • Can I raise my critique in private instead of in public?
  • How can I say this in a way that aims to build him up as well as the hearers?
  • Is this particular critique needful at this point in time?
  • Could I be wrong?
  • Am I sowing discord or delight?

Again, loving speech does not mean never saying anything that could offend. It does not lead to a watered-down eclecticism or silence on important doctrinal and exegetical distinctions. Jesus confronted, offended, challenged, and rebuked his disciples. But he also went to the cross for them. And we are to love — online and off — like him.

No One Left to Blame

Christianity Today: Sorry Christians, We Can’t Blame the Media Any More Christians love playing the “blame the media” game. Not long ago, we might have had a legitimate claim that our reputation was bad because the media was against us. That’s not the case anymore. Oh sure, the media in general may still think negatively about […]

Politically Charged Topics and Christian Online Conduct

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I’ve been hesitant to write anything about Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I’m an Indiana resident, so it goes without saying that I’ve heard and read one or two things about it, and I do have an opinion about it. But that’s not the point of this post. My opinions are unimportant. What’s important is this: anytime something like this occurs, where a large portion of the Christian population becomes invested in a politically charged debate, conduct becomes the point.

Whenever politics and religion mix, things get ugly, and many things I’ve been seeing from my brothers and sisters in Christ on social media only proves it. I’ve been appalled by some of the things I’ve seen shared and reposted in defense of the bill — so appalled I’ve caught myself shaking in anger that a brother or sister in Christ, who would never speak that way in person, would think it’s a good idea to share the stuff filling my timeline.

James 3:9 – 12 says this about the contents of our speech:

We praise our Lord and Father with [the tongue], and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.

Colossians 4:6 says that our words should always be gracious, as if seasoned with salt, and Jesus asks, in Matthew 5:13, what purpose salt serves if it should lose its flavor. When we behave differently from the world, in both speech and conduct, then we are as salt that seasons the lives of those around us and makes God’s word easier to digest. When we act like the world, and when we use mean-spirited and ungracious words to prove a point, we lose our flavor and become pointless in God’s work.

This is especially important when we start sharing and reposting things to social media. As soon as I share an article on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email, or wherever else, I’m making the words of that article my own. If the author uses bad language, I’m taking ownership of those words. If the author is using mean-spirited words, I’m now using mean-spirited words. If the author is acting like a bully, I’m acting like a bully by sharing. I say I’m praising God while belittling others with what I share. I might as well be trying to get sweet and bitter water from the same spring.

I could write much more at this point about the flaws and dangers of our continuing habit of looking to politicians to do our Christian work for us, but I won’t. Perhaps another time. For now, all I want my brothers and sisters to take away is this: we can choose to agree or disagree on a number of secular topics — Indiana’s new religious freedom act being one of many. We don’t have to be ungracious about it. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

Be mindful about what you post online. Be mindful about the links you share. Be wary of link-bait titles. Would Jesus actually use words like those? Does the post have a Christ-like tone? Does it line up with the kinds of things found in Philippians 4:8? You may agree with the overall point, but we undermine God and the nature of His message when we share things that are harsh and belittling or that cruelly attack those with whom we disagree. (And I’m sorry, but the defense of “calling it like it is” is no defense at all.)

Be mindful about what you post, especially when polarizing issues arise. Don’t post out of anger or frustration. Don’t post to “score points” against the other side. Stop posting things you have to qualify due to harsh tone or harsher language. Avoid using social media as a mask of anonymity through which you can shelve Christian conduct. Exercise kindness and graciousness online. I beg you — I implore you — think before you link.

Partisan Spirituality

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Have you ever been part of a congregation that began to internally debate a matter of scripture? I’m not talking about a few people discussing a small disagreement. I mean speakers representing different sides of an issue actually standing before the congregation having a moderated debate. I’m talking about the type of setting where supporters of each idea will sit on the opposite sides of the auditorium.

It’s been years now, but I have. And it’s not pretty. Worse, it’s not productive.

I recently touched on this topic in a sermon I gave at my congregation about doctrinal integrity (which reminds me that I should be better about posting my sermons here):

When dealing with doctrinal matters, we have to avoid partisan mindsets like the plague. By this, I mean we must avoid drawing lines, taking sides, and forming teams. The only side any of us should be on is that of the truth. Remember Paul’s first letter to Corinth where he accuses them of this very thing — lining up behind the teachings of specific individuals and being more loyal to that person than to God? We can’t let our congregation become a debate club. Debates change no one’s mind, for the participants and their supporters have come armored up and oppositional, with their minds already convinced the other side is wrong.

Once we begin treating our spiritual differences like a presidential debate or the Ham/Nye debate, we create an environment where reconciliation is all but impossible. How often have you watched a political debate that convinced you to vote for the other party’s candidate? Never? Me too. Instead, we observe the debate through a filter that automatically casts a more favorable light on our side while being more likely to fact-check, criticize, and otherwise marginalize the other. The very setting inhibits objectivity and fairness.

So how do we prevent disagreements from rolling out of control?

  • Keep it small. The more people get involved, the more heel-digging will occur. How do you think the conversation between Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos would have gone if teams had been involved in Acts 18?
  • Keep it Personal.  Make sure you both know this is an issue between yourselves. Think of how Matthew 18:15 begins with addressing an offense. “Some people” don’t have to be brought into the discussion. (As in: “Some people would disagree with…”)
  • Assume Sincerity. Assume the person with whom you have a disagreement wants to do God’s work. Assume they want to be with you in Heaven. Christian love is supposed to “hope all things'” and that applies to brothers and sister with whom we disagree as well.
  • Escalate wisely. If the disagreement does affect salvation, and if it cannot be resolved personally, then involve the shepherds or minister in the discussion. Again, keep things small. A personal discussion does not need to become a congregational circus.

In all of this, we should be keeping Proverbs 3:30 in mind: “Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” Are you really disagreeing over a matter of doctrine, or did the other person just step on an opinion? Will the issue at hand affect anyone’s salvation, or are we just splitting hairs? Yes, there are a few examples of doctrinal issues escalating to the congregation in the New Testament, but that should not be our first course of action.

Our exclusive motivators should be to do God’s work and to care for each others souls. It should not be our goal to feel vindicated on an issue. It should not be our goal to score a victory. Our goal is to be more like Christ and to help the world see His love in us — in our conduct, in our attitudes, in our generosity, in our relationships. If that love comes first, there is no room for partisanship.

Lessons from Daniel Tiger: Find a Way to Play Together

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In another episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the kids are playing house at preschool when Prince Wednesday storms in roaring. He wants to pretend to be a dinosaur, but the others are worried his roaring will wake the pretend baby. Katarina doesn’t want Wednesday to play with them at all, but Teacher Harriet encourages them to find a way to play together. Prince Wednesday decides to be a quiet dinosaur, and all is right with the world in the Land of Make Believe.

Solutions may not be so easy in the real world, but I sometimes worry that we Christians are too quick to throw up walls when disagreements arise. Whether they are differences over the correct distribution of the Lord’s Supper, times of worship, the number of times we gather on Sundays, which benevolent opportunities to pursue, or even secular issues like politics – we often find it easier to disfellowship than work things out together or simply drop or concede a point of contention. Instead of finding a way to play together, we’re guilty of gathering up our toys and going someplace else. The result is congregations that shrink and swell based largely on whoever is refusing to worship with whom at any given time.

Jesus’ apostles were a diverse group, and they were prone to disagreements. When these arose, however, Jesus did not separate them into different groups. He didn’t cater to the arguments. Instead, He refocused their minds away from their contentions and onto things above. Even when Paul and Barnabas separate ways over a disagreement regarding John Mark, they all eventually end up reunited as a Christian family. Disagreements arise. Some are more legitimate than others, but we cannot view each other as disposable in these times. You are vital to my salvation, and I hope you see me as vital to yours.

You and I may have a lot of differences. We may have different opinions about the age of our world, about environmentalism and humane treatment of animals, on gun control, on immigration, on taxation, on head coverings, on hymns versus praise songs, on any number of things – but those differences cannot and must not define our relationship in Christ. If we’re going to get to Heaven together, then we have to find a way to set our differences aside and get along in this world. We have to find a way to play together.