Betteridge’s law of headlines clearly states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” So spoilers.
I often think about the time I spend on services like Facebook and Twitter. Recently, I saw one of those exchanges where one person posts something inflammatory that then escalates in the comments. All to often, you see something like, “If you don’t like what I have to say, delete me,” tossed in among other attacks as well as more commenters lining up to take sides. This time, the exchange was between Christians, and the object of debate was far from a spiritual matter. (Actually, those two things happen more often than I would like.)
Romans 12:15 says we should weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. That’s the primary reason I stay on social media right there. If I’m connected with you on Facebook, I sincerely want to know what’s going on in your life. I want to know what prayers you need, what celebrations you have, what struggles you are facing. That’s part of what being a brother or sister in Christ is about. That’s what being a friend is all about.
However, between adorable pictures of pets/kids and status updates about life, Facebook in particular has become a platform for soapboxes. It’s hard to scroll very far without seeing some post or another about why this group is heartless or why that group is stupid. Toxicity runs rampant. It damages relationships, and it motivates more than a few to take breaks from Facebook or abandon the service altogether.
Then come the times we feel the need to engage — to put someone “in their place.” Or, we jump in and participate in the rant, behaving like bullies toward those who think differently on some secular issue — gun rights, immigration, healthcare, taxes, etc. I’m guilty of this as anyone. Just a couple weeks ago, I caught myself being very mean-spirited on Twitter. Sure, I deleted the tweets after the fact, but the damage had already been done.
Here’s Romans 12:15 in its larger context:
In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate one to another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in oppression; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits.
Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.”
Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
What I don’t see is an exhortation to rant with those who rant, to fight those who incite. Paul doesn’t give us permission to be Internet trolls. (Although, in a manner of speaking, he does give us permission to feed the trolls.) In fact, if I hold some of my past conduct on social networks to the standard put forth in Romans 12, I fall woefully short. Still, I recognize that struggle, and I’m always hoping to do better.
I invite you to look at your own conduct on Facebook and other social services. Are you ranting with those who rant? Stop. Are you inciting arguments and anger? Stop. Stop being overcome by evil, and instead be a source of goodness. And, above all, continue posting about your joys so that I can rejoice with you. Write about your sorrows, so that I can pray for you. I’m not going to unfriend you, mute you, or block you because I disagree with you on some things, but I’d much rather know how I can be a better friend to you than how to vote like you.