Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Christians and Online Speech

Much has been written about how followers of Christ should conduct themselves in conversations with others, both in person and in social media online. The online campus pastor at my home church even did a message on “Ten Commandments of Social Media.”

Nevertheless, Christians continue to act and talk in ways online that they would probably be much less likely to practice if they were standing face to face with the objects of their commentary.

Back during the Obama presidency, a former deacon and Sunday school teacher made a Facebook post calling Nancy Pelosi “Satan’s sister.” I’m sorry, but whatever your thoughts about a person’s politics, such ad hominem attacks should be beneath a follower of Christ. This same person recently (in November of 2020) shared a meme of a popular conservative female pundit that included a swear word (and I mean one of the “seven words you couldn’t say on TV” in my youth, not one the more common words now regularly heard on prime time network television).

A friend I grew up with in youth camp just last week shared a non-political meme with the same expletive in it. 

I recently saw where a friend I have known since high school reposted a meme calling any candidate other than Donald Trump a “fork-tongued slick-speaking self-serving swamp monster.” I commented citing James 3:9-10:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (NIV)


My friend responded that his initial post said nothing about cursing human beings. I responded that it was still “name-calling and a form of ad hominem attack. Argue policy and point out where a politician’s reasoning is wrong. But don’t resort to the world’s tactics.”

One of the responses my comment received said:

I love it when Christ followers which are less than Christ think that they have risen above Christ himself, who wasn't afraid to call people what they were, such as snakes, hypocrites, and white-washed tombs.

Another mutual friend said:

Oh good grief. Jesus compared sinners to dogs and swine, and He slurred a political leader by calling him a fox. John the Baptist called Pharisees a family of snakes.

There was no acknowledgement of, “Yes, we can do better than this.” Only attempts to use Scripture to deflect and justify the harsh speech that is becoming all too common on believers' social media pages.

My response to the assertion, “Well, Jesus and the Apostle Paul called people names,” would be that usually they did so in direct confrontation to point out false teaching by other religious people, not in online echo chambers to “score points” in earthly political matters and get affirming likes from their friends. 

Noah Filipiak makes a good argument as to why Jesus and John the Baptist could do this when addressing corrupt religious leaders in Israel, but we as Christ-followers today don’t get to name-call our government officials.

When I have raised concerns in some ministers' forums online about how this type of online speech affects our witness for the Kingdom of God, I have had some fellow ministers complain that—with all the left is doing to promote abortion and communism and to take away our rights—what I'm worried about is "mean Christians" who say "unkind things." I'm actually concerned with all these issues. Yet they dismiss my concerns with the assertion that "the other side" is so much worse, and at times seem to justify such speech by Christians on that basis. But, to paraphrase Capt. Christopher Pike in season two of Star Trek: Discovery, "If we sacrifice our principles in order to win, we've already lost."

I've been accused of "just wanting the world to like us." Anyone who really knows me knows that is far from the truth. I was raised to not follow the crowd, but Christ. I didn't care if that put me on the outside socially. I simply believe that the only offence in our presentation of the gospel should be the truth of the gospel message itself, not our delivery of it. 

Some recent things I have read or heard seem to apply to this situation, even if indirectly. I’m just going to cite them, rather than provide a lengthy commentary.

In a recent Facebook Live video, Canadian Pentecostal scholar Bradley Truman Noel says:

This is not a good time for Christians to lose their minds. This is not a good time for Christians to exist in echo chambers where you only listen to things that you already agree with, or that reinforce what you already believe. This is a good time for Christians to be diligent, to read widely, to think deeply, to pray without ceasing, to seek wisdom and not just fire—by fire, I just mean heat on a topic—but to seek light. Christians can model the Kingdom of God in this hour just by being sensible. I mean, the bar is really low. All we have to do is not be crazy, pretty well, and we’ll look good for God. All we have to do is be diligent with our research, and not just share everything that comes across our page on Facebook. All we have to do is be measured in how we respond to somebody else, and we’ll do justice to the Kingdom of God. All we have to do is be thoughtful in how we respond to other people, and pause when you see something and say, “I wonder if that’s actually true.”


And to hold these things in balance. I mean, it’s not hard for Christians to shine in this hour, because the dialogue in the world has stopped being dialogue, it’s just people screaming at each other. And just by having sensible conversations and being calm. The fruit of the Spirit is going to be so important coming up, because if you are full of love or joy—peace alone is going to be like gold going forward. Peace is like gold now. So this is a terrible time for us to lose our minds, it’s a terrible time for us to be chasing conspiracy theories.

I’ll just close this with a few Scriptures I think we should keep in mind when writing or speaking, whether on social media or in person.

Mark 7:20–23 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”


Luke 6:45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of


Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.


1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.


1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.


1 Peter 3:15-16 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.


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