Just this past week a good friend of mine posted something she was excited about. It was not controversial in my book; she was excited about what she was doing and posted to her friends. Her post went much further than she ever dreamed, and many people read her post. While the great majority of responses were positive, a few loud, harsh, critics on-line were cruel to her. It caused her great distress and even caused her sleepless nights.
Just a little while later, someone publicly maligned the church I pastor on-line. I do not even know the person who did it, I had never met them and, as far as I know, they never entered the church building. Yet, they had strong opinions about the church. And those opinions were not so nice…
In addition, the past two months of Youth Nights at our congregation have focused on how to live life as a faithful christian on social media.
Putting all of these events together, I thought it fitting to write a short blog about how we behave on-line.
Social Media allows us to do things that we never had the ability to do in the past. We can share our experiences and share our opinions with a wide array of people that we do not know. We can network with people with like interests and argue with people with whom we disagree. Often however I think we forget that when we post opinions there are actual living, breathing, human beings that read what we write. We type on a computer and forget that the person on the other end reading what we type is also a person.
Jesus taught a very simple rule; it was reiterated by the Apostle Paul and we are told the entire Law and the Prophets are summed up in one little phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Ah, if we could only live the rule…
So here are a few basic rules that I believe appropriate:
If you have a problem with a person, the first step is to take up that issue with the person personally and without involving a large swath of the public. This is basic and follows the prescription of the commandment, “do not bear false witness.” We are to speak well of our neighbor and build him/her up, not tear him/her down. Would you like it if someone who disagreed with you approached you privately? Me too. So…do that.
Also, if you have something negative to say to someone, and you know them personally, almost never put the negative comment in a text or e-mail. Approach them. If possible, deal with them face to face. At the very least, make a phone call. Being able to hear tone of voice, see facial expressions, and the added reality of seeing another human being will often change the interaction. 9 times out of 10 you will not want to confront them with your issue. If you do not want to confront them in, “live time” then it is not worth confronting on-line.
Please remember that your Christianity does not end on-line; it is heightened. Many eyes see what you write, what you post, what you are interested in, etc… Please remember that.
Now, a few basic rules for those that post publicly:
If you post something publicly, you must expect people to respond. Some people will respond negatively. Some people will be mean. We must remember that some people do not possess the Holy Spirit and as such we cannot expect people that are void of the Spirit of God to behave as if they had Him. Therefore, if you post something, I believe that ought to come with an expectation that people respond. And, some of the people that respond will be jerks. Jerks exist. We’ve all been one before. They are out there.
As Christians we know this world is full of evil people who do evil things. We were once stuck in sin and indeed we still find ourselves being sinful. Remember that. We need to be people who give grace when we are treated poorly; for we worship a Savior that uttered the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Paul’s advice in Romans 12 is appropriate in person and online, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yoursleves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It is that last line that always gets me personally, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The temptation when attacked is to attack or to run. Both of these responses are poor ones. When attacked, bless. When cursed, pray. When cruelly spoken of, give a blessing. If you actually do these things let me tell you what happens – inevitably peace ensues; because you have given that person over to God.
In addition, if what you write on-line you believe is holy, good, and true then no amount of criticism should shake us. [I know it often does, but when it does ask for forgiveness for your weakness and keep it moving.] We need to remember that we exist ultimately to please but three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
My advice to anyone who is attacked on-line is this: respond with blessing. They may continue to curse you but here is the blessing in that – when you are publicly maligned and you publicly respond with blessing, that too is seen. Everyone sees what that person is doing – and everyone sees how we respond.
We are in love with Jesus because in the face of the great evil of humanity, He showed love. If we trust in Him, we are of Him; and if we are of Him, we ought to behave like Him.
Brothers and sisters, love. That is all.