There is no way to sugar coat it, last week was a bad week for the Bible believing church on social media. It all started when a pastor with a national following and influence was asked on Twitter what presidential candidate he thinks members of his ethnic group should vote for. [In the interest of full disclosure, I think this is a bad question, just as there is no Jew or Greek in Christ (Gal 3:28) there is also no black, white, brown, yellow, red, African American, Asian American, Irish America, Native American, Italian American or any other racial or ethnic identity distinction in Christ.] After prefacing his answer by saying he is disillusioned with national politics, he gave an answer and that answer was a non-Republican. [Again in the interest of full disclosure, I strongly suspect that the operatives and power brokers of the Republican party think of Evangelicals and the operatives and power brokers of the Democratic party think of members of this ethnic group the same way Joseph Stalin thought of American communists, as “useful idiots.” Reliable voters who can be turned out with promissory rhetoric even when there is a decades long history of those promises never being fulfilled or even really pursued.] Twitter exploded with vitriol. Another pastor with a national following immediately took offense and launched into a vitriolic attack. The first man responded in kind, sycophants of both men piled in, others weighed in, multiple blog posts were written about the “issue” and so it spiraled. Again without sugar coating it, this was sub-Christian behavior. So I’ll be blunt, you need to act like a Christian on social media. Period.
How do you act like a Christian on social media? It must start by following the commands of Christ. No command is more important than the one from the lips of Jesus in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” This is norun of the mill command either, it is foundational to Christian identity. Jesus continues in the next verse, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Just so we are all on the same page as to what love is, consider the words of Paul, written in response to a conflict in the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice over wrong doing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
Sadly, it seems that many believers have somehow convinced themselves this command, and these principles are somehow null and void in the realm of social media. Are we really so weak as a church, that it needs to be pointed out the command to love one another is not abrogated when we sit behind a key board? Is our understanding of Scripture so stunted that applications of 1 Corinthians 13 like love does not level blanket accusations of racism, or mock a person’s name, or sic Twitter followers on other believers, or troll the internet looking for things to be angry over or retaliate in kind when insulted or anything of the sort really need to be spelled out?
Honestly I fail to see how servants of the God-Man who said “My kingdom is not of this world, if it were my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from this world (John 18:36)” can be so willing to fight with one another over politics.
I get the pro-life argument. But in the 43 years since Roe v Wade was decided no elected president, Republican or Democrat has mounted any serious attempt at affecting change in the culture of death that has taken hold in our country. Culturally the U.S. is plummeting into the abyss at 9.8 meters per second per second (that is free fall acceleration speed in case you were wondering), and while who is in the White House may influence whether we carom off the right or left wall of the pit, no occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania has slowed our descent. Our only hope is that God would act, or to put it as the Psalmist did “put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation (Psalm 146:3). Of course I am not saying that Christians should not engage in pro-life activism and speech, but I am saying that for 40+ years pro-life politics has been essentially entirely unsuccessful and more importantly, even if a political difference of opinion is rooted in your personal pro-life political convictions, it in no way supersedes the command to love one another (or the commands to love your neighbor and to love your enemies either).
All of these thing said let me offer a few tips on how to act like a Christian on social media.
Remember it is to a person’s glory to overlook an offense
Proverbs 19:11 says “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” If someone says something on Twitter or Facebook or in the comments of a blog that offends you, you can in good conscience overlook it. In fact, it shows good sense not to fly off the handle quickly.
As a corollary I would add that if someone characteristically shows a lack of restraint on social media you may want to think about limiting their ability to influence you. Stop reading their blog, listening to their podcasts, you might even consider unfollowing them on Twitter and Facebook. I promise you won’t miss anything that is crucial to your spiritual growth.
Never leave the bench
Growing up playing multiple sports of the variety that required wearing a mouth piece, and occasioned the odd fisticuffs between boys, one thing was drilled into my head. Never, ever under any circumstances be the third man into a fight. The third man in never, ever made things better (and always received the stiffest penalties too). When two Christians are going at one another, piling in is only going to make it worse. It adds fuel to the fire and only serves to prolong and draw attention to the conflict. Better just to stay out of it.
And as a corollary, if anyone calls for you to join in their social media attack on another professing Christian, even one who is clearly wrong, they are not someone you should be allowing to influence you.
Just because you typed it doesn’t mean you have to publish it
It is true, you can never unsay things, but you can un-type them. Really you can, the back-arrow works. James wrote that the tongue is a fire (James 3:6) and what he meant was unrestrained speech can be the spark that touches off an uncontrollable conflagration. And while you can’t call spoken words back into your mouth, you can read through what you just typed, evaluate it in the light of Scripture and the command to speak what is useful for building one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and delete it before you publish it to the world. (And remember it is possible to delete Facebook posts and Tweets that have been published).
Remember if you have to ask…
In seminary, the conduct covenant I signed included a pledge that I wouldn’t gamble. This seemed simple enough to me, but then March rolled around. For as long as I could remember I had filled out a $5 bracket in a friend’s NCAA March Madness pool. And I was unsure. So I asked a spiritual mentor. He listened attentively as I explained the social component to my desire to participate, the insignificance of $5, the needed distraction that the pool would give me from the rigors of study and on and on. And when I was done he simply said “If you need to ask if it is gambling, you already know it is.” In the same way if you are really wondering if that tweet is loving speech, you probably already know it isn’t. And if you are really unsure, what harm is there in not publishing it anyway?
Remember unbelievers are watching
Paul offered this blunt assessment of Jews who professed to keep the Law but in practice flaunted it, “the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you (Romans 2:24).” Don’t kid yourself, unloving behavior by Christians on social media drags the name of Christ through the mud. More than once I have fielded questions from unbelieving friends about why a Christian was saying certain things certain ways on Twitter or Facebook. And trust me, never once after I explained the issue at hand, the root of the disagreement and affirmed that the behavior was sinful and unacceptable for a Christian, did they walk away from the interaction understanding the greatness or holiness of God. In fact, far too many times I have read someone say at the end of the interaction “this is why I can’t believe.” (And no, I am not denying the sovereignty of God in salvation or the total depravity of man.)
I freely admit that I myself at times have failed in this, but to the extent I am aware of sin in this area, I have repented of it. Repentance doesn’t just mean I felt bad about what I had done, but that I have purposed to change. So if you too have sinned in this area, I call on you to repent. Put off the old man and put on the new. Stop acting like the world and start to act like a Christian on social media.