It’s easy to lash out and be unkind in the online world. Social media and online forums are much more impersonal than face-to-face communication. And when you add in topics like the 2016 election or religion, things get especially heated and many of us--Christians included--end up posting things we wouldn’t say if we were physically talking to someone.
As Christians, we are called to show Christ in all circumstances. This includes the online world. Especially since this is where many of us spend a significant amount of our time, it’s important for us to consider how we are representing Christ in this context.
In a post for Relevant Magazine titled “You’re a Christian. Start Acting Like it Online,” Andrew Blackburn provides three helpful things to keep in mind when interacting with others online.
First, Blackburn says to “Love your enemies.” It’s easy to pin someone as the enemy on social media. When someone’s background, worldview, and opinions are at odds with your own, the natural response is to become argumentative or angry, but that’s not what Jesus calls us to do.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
This includes the people with whom we interact online.
To elaborate on this, as I wrote in a previous Crosswalk.com piece about representing Christ online, “This means we need to exercise discipline to be able to differentiate between those who are just trying to elicit a reaction from us and those who are actually interested in seeking the truth and having a discussion. When we know someone is only engaging with us to provoke a hateful response, we need to learn to not reply back in kind.”
Secondly, says Blackburn, “Live at peace with everyone.” Don’t try to instigate conflict online. When arguing a point, don’t resort to ad hominem attacks or use language that will only anger someone. Instead, seek to establish a genuine dialogue. You will likely be amazed at how much more effective this is.
“Jesus says that people will be able to tell that we’re his disciples if we love one another (John 13:34-35),” writes Blackburn. “If we’re able to respond to hostility with love—to ‘overcome evil with good’—then we have a chance to show people how powerful Jesus’ love is, even in the midst of conflict.”
Lastly, we need to practice being “quick to listen and slow to speak.” If you find yourself immediately wanting to type out and send a response in the heat of an argument, take a break, sleep on it, then come back and formulate a response when you are more clear-headed and not as inclined to lash out and contribute to the downward spiral of communication that seems to be so common online.
John Pavlovitz, in another article for Relevant Magazine, notes that “Time is always on your side.”
“In the middle of the frenetic crossfire of passionate opinions and strong stances that we find ourselves immersed in every day, it almost never occurs to us that we can simply pause,” he writes. “Yet there is almost never an occasion where waiting is not the better option; when slowing down doesn’t let wisdom and dignity catch up with us and offer us a better response—which sometimes is no response.
It’s okay to wait. It’s okay to be silent. There’s goodness there.”
Being representatives of Christ is a high calling, and one that comes with unique challenges in the online world. When you feel tempted to use your online platform to engage in a fruitless argument, attack someone personally, or complain about something, remember these three biblical guidelines, and then say a prayer for the Holy Spirit to give you His strength to put them into practice.
Photo courtesy: Unspash.com
Publication date: February 22, 2017
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com