Yesterday I saw this tweet from a pastor friend of mine:
I responded with the following:
Granted, the behavior of fellow Christians– and admittedly my own behavior from time to time, too– can be anything but Christ-like. When anyone tries to imagine the ideal Christian one thinks of graciousness, love, humility, strength, sacrificial. However, we all know how lacking some Christians can be in those departments in our everyday interactions with other people.
But peoples’ behavior on social media takes on quite a different character from their everyday face-to-face or voice-to-voice interactions.
Social media creates a semi-anonymous atmosphere. It’s not completely anonymous because we can see each other’s names (or some semblance of a real name) and a picture. But I think of the people I know in person and on social media. Often there’s a difference. Social media removes levels of accountability, and when they are gone, we tend to keep a shorter leash on our virtual tongues and on our manners.
Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to spout off or be confrontational in an e-mail that in person? Just the other day, someone sent me an e-mail complaining about something I recently said. Why not pick up the phone? My guess is that would been too hard. But without my voice or face there, it was all too easy to just shoot off an e-mail. In that forum, they could say whatever they wanted. After a few e-mails back and forth, I picked up the phone and called the person. It’s funny. When I did that, suddenly the words were calmer. Understanding and resolution suddenly became a lot easier, spurred on by the necessity and accountability of actual, live, verbal contact.
So, back to social media, an interaction may go like this… Someone posts something on Facebook or Twitter that I don’t like. I either don’t agree with it, or I find it offensive. So I spout off on it, and before I know it, I’ve become a Christian social media jerk. Debates start. The virtual anger level ratchets up. After a while I know I’m saying things I would probably not say in person with this semi-anonymous face I’m interacting with.
And as for Christian love and grace? Whew… Gone out the window and replaced with righteous indignation, argumentativeness, condescension, and just plain ol’ jerk-face behavior. Again, all this gets magnified in the social media world. I’d never be so “daring” or “candid” in person.
Christians already get a bad rap for being judgmental, arrogant, holier than thou, and in general being short-fused snots. Admittedly, much of that criticism is well deserved. It’s high time that we own up to it, confess it, and repent. But, when all of this behavior gets exacerbated in the semi-anonymous world of social media, it only reinforced the stereotypes people already have of us “good religious folk”, a.k.a Christians.
Now I know what’s going through the heads of my fellow Christian readers, something like, “But Chris, we have to stand for Christ and stand for what is right, no matter the cost. Are you going to let unrighteousness and anti-Christian messaging go unchecked, especially when it has the power to influence so many spiritually wishy-washy people??”
To that I have three thoughts to offer:
1) Do you remember the childhood lesson of “it’s not what you say- it’s how you say it?” So often we mess up, not in the message, but in how we forward the message. We can challenge people without coming across as disdainful, know-it-all jerks.
2) We Christians need to learn the wisdom of picking our battles. Ask yourself what’s really at stake before responding to a post. Is it that big of an issue? Before blasting off some angry post, make sure you think about anticipated fruit and consequences. If what you’re saying is only going to fire up people who think like you and tick off everybody else, what have you really accomplished? Was that a battle worth waging?
3) Ask yourself this question and be brutally honest with yourself: what’s at stake in what I’m about to post, Christ or my own self-esteem? I think people often try to make points on social media to stoke their own ego or to vent their own laundry. Well, brothers and sisters, that approach is exclusively about you, and little to nothing to do with Christ. Remember that Jesus knew when to engage in a discussion and when to walk away. Pray for that kind of wisdom. Believe me, the gospel is at stake.
So to reform ourselves from being online Christian jerks, I’d like to suggest a few behavioral modifications that will go a long way to making for better interactions.
1) Read, listen, and think. One of the most underutilized forms of witnessing for Christ is the ministry of listening, learning, and curiosity. That communicates respect and humility which then earns a listening ear from someone else.
2) Ask open-ended questions without copping an argumentative attitude. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. Misconceptions are cleared up, and– miracle of miracles!- you might actually find points of agreement to go on.
3) Make your points calmly and respectfully. Yes, you can do that. Enough said…
3) Have the courage to shut up and move on. In all the years I have been on social media, I have never, ever, ever seen anyone converted to a point by losing an argument. In fact, rarely have I seen anyone lose an argument because that would require a degree of humble concession, a rare bird to find on social media. So, never hesitate to say, “Thank you for sharing that,” and move on.
So there you have it: Etiquette for Christian Jerks on Social Media 101. Now, I have class 201 to attend…