One of the strange phenomenon’s of this generation is the rise of social media. If a celebrity eats a hamburger, we need infinite updates on how it tasted and went down. Social media has also led to a refreshing amount of social accountability; but, it’s also led to an era of cyber bullying and hyper-critique. In many ways, the world is reeling under its new-found power. And that’s exactly why Christians need to develop a more sophisticated theology of social media.
And I’m the first person to admit that I’ve made mistakes. I have more platforms to voice my opinion than ever before — from blogs, to twitter, to facebook, — not to mention millions of other websites begging for my feedback.
Recently, I tweeted a joke that was questionable. When I saw it show up on my timeline a few hours later, I was immediately struck with a convicting question from the Holy Spirit: “Did that really represent me well?” The truth was: I was an idiot. Ephesians 4:29 bids me to “say only what is helpful for building others up.”
So after deleting the post with regret, I was reminded of Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” And when you think about the scary amount of words we post each day, it really makes me pause.
For guys like me who make a living by sharing my thoughts, this is a scary truth. And it doesn’t exactly help that I like to mix edgy comedy with ministry. People naturally give comedians a bit more leeway than pastors – so many Christians don’t know what to do with me. (“Do I write him a letter? Or do I laugh?”) And when we live in an era of hyper-accountability and critique, it’s becoming a painful time to be a leader in any arena.
But it’s also true that I’m a total idiot on a lot of subjects. And as a good friend, I lovingly remind you that YOU are too! (And if we were face-to-face, I’d be giving you a big sympathetic look right now while breathing-in-deeply through wide nostrils).
You see, social media is constantly tempting us to extrovert our inner opinions. However, we fail to realize that, just because we can comment/tweet/post/blog doesn’t mean we should. Some of us have an acute case of verbal diarrhea that afflicts us every time we see a mobile phone or computer.
But keep in mind: if you’re a Christian, you don’t have the right to simply share whatever you want anymore; after all, “You are not your own. You were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We are now ambassadors of Christ (Gal. 2:20). And when we surrender our lives to Christ, every little tweet surrenders too! Or I could put it this way: It’s time to let your Facebook page get saved.
Besides, there’s nothing worse than watching a bunch of people puke 38 political comments down a Facebook post (as if they’re actually influencing each other or exemplifying the God of joy and peace). Don’t get me wrong: It’s totally O.K. to have strong opinions about politics and theology. But allow me to raise the bar when it comes to social media by giving 4 Suggestions. Or to put this another way: Think of these Bible inspired suggestions as Imodium AD for our verbal diarrhea. (And I learned these after having many accidents : )
Tip # (1). Avoid Confrontations through Writing: As a general rule, I encourage people to avoid communicating on emotional topics through writing. Don’t get me wrong: It’s O.K. to journal your thoughts for the purpose of clarity. But very few of us are good enough to confront through writing. And here’s why:
Scholars say that 64-92% of all communication is non-verbal. It’s vocal tones, eye-brows, and body-language that speak volumes. When you’re looking a person in the face, it often changes the way we talk. It gives us instant feedback to know if our message is too hard or soft. It also helps people see the love that is driving our confrontation. And if love isn’t your motive… then you probably shouldn’t be saying anything. (Once again: sympathetic look / flared nostrils).
In my experience, written critiques are usually interpreted in the most hostile way imaginable. And although you didn’t use LARGE CAPS to make your point, most people will tend to read critiques as though you did!!!!!!!!!
I’m embarrassed to say that, at one time, I used to write all sorts of long confrontation letters as if I was the modern embodiment of the Apostle Paul. And if that was you… I’m soooooo sorry! (a single tear is falling from my left eye as I look off wistfully). And after receiving hundreds of such letters confronting me, God changed my mind about letters.
Besides, people spend way too much time spewing and stewing over false assumptions when it comes to letters. That’s partly why the Bible commands us to communicate quickly when we’re frustrated with people (Mt.5:24; Heb.12:14-15).
But I am convinced true love will always prefer face to face when possible. And even when time or distance is unavoidable, a loving person will, at least, “believe the best” until a more functional form of communication can be used (1 Cor. 13:2-5).
Tip #(2) Don’t Confront People You Don’t Know.
In my book Pharisectomy, I talk about how our bodies are actually designed to reject truth from people we don’t know. On issues of deep significance, it’s incredibly rare that any of us will allow a virtual stranger to influence us. So why even bother to throw out snarky posts on Facebook? Your flesh may feel good; but, 9 times out of 10, it will only reinforce their opposing opinion (true or not).
Tip #(3). If you Must Confront, it’s UnBiblical to Start Out in a Public Forum.
If you haven’t figured it out: Facebook and Twitter is the new version of the Jerry Springer Show. You now have the ability to embarrass yourself 24 hours a day without Jerry Springer present. But if you’re a believer and you have something to say to someone, the Bible is super clear. (A). It must be done “gently” and with humility (Gal.6:1-5). (B). You need to go to the source of the problem first before you involve others (Mt. 18:15) – while assuming the best (1 Cor. 13:7). Only after all of this has been exhausted should a person involve others (Mt. 18:16) and finally (C). “go public” with the grievance (v.17). Even then, the audience shouldn’t be a non-Christian audience (1 Cor.6:1). Besides “wisdom from heaven” (as opposed to hell) is “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
There was one occasion where I couldn’t resist posting my opinion on Facebook. But after doing so, I had a sad revelation: I had virtually killed my ability to influence that person. I may be right… but I was “dead-right.” I might as well have used Jerry Springer’s platform to rip them to shreds. But, in a sick world that feeds off of public spectacles, wouldn’t it be refreshing to start a radical new trend of going straight to the person?
Tip #(4). Clothe yourselves with Humility:
Over the last 20 years, it’s amazing how many times I’ve changed my opinions. I’ve converted to & from Calvinism a dozen times (My poor church in Wisconsin was so confused). And politically, I’ve been the same way.
For example, up until a year ago, I knew virtually nothing about the Marriage Amendment up for ballot in Minnesota this Fall. At first I thought, “Great! Here’s a perfect opportunity for Christians to look stupid trying to legislate morality.” But as I dug deeper, many of the amendment advocates weren’t even Christians. They were sociologists and experts on child-rights. Ironically, I even met a lesbian who was passionately going to “vote Yes” in favor of an amendment to define marriage as between a man and a women. When I asked her why, she said: “1st off, I’m not going to throw child-rights under the bus for ‘adult wants’ — even if it’s MY wants. And 2ndly, this has huge implications on 1st Amendment rights and religious speech. And if Minnesota becomes the first state in U.S. history to sue people for their beliefs instead of behaviors, then we ALL lose!”
At first I was stunned. I was like, “What? Child rights? …First Amendment?! State rights?” Honestly, I had no clue how this amendment had anything to do with protecting those things. Of course, the thought never occurred to me that MAYBE there’s actually valid intellectual reasons why 31 out of 31 states have voted in favor of marriage amendments. But here’s the point (before some of you get all riled up with your opinions : )
In the end, I realized, I didn’t even know the beginning of this issue. And I STILL might be completely uninformed. I’ve been wrong so many times on so many issues that, just maybe, I might be wrong again : ) But I’m certainly not going to learn anything if I’m ripping on all the people that God is sending to enlighten me. We can’t antagonize & influence at the same time – nor can we be antagonized and be influenced at the same time. So, posting snarky facebook posts is tantamount to eating an ignorance pill.
That’s why the Apostle Paul tells us to “Clothe yourselves with humility” (Col. 3:12). And “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony” (3:14).
This doesn’t mean we will always agree. But it does mean that, even when we don’t agree, we can still walk away with a basic sense of respect and human dignity. That’s why, if you follow these four tips, you’ll finally get sick of that dirty Facebook feeling? And especially during an election year, a time when people lose track of dignity and truth, doesn’t that sound appealing?