My first experience with a theological forum was about 20 years ago when I was in college. Being excited to throw in my two cents, I jumped into the theological discussion. So exciting to see something I had written on the world wide web. After hitting the submit button, however, the excitement quickly dissipated. I was like a naive lamb happily walking into the blucher shop. The next thing I know I was being lectured, criticized, belittled, and chastised for my ignorance, foolishness, and stupidity. Before getting butchered I was pounced on by a pack of lions. I had no chance of survival. One person in particular let me have it. According to him, I was stupid. After belittling me, however, he was gracious enough to offer to be my teacher. Needless to say, I had no desire to become this hateful and prideful man’s disciple, so I left the forum and returned to doing more happy things with my time.
I wish my initial experience with theological forums was an anomaly, but the online evidence seems to say otherwise. Currently I am a member of a few theological forums on Facebook. Most of them I enjoy. But it is not without reason that these forums have rules of engagement. What is even sadder is that these rules often have to be enforced. Some posts and threads must be deleted because of their uncharitable nature.
I understand that tone is hard to convey in brief statements. Text messages and Facebook posts tend to be more direct, which can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. I also believe that it is a good thing that public comments are subjected to public approval and criticism. Truth needs to be defended and error needs to be corrected. Moreover, when saying something publicly we need to realize that we are asking others to read and judge what we are saying. Others have the right, and in some cases, the responsibility to challenge us. It is not good or healthy for us to be so thin-skinned and easily offended that we cannot receive rebuke or correction. If we cannot defend our statements or receive correction, then we do not need to be commenting and posting at all. Because we all see through a glass darkly, discussion and disagreement are beneficial. In fact, this very blog post is a challenge, correction, and rebuke to Christians who display their pride, arrogance, and hatefulness in their Facebook posts. So I am not opposed to healthy debate.
Yet, here are a few things I think we need to seek to avoid when starting or entering into a conversation on Facebook:
Avoid Speaking the Truth without Love
Speaking the truth is not the only thing we must be concerned about. Not only do we need to speak the truth, but we need to be concerned about speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Too many seem to be only worried about the first thing “speaking the truth”. I am not saying love is more important than truth, but speaking the truth without love is like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbals (1 Cor. 13:1). Hearing Dong, Dong, Dong, Dong, Dong, Dong gets on all of our nerves, yet the banging continues in so many Facebook threads. I have seen both sides of a debate drum so hard that no one seems to be listening all. Truth may be defended, but I don’t think Christ is being glorified in such cases. Should we not treat others with respect and kindness even when we disagree with them?
Avoid Treating a Person’s Profile as If They are Not a Real Person
Am I the only one who has noticed some Christians will say things on Facebook that they likely would never say in a personal conversation? Disagreements are typically more amiable and gracious in person than they are on Facebook. Yeah, I know there are some people who are uncharitable in any situation, but sadly Facebook brings a temptation to say things in a manner that we would never say to someone in person. I don’t know if typing on an impersonal device, like our computers or phones, emboldens us to become less personal, but we tend to loose some healthy restraint when we are not face to face with others. Can you imagine someone saying, “that’s stupid”, or “that’s bogus” to someone at the church potluck? Pick out some of these heated threads and imagine your elders in your church talking to one another in such a fashion. But why does Facebook give us the liberty to speak uncharitably? Should we not guard against the temptation to become impersonal and unloving? I would think that we shouldn’t say anything on Facebook that we wouldn’t say to someone who was visiting our church on Sunday.
The Bible instructs us on how we are to disagree with people. When we reprove those who oppose the truth, we are called to be gentle (2 Tim. 2:25). Yet, sometimes meekness is lacking when we communicate on Facebook. It is pride that just wants to win the argument and not the person. But I am convinced that the wisdom that comes from above is not only pure, it is also peaceable and gentle (James 3:17). Why would we purposefully want to say something inflammatory? Are we not to avoid slander and seek to be peaceable and considerate and gentle toward all people (Tit. 3:2)?
Much more could be said about things we should avoid, but these three things are enough for us to monitor ourselves. A list of do’s and dont’s is not what we necessarily need, but a spirit of love and humility. May God help tame our fingers and not just our tongues.
I am sure this article could have been more balanced, so I welcome friendly comments, corrections, and criticism.