If you’ve been on any social media platform for more than a few minutes, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen it. The floods of tweets and posts attacking one person, shaming and bashing and speaking ill of them because of something they said (or didn’t say), did (or didn’t do). Joel Osteen, Jen Hatmaker, other pastors who have made public mistakes, politicians who make controversial decisions-- we readily share opinions and make comments about not only the actions of others, but their very character, too. Many of the people posting would even consider themselves Christians, and often many of them proclaim so proudly in their profiles.
Yet here we see messages broadcast loudly online that seem to go against the very nature of Christ himself…
We see the likes and retweets stack up, and we feel justified that our words were worth saying… but what if they weren’t?
“What we post on social media can take on a life of its own,” Gaye Clark writes for The Gospel Coalition. “The matter feels urgent, so we hastily type rebuttals. Veiled as zeal for truth, we run to our computers and phones to adjust error and admonish the man who got it all wrong. ...But was it true? Did it honor the Lord?”
This is the crucial question in today’s culture.
Just because we have these platforms and this access to audiences who will affirm us doesn’t mean we should use them as tools to shame others, yet we so often stumble into doing so.
When folks on Twitter were outraged about Joel Osteen supposedly not opening his church as a place of refuge during the hurricane in Houston, many didn’t even know the full, true story. The shaming spread like wildfire even though the facts had not been known or considered.
Clark addresses in her article that we often post things online that we assume to be true but instead turn out to be false. We do so thinking we are rebuking them, wanting them to do better or do more or follow Scripture more carefully, but, like Clark writes, “this goal often seems lost when we log on to our computer. On social media, public rebuke can seek to shake or discredit.”
What ends up happening is less of a healthy rebuke and more of a harmful attack.
“Technology makes it easy to lose sight of the image-bearer we’re addressing,” Clark writes. It would be wise for us all to keep this at the forefront of our minds as we craft posts to share with our followers: every human being on this earth bears the image of God. When we speak ill of them, we are, in essence, attempting to tarnish that image. What we rarely realize is we often tarnish our own in the process.
So, what’s the best course of action here? What do we do when we feel strongly about the way someone is handling a situation (or not handling it) or we feel compelled to comment and share our opinions of a person or a scenario?
“When possible,” Clark writes, “we ought to confront one another in person. It helps to look them in the eye when we speak of their heart.”
It’s far too easy to hide behind computer screens and keyboards, typing out things we would never dare to say with our words to someone’s face. Keeping in mind that they are an image bearer of God and a human being with a beating, feeling heart just like our own will help us as we discern what is best to say or not to say.
But what about the people who we don’t have direct access to? What about the megachurch pastors and the politicians and the spiritual leaders who we so badly want to rebuke and respond to? We can’t sit down for coffee with those people, and we can’t quite confront them in person… so then what are we to do?
Maybe the best advice there is to stay silent.
“The next time a post or tweet tempts you to reply with a snarky comeback, or take to your own platform to write a powerful rebuttal because the truth is too important to wait, consider our brother James’s words: ‘Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God’ (James 1:19-20),” writes Clark.
The advice, although challenging, is wise. May we choose to use our words wisely and follow the old “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” rule more. May we be more discerning of what is edifying and encouraging to say, and what might instead be hurtful, harmful, harsh, or even hateful. May we choose to rebuke in ways that are intentional with the ones with whom we have close and personal relationships, and may we extend more grace to everyone we come in contact with, online and off.
Today, try tweeting a little less and loving a little more. Let’s be Christians who give God glory with our words and give others grace through them, too.
Photo credit: Unsplash
Publication date: September 22, 2017
Rachel Dawson is the design editor for Crosswalk.com.