I tend not to write much about current events. The times I do, I’m more addressing how I see people (Christians typically) responding to events on social media rather than the events themselves. Two passages in Scripture lie behind that concern.
The first one is Mark 7:20-23. In this passage, Jesus makes the point that a person’s words and actions can be traced back to their heart (see also Proverbs 4:23). In the context of social media, this means that your Facebook status and your Twitter feed are a peek into your heart. They reveal your values and priorities and in many cases are a reflection of what you believe is wrong with the world and what you believe is going to fix it.
The second passage is 1 Peter 1:13, where Peter tells Christians to set all their hope on the Second Coming of Jesus. All areas of our lives he says should be affected by an eager expectation of his return. In fact, the affect of this hope on our lives should be so drastic and visible that it catches the attention of the non-believing world around us, causing them to ask us about what makes us different (1 Peter 3:15).
The question for us today as Christians who engage with social is this: what does this window into my heart reveal? What would someone learn about me simply by scrolling through my Twitter account? Do my status updates reflect this other-worldly hope that Peter commands us to have?
I’ve got tons of Christians in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. And if everything I knew about some of them came from what they posted, all I’d know about them is that they are conservatives who think Obama is the worst president in U.S. history and that a vote for Hillary is effectively a vote for Hitler.
Obviously I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t have political opinions or that they shouldn’t post those opinions in a loving spirit. I’m also not going to naively pretend that your faith doesn’t affect your political views. But if you’re constantly slamming politicians on Facebook, at a certain point I have to question where you think the real battle lies. What is victory to you: more Republicans in the House or more sinners in Heaven? And how would the non-Christians who see your updates answer that question?
I think we learn an important lesson in this area from Paul. In Romans 1, he offers the following commentary on pagan society: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
Sure, Paul sounds pretty harsh here, but we should remember the context. Paul is writing this to Christians in order to make the theological point that all people are sinners so that he can later magnify just how big God’s mercy is. What’s fascinating though is to see is how Paul actually interacts with the kind of people he’s describing here:
“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:16-17)
Paul was deeply disturbed by the pagan culture around him. But rather than retreating from them in anger or disgust, he moves toward them in love and preached the gospel to them. Darrell Bock unpacks this:
Despite being aggravated by all the idolatry he sees around him in Athens, Paul manages to share the gospel with a generous but honest spirit. The Paul of Romans 1 who speaks of the sad state of society is still able to love and connect with that society in Acts 17. This also is an important lesson: sometimes we Christians are so angry at the state of our society that all that comes through is the anger and not the love we are to have for our neighbour in need. Those who see this anger and want to represent the faith differently can overact the other way, almost pretending, as if there is no idolatry as long as the religious search is sincerely motivated. Paul avoids both of these extremes. He knows how to confront but does so honestly and graciously. Both message and tone are important in sharing the gospel. Here Paul is an example of both.
Bock’s words carry enormous implications for what we do with social media. In a fallen world with constant media coverage, you can always find things to be angry about. The question is, will you respond with love or anger? With that in mind, here are some diagnostic questions for us as Christians to work through when re-tweeting things other than hilarious Cat Fails:
- Why am I posting this? Do I think it will accomplish something? If so, what? Am I just venting? Who is the audience I expect/hope to reach? Is this a passive-aggressive post targeted at one person or a particular group of people?
- What “hope” does this post communicate? What values am I displaying to those who see this? Is the dominant tone of this post anger or love? Am I demonstrating calm trust in a good, sovereign God who is at work in this world? Or the anxiety of one who has forgotten that?
- Does this honor and reflect the character of the God who has told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? (Matthew 5:43-48) Can you, in good conscience, post that comment or link after spending time in prayer for the people it’s about or for the people you hope will see it?
- Is this true? This should go without saying, but the World Wide Spider-Web is a big place, and with enough time you can find arguments for anything. This means that as Christians we need to be discerning readers. Since truth is an essential ingredient of biblical love, we can’t be posting things that are misleading or downright false. While we can’t always be certain all of the time that a headline is true, here are a couple of tips:
- Snopes.com is your best friend. Check the story there first.
- If a judge or policymaker is said to be doing something so egregiously unconstitutional that you can’t possibly believe it’s true, it’s probably not. Or at least there’s more to the story. Give them the benefit of a doubt. Some stories only get published because they’re so out there.
- Read the article, not just the headline. As NPR hilariously demonstrated last year, some people share articles based solely on the headline without actually reading it.