Facebook, long the bane of my existence, has become increasingly painful in the past few months. I never thought I would long for the days of cat videos, but with the cynicism and criticism flowing from so many on Facebook, I now do. Attacks from the right and the left have made scrolling through Facebook like trudging through sewage.
What has been particularly painful are some of the posts from fellow Christians. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, and by that He means everyone. Even those with whom we have significant disagreement are made in the image of God. Therefore they are worthy of dignity, deserve respect, and are the proper objects of our love.
Christians must temper our desire to express our opinions and share articles with the command to love our neighbor. Here are eight questions to ask before posting.
- Is it true?
Fake news abounds on the internet and Christians have no business indulging or contributing to its spread. With this also we must also recognize that “half-truths” or misleading statistics are not appropriate. In Scripture, God reveals Himself as a God of truth (see esp. John 14:6) in contrast to Satan who is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). There is no place for falsehood in the Christian life, and that extends to false stories.
- Does it attack a position or a person?
So many things posted online no longer address issues, they just take shots at people. Our culture has slipped to the point where many cannot engage in conversation apart from slinging mud at another. Such attacks have no place in the Christian life. We are called to demonstrate love and grace to people, especially those with whom we disagree.
- Have I read and attempted to understand the other’s position?
Sadly, the breakdown of our society centers around our unwillingness to understand the opposing view. If you are unwilling to take time and make a sincere attempt to understand the opposing view, then you do not fully understand the issue and should not post anything in the first place.
- Does it accurately depict the opposing position?
A simple rule of thumb for this one, present your opponent’s view so that they would recognize and accept the characterization. If you don’t do take the time to represent another person’s view accurately, you set up a straw man. Ultimately, this undermines your own credibility
- Does it assign motive?
“Republicans want to cut social security because they hate old people,” and “Democrats hope to destroy America by removing border security” are just two obvious examples of assigning motives. But the Scripture affirms that we cannot fully know the motives of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). If someone says they are taking action for a particular reason, it is best to allow those reasons to stand. And if they provide no motive, then do provide one for them. After all, you wouldn’t like them doing that to you.
- Is it charitable?
Stating facts does not absolve you from every other responsibility. How you state them is important. Unfortunately, we don’t have the benefit of intonation and inflection when writing online. Lacking these components of communication makes our choice of vocabulary even more crucial. While the recent Executive Order on immigration contains significant flaws, characterizing it as a “Muslim ban” is not only misleading (see 1), it is uncharitable since it seeks to paint the proponents as anti-immigrant, etc.
- Does this need my voice?
We all intuitively know that speaking in certain situations only makes matters worse. We have all been in situations when opening our mouths just throws gasoline on an already blazing fire. Perhaps we all need to reread James 1:19 and take to heart that, “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” If we listened to this advice, it would probably cut the total number of posts dramatically.
- Is it helpful?
We all know someone who thinks their mission in life is to disabuse everyone else of their misconceptions. There are times when comments and insights are helpful because they help bring out another point of view and add to a conversation. Words of encouragement are always helpful, but when someone is fuming online, you probably aren’t going to be useful by entering the fray.
- Would I say it to their face?
If you wouldn’t say it directly to someone’s face, you have no business saying it on social media. So many suffer not from “liquid courage” but from “social media courage.” I think this is why James criticizes our use of the tongue, saying, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (3:9). There is a reason it is easy to say or post something about someone else when they aren’t there but hard to do when looking at them, when you look them in the face you recognize that they are made in the image of God. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, you shouldn’t say it at all.
This list is not exhaustive. However, if we Christians would take the time to think through them before we posted something, I believe that our social media presence would look dramatically different. Instead of being swept along with the rest of the world, we could start showing the world what it means to love our neighbor as Jesus commanded.