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Modern Reformation: Thinking Theologically

A New Ethic for Social Media

Published Monday, July 4, 2022 By Stephen Roberts

I keep a strict code of conduct on my Facebook feed. Well, maybe not so strict. I ask that all comments be charitable. If people can’t be decent, they can’t comment on the feed. Sadly, I delete more comments from Christians than non-Christians.

Why is this? It’s not that Christians always behave worse than non-Christians. I simply hold them to a higher standard. The eyes of the broader world are upon us. Do our words glorify or diminish the beauty of our Savior? I would like to outline a couple of common social media “sins” that Christians commit, why I think we are tempted to succumb to these sins, and a few rules that we all should live by in this realm.

Social Media Sins

Speaking disparagingly of the world. Despite our protestations that we love the world and want to engage it with the Gospel, our verbiage on Facebook and elsewhere often conveys the opposite. We mock our leaders, our political and cultural opponents, and trends we view as harmful. The substance of the critiques is often warranted, but not the tone. The Babylon Bee can get away with this because they are intentionally engaging in satire. We cannot. Mockery is never a good look.

Spiritual elitism. We often see this in our critical spirit within the church. For example, we often speak condescendingly of popular pastors who don’t stand with us on certain issues. We’ll link to clips that show a pastor is “woke” or “reactionary.” Or we use insider lingo in our critiques that even most of our fellow Christians don’t understand. For example, one sees “2CV” as an accusation, which stands for a second commandment violation. Not only is “2CV” indiscernible to most, even when spelled out it remains indiscernible to most of the church until we say “making pictures of God, including the incarnate Son.” Both tendencies—speaking condescending or deriding with insider lingo—can be incredibly divisive.

Devouring one another. While it easy to speak disparagingly and display elitism amongst one’s own fan club, sometimes we directly assail one another. The immediacy and depersonalizing tendencies of social media make this easy. We read a post and without reflection or looking into another set of eyes, we question whether someone is a Christian or tell them they’re part of the problem. Ad hominem attacks are not far from our tongues. We often do this in comment sections with people we’ve never met. Meanwhile, the world is watching.

The Broader Temptation

We assume our tribe is everywhere. I don’t think most of us get on social media with the intention to troll others and besmirch our faith. We give voice to some of our secretive, unchecked sentiments because we assume that our tribe is our audience. Many Christians have made derogatory comments about “those liberals” or “those hedonists” on my posts, assuming that only Christians are watching. They wouldn’t write these things if they knew that countless unbelieving friends in the military are watching.

We assume that our opinions are important. Social media has turned all of us into pundits. Just as most news has turned into hot takes because it sells, we have turned into talking heads within our limited spheres because it draws “likes.” I am especially tempted here. I am passionate about politics and often want to weigh in on the issues of the day. But will I truly be able to add to the discussion? Is there anything uniquely valuable about my take? Probably not.

We assume we can be personal in a non-personal way. We can be quite passive-aggressive on social media when we put our minds to it. We do this when we quote someone we know or comment on their post, and instead of directly addressing them, say something along the lines of “This is what is wrong with America…” or “It’s ideas like these that hurt the church.” Usually, we then pivot to our own rant about a given trend, often using someone we know as a prop in our own story. Sometimes, this starts a runaway train of abstract, critical comments that have little to do with the original posting.

At root, we have made social media our pseudo-church. For many of us, more time is spent on social media than in our organic, local social circles—including the church. As a result, we are more likely to divulge our thoughts and disclose our hearts online than in person. We look for affirmation in the wrong places—by people who can’t hug us, pray for us, or hold us accountable. And we begin to demonize those on the other side of the social media divide rather than view the world through the lens of the Gospel. How can we counter these dehumanizing tendencies?

A New Ethic

Treat every conversation as public. Sin thrives in hiddenness. The reality is that all your interactions are either publicly visible on social media or could be revealed. Would you talk about certain individuals or groups in that way if you knew they were watching? Would you use those words to describe them or use that tone? Treat every post and conversation as if the world is watching.

Treat every interaction as personal. We have all seen those interactions that go completely off the rails. It might not be the initial comment, but once something in the slightest bit controversial is uttered, a veritable arms race of comments pile up—each seeking to outdo the others. We all get drawn into the illusion that we’re engaging comments, not people. Each time you seek to weigh in, picture the person you are engaging on the other side of the table. Always have eternity in view. Ultimately, it is not merely our neighbors and our family in Christ that we most honor in thought, word, and deed, but the Lord Himself. When King David sinned, it was literally evil in the eyes of the Lord (2 Sam. 11:27) so that David would confess “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what it is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Yet the Lord’s perfect knowledge is combined with His perfect love, making it safe for us to pray “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24). Keep that love, manifested in King Jesus, in view until that great and glorious Day when He wipes every tear from our eyes.

Stephen Roberts is a US Army chaplain and has written for The Washington Times and The Federalist.

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