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Taming the Online Tongue

This may not be the right topic for an online blog in which commenting is welcomed. But I’m doing it anyway. I’m a rebel like that.

Back in 2005, I helped start a webzine for college students. One of its features was a forum where our readers could respond to our articles and start discussions of their own. I loved this aspect of the site — it was a wonderful way to get to know our readers, express our opinions and share with one another … sometimes. At other times, it was a mess of a place where people were getting into arguments with strangers, using harsh language and expressing opinions in an unkind, unproductive way. This was the online world — free of faces, body language and social cues. People said what they wanted in whatever way they wanted to.

As I’ve continued to read blogs, online news articles and Facebook feeds, I often feel exasperated, disgusted or downright embarrassed. And what is most disheartening is that my emotions often come from reading what my fellow Christians have written.

According to Facebook (my main news source), the trial has begun for George Zimmerman in regard to the Trayvon Martin shooting last year in Florida. When this event took place last year, I remember my newsfeed being flooded with all kinds of opinions, pictures, declarations, defenses and accusations — long before any actual evidence surfaced. I had friends on both sides of the issue who were being cruel and accusatory, and apparently feeling that they had the right to do so. It made me sad. Sad that people still feel the way they do about race, sad that people are so quick to jump to conclusions, sad that people are so ready to be mean to one another.

Yesterday, Focus on the Family posted a broadcast with Bono of U2. (If you don’t know who Bono or U2 are, I’m sorry I can’t help you.) I haven’t listened to the interview, but the posting showed up on my Facebook feed, along with a variety of comments. Some were excited about the interview and grateful for the work Bono has done. But others were quite angry because they disagree with Bono on numerous points. In their anger, people were mean and condemning.

I’ve seen threads like this over and over in the social media world. And I think they’re pretty pointless. For one thing, I see a lot of poor theology and cherry-picking of Bible verses. (Like, a lot.) I’ve also never known anyone who has changed his opinion because of an argument he was in on Facebook. Article threads can get hundreds of comments, but they’re all just people arguing back and forth, thinking of how to phrase their next post. Maybe I’m wrong — perhaps opinions are changed all the time, but I’ve never seen it.

Most importantly: Christians. Brothers and sisters. People who are meant to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus — the death, resurrection and redemption of Christ — come on. If I were a non-Christian who happened to glance at some of these Facebook threads where people are accusing, fighting and belittling, I would run far away. Perhaps you disagree, but in my view, it makes us look foolish. I see none of the fruit of the Spirit in these conversations. Peace and patience are far off. Kindness and self-control — unheard of.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have opinions, especially when it comes to the Gospel and truth. However, I do not believe that the majority of social media fosters healthy conversations. People feel the right to be much more cruel and bold when they’re not interacting face-to-face. We say things to each other online that we would never say in person.

However, I do believe social media is here to stay. And disagreements are also probably here to stay. Social media provides a way to interact with others, so I think we need to figure out how to do it well. I have found that stating my opinion kindly can go a long way. I don’t think we need to change what we’re saying, but I do think we may need to think twice about how we’re saying it.

What do you all think? (Be nice!)

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About the Author

Denise Morris Snyder

Denise Morris Snyder is a mom, wife and part-time discipleship pastor at CrossRoads Church in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. She previously worked as an editor for Focus on the Family and a writer for David C Cook. She has her Master’s in Old Testament Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary.

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