Like many people, I exited the year 2016 feeling more than a little despondent. It wasn’t just the outcome of the election that left me wondering if I was alone in the wilderness; it was everything leading up to the election.
It was the constant justifying and attacking and general ugly behavior that made me lose hope in my fellow human beings. Even worse, it was the behavior of my fellow Christians that left me wondering where I belonged in American Christianity. I continue an iron grip on my faith as a redeemed child of God, but I spent a lot of time reflecting on what that meant as I interacted with friends and family across the political and religious spectrum.
Over a year ago, I decided to make a personal New Year’s resolution regarding social media: Every time I decided to post something or comment on something I would first ask myself, “Does this further the Kingdom?”
I know, I know, it was incredibly idealistic.
I did pretty well, for awhile, until I found myself caught up in a vaccine discussion arguing with anti-vaxers about the importance of the flu vaccine. Then Parkland happened and I once again struggled with what I should and should not post and respond to. And then Santa Fe. And then family separation at the border. And then…
But with the emergence of each event that tugged at my heartstrings and had me making unspoken mental arguments with people I didn’t know and who I would never meet, I forced myself to take a step back and ask myself,
Does this further the Kingdom?
It’s not an easy question to answer, is it? I mean yes, I might be taking a righteous stance, but am I taking it for the right reasons? Am I glorifying God with the way I’m discussing it? Is this even a stance that He would want me to take? And if this is a stance He would want me to take, how am I taking that stance? Does my approach make people want to know Him more? Or am I turning people away from God with the way that I’m approaching the issue?
And yes, Christ demonstrated the power of righteous anger. He overturned the tables of the money changers and shocked everyone around him when he called those participating in a financial and religious scam a “den of vipers.” But I believe that people often miss the point of the account of the one time in scripture when we really see Jesus lash out: He wasn’t lashing out at people participating in a multitude of sins. He was lashing out at those leading God’s people away from their focus on Him.
So what does this mean for us?
I really don’t know if you are like me, but I’ve worked really hard to avoid maintaining the “echo chamber” that so many people talked about during the 2016 election cycle. Over the years I’ve removed a handful of people from my newsfeed without unfriending them, mostly because their posts were more negative than I wanted to see on a daily basis but I didn’t want to lose the ability to easily connect with them. I unfriended a couple people because I found myself getting dragged into their nonsense, often by them, and didn’t want a part of it anymore. But for the most part, I have kept my diverse newsfeed because that diversity keeps me honest. That diversity opens up my world. That diversity makes me a more empathetic Christian.
And that diversity has taught me a very important lesson: My dear fellow Christians, the world is watching.
When we use social media, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the world seeing?” So what does not sit well with my non-Christian friends on social media:
- Spreading highly questionable conspiracy theories. During the entire eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency I saw friends and family continue to question whether President Obama’s birth certificate was accurate. Since the publication of her book, Michelle Obama has reflected that the very controversy made for frightfully tense moments during their family’s tenure in the White House. Even if you agree with someone’s politics, make sure you check their credentials and past (and often present) approaches. As Christians, we are called to spread the Truth and anything that is the direct opposite of that shouldn’t get our attention.
- Presenting questionable facts from questionable sources. This includes sharing unproven “facts” without acknowledging a reporter’s potential bias. Yes, there are plenty of “liberal” news outlets that have been rightfully called out for poor reporting, such as the initial CNN debacle concerning the whole Covington Catholic issue. However, when the New Yorker recently published its piece on Fox News, I didn’t see very many of my conservative friends contemplating the piece at all. Instead, they dug in and defended the organization, even as Fox refuses to fire Tucker Carlson for the recent revelations about his comments on shock radio. My friends, don’t give non-Christians an easy path to calling out hypocrisy.
- Pushing points that are arguably against God’s Word. I’ve never understood the desire by some to argue so hard against climate change science. God put us on this earth with the directive to take care of the planet. He gave Adam everything that he needed, gave him dominion over the plants and animals, and then He “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 ESV) Dominion doesn’t mean permission to destroy. God gave us one home. Why not err on the side of caution and find a way to work with people to give us all a clean home? We should be good stewards of the home He has given us, not fighting against it because it’s part of a “liberal agenda.”
- Presenting arguments that ignore another groups struggles and pain. As Christians we are called to empathy. Showing empathy doesn’t necessarily mean that we agree with someone’s lifestyle choices, but we understand them as human beings deserving of the same protections as us and our families. We need to learn how to listen to each other and actually hear the concerns of others. When our black and brown friends post about things like Black Lives Matter, we shouldn’t respond with “ALL LIVES MATTER” and “What about police?” Of course all lives matter, but if that is our response to the very real concerns and fears of a particular community, what does that say about us? Instead of immediately putting on our armor and treating it like a battle to be won, we should listen to their stories without comment so that we can learn. After all, how can you minister to the broken if you don’t know what specifically is broken?
- Making claims of cultural attack when there is no cultural attack. The first time I saw the recent Gillette ad, I choked up. Seriously, I almost cried. Because that is what I want for my son. I want my son to know that it’s ok to cry, that it’s ok to stand up for women, and that consent is a real and necessary thing. But the backlash from conservatives surprised me. I didn’t believe the ad attacked men. I believed it presented a very Biblical view of men who “love [their] wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25 ESV) It didn’t attack masculinity. It attacked masculinity that stomps on the rights of the weak and less privileged. That doesn’t attack Christianity; it makes Christianity stronger and more Christlike.
- Eagerly sharing breaking news before having all the facts. Everyone does this. We should be better than that and wait until all of the facts are present instead of eagerly sharing news that only supports our personal political agenda. We all saw this with the Covington Catholic issue, and then people on both sides were far too eager to join a camp on opposite sides of the spectrum when the collective truth was far more nuanced than that. I remember desperately wanting to share something but taking a deep breath and a step back. I wanted to know all of the facts before I jumped on the train, and in retrospect, I’m glad that I did.
- Refusing to acknowledge there are multiple sides to most social issues. I see this so much with so many issues, particularly with abortion. Yes, I am pro-life, but I often question the way we in the Christian Pro-Life community talk about the issue with other human beings who we disagree with. Remember when I said I’ve only “unfriended” a couple people. I did this shortly after the 2016 election and before I posted my first pro-life piece. Because I had taken away the ability of one particularly vocal individual, my pro-life and pro-choice friends were able to have a healthy and productive discussion of the issue on social media. We need to learn to talk to each other and listen. As Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers state in their book I Think You’re Wrong, But I’m Listening, “We’re forgetting that rarely is it only one thing that affects the course of our lives and the world. More often there is a complex interplay of personal, structural, cultural, and legislative forces happening, and the world likely won’t end because we take a step toward one another to talk.”
- Gloating about a conservative or religious “win.” I thought about this a lot during the confirmation hearings of Brent Kavanaugh. Suddenly, having a conservative on the Supreme Court was more important than the thousands and thousands of women who I saw all over social media (friends and acquaintances) posting about their own trauma that they had kept secret for years. Christian conservatives were willing to look past the pain of thousands for the opportunity to have a “pro-life” judge, and by looking at my social media feed, liberals and moderates did not miss the irony. We Christians have to demand better from our leaders and we can’t depend on our politicians to do the work for us. Our identity is not in politics but in Christ.
Many of my fellow Christians have become so afraid of the world returning to the way it was during the early days of the Christian church that they have forgotten to act as if they are members of the early Christian church. Our cultural attitude of entitlement, our fear of losing our ground of influence, has reared its head in ugly ways in American Christianity.
I don’t believe that we need to ditch social media. Quite the opposite. I believe that we can actually use social media to further the Kingdom. Social media has the potential to open up our world and create an open forum for healthy and helpful discussions. Believe it or not, I have seen this happen over and over again when my friends and I have decided to act like responsible adults and listen to each other and respond with respect and compassion. It is possible and it is one way that we can, in fact, further the Kingdom.
The phrase “What Would Jesus Do” was all the rage in my teen years. Although I sometimes wonder if it was a misguided attempt at making teenagers of the 90s behave, maybe we need a new slogan: “What Would Jesus Post?” As Christians we should seek to not be the reason someone decides to walk away from the Church. We should demonstrate that we are Christ followers in all that we do, including how we deal with social issues on social media. Believe it or not, sometimes it may actually mean not posting the latest trending meme or blog post.
So here’s my challenge: The next time you are tempted to post something, anything, on social media, ask yourself, “Does this further the Kingdom?”
You never know. You might start a social media revolution.