This past weekend has been a wild one, as social and news media blew up over President Trump’s recent executive orders regarding restrictions for immigrants and refugees seeking to enter the United States. The advent of the internet and social media have allowed us to have instant access to breaking news, and even more instant access to platforms that allow us to share our opinions on said news. This is a double-edged sword, and unfortunately we seem to have lost an appreciation for expressing ourselves in slow, wise ways that are well thought out, rational, and reasonable. Instead, we broadcast the first thoughts that come into our heads that are more fueled by emotion than rational (let alone biblical) thought. This has not been beneficial for societal discourse as a whole, and I believe this past weekend has been more evidence of that: entire people groups and religions have been maligned and raked over the social media coals.
Unfortunately Christians have played a large role in speaking quickly and definitively on this issue (at least in my feeds), regardless of which side of the issue they support. Internet memes are used to stand in judgment over those who disagree, and trite, divisive social commentary questions the authenticity of the faith of this group or that. People who are supposed to be characterized by godly wisdom, and who are supposed to be quick to listen and slow to speak are clogging social media with unfounded accusations and judgments that have more to do with a desire to affiliate with a political position than to accord with biblical wisdom and justice.
This has to stop.
Believe it or not, the Bible guides us in how we are to engage social and political issues in the public square, such as social media. Here are four correctives that God gives us when we consider entering the digital marketplace of ideas. We would be wise to heed them.
Seek the truth, speak the truth
God is a God of truth. Jesus described himself as “the truth” (John 14.6). God’s desire is to lead us into all truth through his Spirit (John 16.13). Jesus prayed that his followers would be sanctified by the truth (John 17.17). Everything God says is true (Numbers 23.19), and he commands his people to pursue, love, and know the truth. Conversely, God detests lies, falsehood, and slander (see Proverbs 6.16-17, 12.22, etc.). Much, if not most, political engagement on social media is not based in truth. Rather, it is based on one-liners and zingers in the form of memes that support a person’s preconceived notions. At worst (and all too commonly), social media commentary propagates false narratives on the issues of our day, which lead to misdirected thinking and believing. In other words: slander and lies. If we share ideas and information on social media that is not true or is misleading, we are participating in slander, gossip, and downright lies. As people who pursue the truth, it is our obligation to not participate in such things, and we similarly have an obligation to finding the truth, and only speaking the truth, regardless of the situation or ideas that we engage. We are to hold ourselves to a high standard of finding the truth on any and every issue, and only dialoguing according to the truth. To spread slander, lies, and gossip – even on social media – is to participate in something that God hates. Even in light of perceived injustices, we would be wise to not run to social media and pronounce judgment until we have the facts of the matter.
Be quick to listen and slow to speak
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1.19-20)
James says that we are to do two things slowly, and one thing quickly. In our social media discourse, we are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” In an age dominated by social media and breaking news, however, this is very difficult to do. Because of our pride, when news breaks we want to be the first ones to offer our opinions for all the world to see. Social media platforms are built on quick and definitive words and speech. Just check the news feed on your preferred social media platform right now: how much of what is in there has been thought out over time and can be characterized as an opinion that is based off of careful thinking and listening? We should fight the temptation to make ourselves be heard on every issue. And even when we have something to say, it should come from a long period of thinking and listening. Instead of speaking because we are angry, we should listen – and then maybe speak. After all, as James says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” If you’re angry, and you’re going to post about your anger online, you better make sure it’s righteous anger. Otherwise, be quiet.
Seek to understand, not to express your opinion
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18.2)
There are multiple sides to that issue that you’re angry about, and about which you’ve just spouted off on social media. Have you taken the time to understand each of those sides before speaking? If not, you have no business talking about it. The Bible says that if you are simply talking (or posting) in order to express your opinion, you’re a fool. Fools have no desire to see the other side of an issue; fools have no desire to listen to and understand a dissenting opinion. Fools only want to be heard. Take a look again at your social media feed. Does it look like people take pleasure in understanding, or in expressing their opinions? What about the content you post?
The more you say, the more likely you are to sin
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10.19)
It’s very easy for social media debates to quickly escalate into name-calling, and for people to attach motives to others. Usually, the more that is said, the more likely the conversation will degenerate into something ugly and sinful. The Bible warns us against using a multitude of words. Put simply, the more we talk, the more likely we are to fall into sin. The reality of Proverbs 10.19 is easily observable with just a few clicks on any social media platform. So before you engage in that debate on Facebook, consider the possibility that it could easily lead you into sin. Don’t allow yourself to go there. It’s probably better and wiser just to remain silent.
How then shall we post?
Like it or not, our society has become one in which social media plays a dominant role. As Christians who want to engage the culture and speak the word of God into it, it behooves us to be a part of that platform. A few years ago, however, I got off social media altogether because it was becoming apparent to me that the things I said and shared on those platforms did not honor God. It was easy for me to get angry and to propagate unfounded information that was not based in fact. I was off social media for almost two years before coming back when I became the pastor of Riverview. And nowadays, I stay mostly silent, for the very reasons I’ve listed above. I’m not saying that Christians have to be silent about social and political issues on Facebook, but that there needs to be a lot more thought that goes into what we say on social media platforms. If you can’t invest the time and energy into thinking deeply and truthfully about the issues that arise in our society, I would advise you not to comment.
Also, consider the possibility that your polemical view might serve to alienate a friend or brother or sister in Christ who holds a different view from your own. A strong statement on one side or another might serve to cause a division between yourself and others in the church. Far be it from any of us to put a stumbling block in front of a brother or sister on social media.
Christians are not to be people who communicate in knee-jerk reactions and platitudes represented by social media memes. Rather, we are to be slow to speak, quick to understand, and to earnestly seek out the truth. Christians are people who are characterized by their desire for the truth, whatever it might be, and no matter how inconvenient it might be. In light of this reality, here’s a suggestion for you: rather than post a meme on social media, and rather than engaging in the next endless Facebook political debate that will probably cause you to fall into sin, take some time to think through whatever issue concerns you, and invite someone with whom you disagree out to coffee and go over the issue slowly, using the Bible to guide your thinking.