Like the God who made us, we humans are incessant communicators. We will use anything to talk to each other: a rock on a cave wall, a reed dipped in plant dye, a Dixie cup and long string, mechanical arms that stamp letters on paper, or digital pixels that bounce of satellites into mobile devices. God communicates so naturally his image-bearers do so, too.
Social media is not inherently evil any more than the teletype, telephone or mechanical pencil were evil when invented. Today’s tweet was yesterday’s pamphlet. Today’s status update was yesterday’s bulletin board note. We humans will devise anything to communicate. Our problem is not what we use to communicate, but the way in which we use it.
James wrote that “beloved brethren” (i.e. professing Christians) “must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas 1.19-21).
In our oft-volatile relationships with one another Christians are to do far less talking and far more listening. We do far more receiving of the word than expecting others to receive it from us.
While James did not remotely envision Facebook or Twitter, his principle still applies. Christians are to be slow to type and slow to anger. Jesus has made sure his followers are no longer of this world (Jn 17.16) therefore we do not handle our relationships in worldly ways. That includes how prone we are to vent on social media in the name of Christian piety.
We’re all guilty of it. Someone offends us and we go off on them on Facebook in generalities, insinuations and innuendo. We should lovingly, patiently, privately and prayerfully take up the offense with them. Rather, we go off about generic “people,” the anonymous “you,” who treat(s) us this or that way. We make it sound like we are the pious ones, defending virtue and Christian responsibility against “those people” who act so unbecomingly. The world is lucky to have someone who will call out sin. With a wink-wink, we summon our in-the-know friends to our sympathetic aid. We hope “that person” reads it and is brought to tears in holy conviction (which never works). We can then pat ourselves on the back for correcting a brother or sister. If we are honest, our rants are really about serving our own egos than serving our neighbor as we pile up “likes.”
In reality, though, we are cowards. We use God’s name in vain and treat our enemies as things/its, not persons. We would rather throw a handful of rocks out of a moving car hoping one of them hits the bully who offended us. Such is not “in humility, receiving the word implanted, which able to save your souls.” Jesus does not treat us anonymously, but lovingly comes to us, calls us by name (Jn 10.3) and makes peace with us. Christians should no more use social media to shame others any more than they would post a handwritten note on a city hall bulletin board.
I love a good tweet as much as the next guy. I appreciate the renewed relationships social media has afforded across state and national lines. But, we are citizens of heaven (Phil 3.20) and how we communicate in heaven informs how we communicate on earth.
Jesus provided the means by which we handle interpersonal conflict in the church. If we are offended and cannot graciously overlook the offense (1 Pt 4.8) then we are to go to our brother (Mt 16.15). We do not rush to Facebook to talk about him without really talking about him. We talk to him because we love him. The world is ruthless, vindictive, passive-aggressive and shameful. The church is anything but those things; therefore, Christians are not to update statuses the way the world does.
Jesus continued that even unresolved conflict is still handled within the merciful confines of the church (Mt 16.16-18). Christians should never assume the liberty, especially in the name of God, to publicly shame one another before the world. We do not want to give the world any more fodder by becoming a slanderer (Col 3.8; 1 Pt 2.1). Satan is the slanderer and accuser; and we want nothing to do with being like him. Therefore, we keep the circle as small as possible as long as possible.
We do not want to sully Christ’s name or unnecessarily or intentionally shame our brother’s name. So we handle our business in-house, where there is pastoral protection, love, humility and courage. If we must eventually “go public” then we do so with our pastors/elders, not with our “friends” or “followers.”
Social media has its place and value. But its place and value are limited and governed by the rules of Zion. Jesus never made anonymous threats or offered generic love. He dealt with our offenses personally, lovingly and decisively. The next time we are compelled to Facebook to call out “you know who” let us go instead to prayer and then to them. Let us remember that God “has not dealt with us according to our sins” (Ps 103.10). We may find that what we could not wait to write is actually not worth being said. If you will not go to your brother then you should not go to your “friends.”
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4.11).