September 2020 Newsletter Article

One of the books I am currently reading is A Way with Words, Using Our Online Conversations for Good, by Daniel Darling. I am reading it with a sense of urgency, because when I attended seminary there wasn’t a class in cyber-shepherding, and I need help pastoring I am reading it with a sense of urgency because our culture and community are divided like never before along many different lines and ideologies. I am reading it with a sense of urgency because so much of what I see and read on social media that comes from professing Christians is not good, not true, not edifying, not unifying, not honoring to God and not consistent with the character and words of Christ.
Darling recently wrote a short article addressing the inconsistency often seen between our online bio and our online words. In “Jesus in the Bio but Nasty in the Timeline?” Darling wrote:
A follower of Jesus myself, I normally like to see those words on someone’s Twitter profile. Lately, however, I’m reluctant to scroll down for fear that this same follower has cussed out a politician on the social media platform or tweeted nasty things at a person they disagree with.
How can people who claim Jesus as Lord act so mean?
First, we often think that because we are fighting for the right things – justice, truth, righteousness — that it doesn’t matter how we say what we say. The Apostle Peter, no stranger to impulsive talk, has a tip for us. He urged first-century believers to “have an answer for everyone for the hope that lies within you” but to do this with “gentleness and kindness.” (I Peter 3:15) In other words, civility and courage are not enemies, but friends. The loudest person in the room or online is not necessarily the most courageous.
Second, we go off the rails online because we forget the humanity of the person on the other end of that tweet. That person we are calling out or punching at rhetorically is not a mere avatar to be crushed, but a person, made in the image of God. Those with whom we disagree are not the sum total of their opinions. James, Jesus’ brother and another leader in the first-century church, urges us to consider the imago dei of the other before we unleash a verbal assault. (James 3:9)
Third, we often abandon kindness because politics has replaced religion as the primary driver of our discourse. We may have Jesus in the bio, but it’s the Republican or Democratic Party that is really in our hearts.
The collapse of religious institutions and the decline of church attendance have created a vacuum that politics is only too ready to fill. But politics makes for a disappointing god. It only takes and will never fully satisfy the longings of the heart.
How do we know we are worshipping at the altar of the 24/7 political cycle? When we make every argument a political one. When every aspect of life becomes read through a narrow ideological lens. When every criticism of our candidate is perceived as an attack on our hero. When we turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of leaders in our ideological camp.
As we muddle through the coming election season and a global pandemic that has divided Americans, Christians will be more tempted than ever to abandon civility.
Darling is right! Jesus diagnoses the problem perfect clarity: ….what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart (Matt 15:18). For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34).
Here is a straightforward and simple suggestion (actually it’s a Scriptural command!): 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).
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Quick to hear; slow to speak (or to type), slow to anger. May God helps us to do this, and may we be known as people who know the truth and who speak it with love, grace and clarity.