By Randy C. Davis
President and executive director, TBMB
Social media has the potential for good, but it also has a dark side that Christians too often get drawn into. It’s time we evaluate ourselves and assess if what we’re contributing to the public market of ideas leads to edifying the body of Christ and making Jesus attractive to spiritually lost people. The Golden Rule is still golden, and it should filter the thoughts we’re about to fire across the virtual landscape.
This certainly seems to be the current need within the Southern Baptist Convention. Our public rhetoric is destroying our witness to a lost world and is discouraging to the saints who see their pastors and other leaders taking verbal swipes at each other 280 Twitter characters at a time.
Do a cursory glance through social media platforms if you don’t understand what I’m talking about. There have been several issues over the past year-plus related to politics, personalities, race and coronavirus that reveal the worst from people. Some people feel the need to be heard on every topic. So many of the comments range from a lack of social decorum to downright godless. I can’t help but think about Matthew 12:34: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Some people would do well to keep from revealing so much.
Too many of the comments tear down others, not just their ideas. We’ve lost the ability in our culture to debate ideas reasonably and rigorously without attacking another personally. In his book, “Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth,” theologian Thaddeus J. Williams writes, “Anything that seems out of sync with (one’s) perspective is taken to the most extreme, cartoonish and damning way possible …”
This is what conversations about important questions have reduced to in our day and age. The only way someone could possibly disagree with me is if they are a bad person, a sworn enemy of (insert the issue).
And so we tar and feather any dissonant idea with the worst ideologies we can imagine. The result is rampant self-righteousness, a loss of humble self-criticism, widespread confirmation bias, a loss of real listening required to reach nuanced truths, pervasive partisanship, a loss of real community that requires us to give charity and the benefit of the doubt to others.
This is the antithesis of what we are called to as believers. Consider the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5, or Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4 to “edify the body.” Peter tells us to “make every effort to add to (our) faith,” goodness, self-control, godliness, brotherly affection and love, saying these things “will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He then warns that “whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins” (II Peter 1:6-10).
Unfortunately, we verbally bludgeon others through social networks. We often have no understanding or relationship with a person who we are unlikely to ever meet. Meanwhile, standing on the sidelines watching the bitter volley between supposed brothers and sisters in Christ are the spiritually lost people of our culture wondering how we can so hypocritically preach against their sin while revealing our own. To win an argument that is unlikely to change anybody’s mind, we forfeit our opportunity to share the life-giving gospel with a world spiritually spinning out of control.
Here are seven suggestions (beyond the many commands given by Jesus, Paul, and Peter) for toning down the public rhetoric and migrating back toward civility.
1. Remember the person at whom you are about to fire a Tweet is an image bearer of God, and you don’t want to attack, belittle, shame or disrespect God’s creation.
2. Realize you’re either contributing to the perception that “they will know us by our love,” or you’re detracting from it by what you say/post.
3. Ask yourself if you are about to treat this person the way you want to be treated.
4. Listen to what the other person is saying rather than shouting them down.
5. Reach out to a person privately and take the conversation offline – like to a phone conversation or a Zoom call – to seek understanding and to avoid airing your laundry publicly.
6. Consider if your perspective needs to change.
7. Determine to love others which will cover a multitude of sins, theirs and yours.
It’s time to be done with our dirty laundry as Southern Baptists and remember we reap what we sow. To reap a Great Commission harvest we must plant with seeds of grace.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.