What matters online is how we say what we say
Imagine you and your spouse suddenly becoming the most hated couple in Australia. Recently, a Christian couple from Canberra discovered just what this is like when they were subjected to a firestorm of criticism following their appearance in a local magazine.
This is the headline from CityNews that catapulted them into both the national and international cauldron: “Gay marriage may force us to divorce.” Canberra couple Nick and Sarah Jensen had announced their intention to divorce, if homosexual people were allowed to get married too.
“Hate” isn’t a word I use lightly. But after reading the comments made online about the Jensens, even ‘hate’ seems inadequate to describe them.
Many of the comments about Nick and Sarah were so vile and degrading they are difficult to read, let alone repeat. In fact, even the seasoned editor of CityNews was so affected by the avalanche of responses that he “could only read a dozen comments at a time without becoming morose. Many had to be moderated, such was the disturbing content.”
Sadly, this tone of commentary is becoming more common. Particularly against anyone who fails to speak in support of same-sex marriage.
Hatred for #lovewins
Shortly after the US Supreme Court’s ruling allowing same-sex marriage, Matt Walsh wrote in The Blaze about the #lovewins meme he created. Walsh recongnised the bitter irony of how that meme generated feedback such as:
“Hi, kill yourself. Thanks”
“Oh Matt, you are a perfect as***le… Take your worthless version of the Bible, and set yourself on fire. That would make my Sunday:)”
“The world would be so much better off without you.”
So much for #lovewins, right?
Personally, I’m no longer surprised by the verbal “violence”that is so common on social media (such as what Walsh received). But what did unsettle me about the explosive case of the Christian couple from Canberra, was the tone of the commentary by other Christians about their fellow brother and sister in Christ.
Here’s just a few examples:
“People like this make Christians look like hypocrites.”
“This makes me embarrassed to be a wife, a woman, a Canberran, and a person.”
“I for one am thankful that Australia takes your marriage (and also my marriage) more seriously than you do.”
“Congratulations on inspiring and projecting more intolerance, selfishness, division and fear into society. I can just imagine Jesus being super proud of your representation of everything he stood for”
You may well have seen similar comments in your Facebook feed. Clearly (and thankfully), these comments don’t come close to matching the tone or language adopted by many online who are not Christians But sadly, neither do they express the graciousness and gentleness that is surely appropriate for Christians communication. Especially when it is about one another.
There is no doubt that the proposal by Nick and Sarah Jensen to divorce in the event of a change in the Marriage Act was a highly controversial one. I can understand that Christians might disagree with what they said or how they went about broadcasting it.
Be counter-cultural online. Be Christian
What concerns me is that Christian disagreement online too often resembles nothing more than a profanity-free version of what is said by everybody else. Earlier this year, I heard former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson speak at a men’s event about our changing world. And one comment he made particularly stood out. He said: “We’ve forgotten how to speak with one another.”
The more I read online, the more I tend to agree. As Christians, how should we speak with one another, and about one another? Ephesians 4:1-6 puts forward some counter-cultural instructions:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Humble. Gentle. Forbearing. Patient. Promoting unity. These words aren’t simply to describe our interactions at church or in Bible study. They are just as relevant to the way we express ourselves online.
Imagine that before you type another word online, you run through this Ephesians 4 check-list:
- “Am I being completely humble or are my words proud and arrogant?”
- “Am I being completely gentle or am I being harsh and unkind?”
- “Am I being patient or am I speaking too soon?”
- “Am I bearing with my brothers and sisters or am I intolerant and ungracious?”
- “Will this promote unity or am I stirring up division and disharmony?”
The internet will always introduce us to fellow believers we disagree with. One day you might even find yourself to be the subject of vigorous disagreement. When these situations arise, Christians have the opportunity to engage in a way that not only commends and upholds the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also promotes a better way to disagree online.