I don’t deny the ugliness on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Even in the early days of the Internet, chat rooms and forums provided a sense of anonymity that allowed people to say cruel and vicious things without fear of reprisal. Twenty some years later, the nastiness has reached a fever pitch, with no end in sight.
I respect those who withdraw from social media because it causes them or their loved ones to stumble. Such decisions show a rare and remarkable obedience to Scripture.
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. ~~Matthew 5:29-30 (ESV)
Having said all this, we must resist the temptation to blame social media for the cruelty permeating our culture. Social media simply makes it easier for us to take nasty pot-shots at each other. But let’s be honest: we would take these pot-shots with or without the vehicle of social media.
The real evil has always blackened human hearts, stretching back all the way to Cain’s murder of Abel. You can’t read Genesis or Judges without being sickened by the relentless accounts of human depravity. Those savage words you and I type on Twitter (please don’t tell me you’ve never sent a Tweet, email or blog comment that you shouldn’t have) reflect hearts that would disobey even if Twitter had never been invented.
In several of his epistles, the apostle Paul found it necessary to warn Christians against argumentative behaviors that threatened the body of Christ. As an example, look at his words to the Colossians.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. ~~Colossians 3:5-10 (ESV)
Sadly, we’ve all been in church meetings when tempers flared and false accusations swirled around the sanctuaries at dizzying paces. Some of us have been through painful church splits, watching our brothers and sisters slander each other without mercy. Those same slanderers are careful not to repeat their venomous allegations on Facebook and Twitter (thankfully), but they do incalculable damage to a local congregation.
I’m not talking about instances where sin and/or false teaching needs to be called out. Please don’t hear me as advocating a squishy unity that makes unbiblical compromises simply to avoid conflict. True Christianity invariably causes division as it shines the light on things that would corrupt the Gospel.
But unfounded slander that is meant for the purpose of destroying reputations or gaining personal power is a wholly different matter. When we care more about taking someone down than about standing for truth and promoting unity around sound doctrine, perhaps we need to examine our hearts. It’s commendable, to be sure, if we keep our pronouncements off of social media, but whispering to others in the back pews can be just as sinful.
Maybe more sinful, because of the secrecy and hypocrisy.
Whether we use social media or not, we all have the capacity to slander each other. As a result, our greatest responsibility is to ask the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts and to show us ways in which we might be tearing down our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Twitter may make it easier to hurt each other, but we dare not mistake it for the real culprit.