A few days ago, a friend texted me. Apparently a Christian band had been publicly ripping on him and he needed some advice.
Now at the bare minimum, that’s not the best use of time for a Christian band, what with all the spreading the joy of Christ they’ve got on their plate.
But the time management problem wasn’t the biggest issue. For me, the real challenge was the band’s twitter profile. You’d think, that given their penchant for not liking people, they’d at least have a twitter bio that reflected that. Alas, that wasn’t the case at all, as each line spoke to their hope to love people and share grace with them. Bigger than even that though, was that the band reminded me of me and my ability to be a hypocrite online. What they had actually said about my friend didn’t really seem that harmful. (I’ve said far worse.) But I think the whole thing stirred up something I’ve been wrestling with in my own life during the six years of this blog, online hypocrisy.
That might surprise you a little bit, that the way a Christian acts online doesn’t line up with how they describe themselves online, but it shouldn’t.
We now have one of the greatest opportunities to be hypocrites in the history of mankind. Think about the scale of our hypocrisy these days. Thirty years ago, your dad interacted with maybe 200 people in a given month. He knew people at work, in his family, his town and in his church. If he wanted to be a jerk to large groups of complete strangers, it was pretty difficult. I guess he could have printed up a newsletter or called a radio show but even then, that would take a lot of effort.
Now though, in the time you and I occupy, it’s so much easier.
We can proclaim Christ with our (digital) lips and then deny him with our (digital) lifestyle faster than any other previous generation and to more people than our parents would have ever dreamed! (Head nod to Brennan Manning and DC Talk’s What if I stumble.)
If this concerns you at all, it should. The damage we Christians can do with the Internet is unbelievable.
I’d love to think this blog post will radically change the world, but I am making my own images these days and they are just horrible. (A sunset has nothing to do with this post. Just ridiculous.)
Not everyone who reads this will give up their hypocritical ways.
So, if you want to be a hypocrite online, at least do these three things:
1. Strip your Christianity from your profiles.
My friend had an Ichthus magnet on his car. Eventually, he felt bad about his driving habits, as he was prone to speeding and cutting people off. So he took the Jesus fish off his car because it was a bad witness. Could he have instead, driven better? Might that have been the better long-term solution? Definitely. But maybe you’re not ready for that. Just promise me you’ll fire Jesus from your twitter bio and facebook page. Get rid of the following words: “Love, Jesus, God, faith, grace, brokenness, forgiveness, etc.”
2. At least admit you don’t know the person.
A Christian recently emailed me to tell me he was unfollowing me on Facebook because he no longer liked me. His short, rude message caught me off guard, which finally prompted me to respond and ask, “Have we met before? It seems like you really don’t like me and most times if someone is mad at me I’ve done something stupid to them. As a Christian, it’s on me to apologize if I did something that personally attacked you as an individual.” Just so we’re clear, it was certainly possible that I had met him and was a jerk. I am an idiot, often. (It will not be difficult for you to find some way that I have been a hypocrite.) But as it turned out, I hadn’t, which he confirmed when he responded and continued to tell me how lame I am. We hadn’t met. We hadn’t talked on the phone. We hadn’t texted. We hadn’t skyped. But the dirty thrill of the Internet is that it gives you the opportunity to be mean to people you’ve never met. Why? Well, Jimmy Kimmel summed it up nicely. “In person people are nice, because you can punch them in person. Online they’re not nice because you can’t.” If you’re going to write something mean about someone online, at least preface it with, “I have never met this person, talked with them or had any personal engagement with them despite the personal attack I am about to launch.”
3. Just be consistent.
In the first year of writing Stuff Christians Like, I didn’t really understand the difference between mockery and satire. Here’s what I’ve come to 6 years later. The goal of satire is to share humor with a purpose, the goal of mockery is to cause a wound. Mockery always has a victim and sometimes not a point other than pain. Granted, mockery is a fast way to get a laugh. Read some of the old posts on this site, I was definitely writing more from a place of mockery. But what I learned was that mockery is a great shortcut to a laugh now, but it removes your ability to speak in love later. And the love later mattered more to me. (Also, God is pretty clear about his feelings about mockery in the book of Proverbs.) That’s why I try to write about issues, not individuals. When I write about issues, folks show up and have a rich discussion from a lot of different angles. When I write about individuals, sharks show up at the smell of blood in the water. Are you going to make mistakes at this? Sure. But know this, you’ve got a choice. You can attack people or you can love people. Just be consistent.
I hope these tips help if you decide to go deeper into the wondrous world of hypocrisy. Or you can do the opposite and just be kind online. Hopefully, you’ve never even bumped into someone mean online. I know people like that.
I’ll have conversations with friends that go like this:
Me: This guy said something really horrible to me online.
Friend: Just do what I do, ignore it!
Me: You’ve had some haters at some point? On Twitter?
Friend: No, I have about 800 followers and most of them know me personally.
Me: Oh, you have a job that people publically criticize you for? Like being an author, musician, blogger, pastor, etc.?
Friend: No, I’m an accountant.
Me: So then, you’re kind of telling me to do what you do when responding to haters except you don’t have any and haven’t had to ignore a bully since 8th grade?
Friend: Uh, yeah.
The majority of people who try to Frozen me and say, “let it go” with haters never really seem to have any. If you grew up in the desert you wouldn’t tell someone who grew up by the ocean to quit thinking about sharks.
The waters are full these days, I just wish less of them kept telling people they were Jesus fish.