This post is my honest and deepest thoughts as a person of faith on [INSERT the latest trending spat on social media/sofa discussion on daytime TV]
…. this has caused me to reflect on how we conduct ourselves on social media. What might a Christian guide to social media look like? WWJD - What would Jesus have done?
Here are a few Christian insights for a digital age
1. Human Nature is rich and complex: the internet forces us into tribes and we are quick to place people into two categories: heroes and villains. This is not an insight that the Bible recognizes. We are according to Christianity, made in the image of God, all human beings (even those we don’t like) have a dignity… Yet we are also fallen beings. There is within us something deeply troubling that causes us to regularly shoot ourselves in the foot. The Bible terms this sin. It inconveniently raises its head each time we are tempted to put ourselves or someone else on a pedestal. Our social media output reflects this. We are capable of great things and also great stupidity; we are a mixed package both online and in real life.
2. Repentance and change are possible: most of us who are of a certain age are mildly relieved that Facebook and Twitter were not around when we were younger. It has become a bit of a sport for some to trawl through the old posts of the newly famous and find unpleasantness. I am sure every one of us has said things that we are now deeply ashamed of; unfortunately for many people, there is now a permanent digital record. But Christians believe that people can and do change – not always and not as much as we would like – but the possibility of repentance is there. Repentance is more than just saying sorry (the Greek 'metanoia' means a complete change of heart and behaviour) and it means that we should be careful about permanently condemning or cancelling. Let’s recognize that some people do grow up and change.
3. Forgiveness and grace: these are the other side of the coin. If people can change then we need to be ready to accept the change. The danger of cancel culture is that we put ourselves in God’s place and deliver an everlasting judgement. That is not to say that there isn’t such a thing as wickedness but if we can, let's leave the door open and be gracious to those who mess up both in real life and in their social media posts because there but for the grace of God etc. The idea of grace might also extend to how we read others. Communication is twofold: what is said and what is heard. Likewise in the virtual world – what is typed and what is read. The possibility of misunderstanding others increases when we cannot see facial expressions or read body language. Before becoming offended, ask yourself – am I reading this post with as generous an interpretation as I can? Before responding or correcting, is what I am about to post motivated by love or a desire to be right?
And of course it goes without saying that posting and commenting is not compulsory. We do not have to have a ‘hot take’ or a reaction to everything that is going on. There is a time to speak out but the world does not need to know every time I am outraged and offended. Just as the Bible warns that the tongue is a tiny part of the body that causes all sorts of trouble. So too in the digital age, our fingers - tiny though they are - cause all sorts of mayhem on the keyboard. Do I really need to say this? Is this helpful? These are two questions that it is worth asking ourselves. They might save us some trouble.