When there are many words, sin is unavoidable,
but the one who controls his lips is wise. Proverbs 10:19
Bloggers are word-people. Wise words. Foolish words. Harsh words. Gentle words. Destructive words. Encouraging words. Truth in love. Truth in anger. Twisted truth in obsession. Fun words. Demeaning words. Ridicule. Praise. Words of all kinds. But when you engage in social media, you engage in words. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter – words, words words.
Despite what the critics of blogging and social media would say, much good goes on through blogging and other outlets. But we also give constant testimony to the truth of Proverbs 10:19. Our many words inevitably lead to sin and folly, giving evidence that we have not reached the maturity James said would mark those who controlled their tongues.
I have been blessed by words I have read on blogs and exchanged with social media. I have good friends whom I’d have never met if not for social media interaction. My theology has been sharpened. There are some excellent blogs out there that encourage and instruct. When I got into blogging, I was a pastor in Iowa isolation and had little idea what was going on in the great big Baptist and Christian worlds around me. Blogging has helped me understand God’s word and what is going on among God’s people.
But the sinfulness of my own flesh has been, as Solomon warned, unavoidable. I’ve tried to be a peaceful blogger, one who sought unity in the Body of Christ. One good friends called me a “moderate” – not in the Baptist sense (anyone who knows me knows I’m a CR supporter) but in the sense that I usually look for a middle road in most of our blustery blogging battles. Another blogger asked me, “Dave, has there ever been a fence you haven’t tried to straddle?” There has been, but I understand why he said it. Being an antinomist, I believe that all truths are held in balance with other truths and we need to maintain the balance.
But in spite of my desire for unity, I’ve been angry, held grudges, written sharp words that injured others. I’ve been petty, petulant, irritable, and at one time or another exhibited many of the “works of the flesh” from Galatians 5. I don’t know anyone who has been involved long in blogging who is proud of every word he has written. I am not. Once, recently, I went back and read some of my old blogposts and comments. I stand behind most of what I’ve written, though I wonder about the wisdom of some of my posts. But I would love to go and delete many of the comments I’ve made and interactions I’ve had with other folks.
When words are many, sin is unavoidable. Guilty as charged.
Dr. Rainer’s Wonderful Post
Thom Rainer, in an article published today, hit a home run! He examined the dangers of social media as used by ministers. What I want to say here is just a reflection on that post, called Seven Warnings for Church Leaders Who Use Social Media. Read it. Heed it. You need it!
In the last month or so, there have been several instances of pastors using social media in ways that are shameful, sinful and destructive. It seems we simply do not listen to wisdom. Dr. Rainer’s words are apt and needed to each of us as we blog, Tweet and interact in all forms of social media. Here are some of my reflections on the topic. Some are based on his post, others are my own.
1) Your words are PERMANENT!
Dr. Rainer makes this absolutely true point. I don’t understand how it works, but even if you delete a post, knowledgeable folks can still find it. Before you hit the publish button, take a moment and think about this. In 10 years, someone can find this. Mark Driscoll has recently been embarrassed (again) by words he said over a decade ago on an online forum, under a pseudonym. The forum has been deleted, but someone found the words and he is having to apologize all over again for his folly.
It is a request I get all the time. “Dave, can you delete my comments?” Someone responded with anger, in pique, under strong emotion and said something they wish they hadn’t. Maybe they learned new facts or maybe they just cooled down and wish they hadn’t popped off. Now, they want me to go back and hide the evidence of their comments. But it is there. It cannot be hidden. When you write it, you own it!
2) You will be MISUNDERSTOOD!
Count on it. There is no context, no perspective, no body language. You perhaps meant the words one way, but someone will take them another. You were joking, but the reader is serious.
A couple of years ago, Mike Leake (he’s gonna hate me for mentioning this) posted something here about how Tony and I were conspiring to hold him down and keep his blog from being on the blogroll that used to be the center of our site. Anyone who knew Mike and me knew it was a joke and got a good laugh from it. Unfortunately, a lot of people who read SBC Voices don’t really know me or Mike and a few folks got very offended. I was on the road to an Executive Board meeting in Des Moines and I got an urgent message to get on the site and calm things down. Well played, Leake!
The point is, if you write and comment, you will be misread and misunderstood. You need to be careful with what you say. And you need to be gracious when misunderstood.
Frankly, I am not good at that. When I write a post and someone starts criticizing it based on their misunderstanding (or often, I’m convinced, on their failure to even read the post) I get annoyed.
But I need to remember that when I write, I am responsible for my words. I have to write clearly, clarify if necessary and make sure people can understand what I said. Some people are just belligerent and willfully difficult. I can’t fix that. But I can work hard to make sure that I accurately and carefully say what I want to say.
3) Love covers a multitude of sins. Emoticons do not!
My aggravation with emoticons is fairly well known. I appreciate Dr. Rainer giving a warning about them as well. I grew to hate emoticons because I saw people use them as a way of avoiding responsibility for their words. People would say harsh, hateful, unkind things and then add an emoticon as if that made everything okay.
I understand that an emoticon can perhaps have some value in letting people know that you are kidding. Fine. But don’t use them to excuse yourself for saying harsh, hateful things.
4) People are checking on you!
When you apply for a job, your online presence now becomes a part of that. Think about it, sir. The next pulpit committee that is reviewing your resume may do a simple search and find those insults you left for another on your site. Leaders in your own church can find them.
I remember once, a long time ago, when I had a personal blog that almost no one read, that I made a statement about one of the better known names in the Baptist world. I said that some of his statements and beliefs scared me. I felt safe behind my anonymity. A few minutes later, a comment popped up on my site. “What is it about me that scares you, Dave?” Oops.
Realize that your words are not a private conversation. They are permanent and public, and someone may read them.
Rainer makes an important point that a lost world also reads Christian blogs at times. Our fighting is not evangelistically helpful, in general.
5) We need to speak the truth in LOVE.
I’ve been involved in blogging for nearly a decade, and the battle lines have changed. The causes of conflict change, but the vitriol seems to remain. The IMB policies/trustee actions. Baptist identity. Calvinism. Personal conflicts. Leadership in the SBC. There has been one conflict after the other, but I’ve notice a common template that these blog wars tend to follow.
- Those on Side A determine that those on side B are sinful, unChristian, unholy, heretical people. Maybe they have good reason, maybe they don’t.
- Those on Side B respond to say that it is those on Side A that are the offenders. “I’m rubber, you’re glue…”
- Those on Side A and Side B both engage in angry, hateful rhetoric condemning the angry, hateful rhetoric on the other side, presenting themselves as innocent servants of God defending themselves against the evil being done against them. When challenged, they reference the fact that “they started it.”
- Both sides justify their vitriol as expressions of godly anger, as exhibiting discernment, calling the other side to godly repentance or some other form of self-justification. I’ve seen some of the most hateful rhetoric described as loving – “confronting sin is an act of true love.”
We all balance the competing claims of truth and love in one way or another. Some lean a little to the “truth” side (at least, truth as we see it) and some lean a little to the “love” side. Right now, it is time to let the pendulum swing a little to the love side. We need to remember 1 Corinthians 13 and “always believe, always hope, always trust, always persevere.” We need to let go of pettiness, grudges, and all of the works of the flesh.
It is not a sign of weakness, of lack of conviction, or of being theologically wishy-washy to obey the biblical commands to honor one another and let love, joy and peace govern our hearts and our conversations. In fact, James says that the ability to control one’s tongue is a primary marker of spiritual maturity. It takes more spiritual strength to hold our tongues than to bluster!
It is time that we leave the blog wars behind. Enough is enough.
If you are only going to read one blog (other than SBC Voices, of course) then I would recommend it be Rainer’s. It is consistently good and helpful to church leaders. Today’s post was an especially helpful reminder of the dangers of blogging and other social media.