I am not an expert in the history of War, but I’ve read articles that said that Hitler had every chance to win World War II, if not for his own bizarre choices. Most criminals who get caught do so because of their hubris, foolishness, and self-destructive choices. Self-immolation is inherent in the nature of sin. The arrogance of turning against the will and ways of Almighty God brings with it a natural outcome. Sin is spiritual suicide and will always bring both God’s active judgment and natural consequences. “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
That principle applies to the interactions of Christians on social media as well. I have been involved in Baptist blogging for nearly 15 years, almost since the beginning of the phenomenon. In that time, I’ve seen a host of men and a few women rise up as avengers of God’s justice, “discernment” warriors dispensing the divine anathema on anyone who disagreed with them. I’ve had some wildly unpleasant encounters with a few of them. An old saying I first saw on the menu of a “Po Folks” restaurant is apt. “Never ‘rassle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” I’ve gotten dirty too often by ‘rassling with folks who enjoyed getting down in the mud and slinging it, who somehow managed to reclassify that mudslinging as true biblical love.
These people have often made scurrilous and false accusations against God’s people, people I care about and respect. The tendency in the heat of the moment is to believe that righteousness demands that we fight fire with fire. If they get in the mud, we must crawl in their slop and sling mud with them. We have disgraced the name of Christ and damaged the cause of his kingdom here on earth by engaging in retribution with these people. I wish I could say I’d stayed above it all.
Certainly, the church needs discernment and must stand against false teaching, but any reasonable Christian can see that the “calling out” has gotten out of hand. Biblical discernment demands that we discern that “discernment ministries” are operating contrary to Christ, to Scripture, and to the fruit of the Spirit. The question is how we should respond. What are godly people to do in the face of this mudslinging, flesh-driven, divisive movement that purports to protect the faith “once for all delivered to the saints,” but actually tears down the church?
1. We must remember God’s Command.
Deuteronomy 32:35 says this.
“The Lord says, ‘Am I not storing up these things,
sealing them away in my treasury?
I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
and their destiny will overtake them.’
Romans 12:19 paraphrases this verse and says,
Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.
I am not the avenger of God’s name. It is a divine right and I am blaspheming when I take it upon myself to seek vengeance, to defend his honor. I don’t have to fight every false report, every lie told about me, every evil thing done in the name of Christ. He is active in avenging his name and the evils done against his people.
It is easy to believe that we are defending truth and righteousness when we are actually just taking vengeance on someone who angered or insulted us. Right?
2. Evil is self-destructive.
I could list names here, but most of you already know those names and it would just descend into a food-fight about those people’s histories. Still, we can remember how prominent bloggers and social media people made a name for themselves by attacking others or saying outrageous things. Some trained their guns on the SBC, others on particular people, and others fought against Calvinism or liberalism or whatever the bogeyman of the day was. Then they crashed hard.
I’ve been mulling over this idea for a long time, but last night, I read an article about the spectacular self-destruction of one of the infamous names in blogging. I was the target of many of his attacks over the years. I tried at first, a decade or so ago, to make peace with him and to reconcile, but it was impossible. I wrote an article or two (maybe more?) about him and generally retreat most of it. Nothing I said or did ever affected him. He brought himself down.
This has been true of most of the “villains” in social media. They destroy themselves ethically or morally. They become so bitter their faith wanes and they deconstruct. They do something stupid and lose credibility. They jump the shark.
This morning, some of my friends were having a conversation about a wolf among the sheep in the SBC, someone who has a growing platform but is using it to do evil. What should we do? My initial instinct is to start tweeting about what a terrible person he is, to try to get him pushed out of the entity where he is ensconced, to “fight the fight.”
What I need to do is remember that evil is self-destructive and people who walk in the flesh under the banner of Christ will eventually suffer the consequences. Be sure your sin will find you out.
3. There’s a time to stand.
There is a time to stand and confront sinners within the church, as Paul did from time to time. It was not his whole ministry, but periodically, he confronted a wolf among the sheep, sometimes by name. It is necessary to practice BIBLICAL discernment and to “call out” wickedness.
I believe there are some biblical guidelines I have come to believe in my experiences, including my failures.
- I generally should not defend myself, but leave that to God. Defending myself tends to come from a place of pride, not the glory of God.
- If I stand, it should be for the good of the church, to protect sheep from wolves. (Not to protect myself, my “platform,” or my name.)
- I should confront with a view toward doing good, toward reconciliation, toward building up. 1 Corinthians 13 does not disappear when you confront.
- Generally, we should confront those who use their power to hurt the helpless, those who abuse God’s sheep. In other words, “calling out” isn’t to protect power from criticism but to confront the powerful who abuse their power.
- We should avoid name-calling, ridicule, and belittling in our confrontations. Focus on the sin or the failure or the error. I realize that Jesus called his opponents whitewashed tombs and poisonous snakes, but he had the advantage of perfect insight into their souls. We are best to avoiding name-calling and insults.
- It is generally unhelpful to participate in ongoing public social media exchanges that get confrontational. They fall under the cliché “more heat than light.” Little good comes from these. State your case with calm and truth, then move on.
4. Invoke Titus 3:10 when needed.
Titus 3:10-11 says this.
If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.
If you encounter one of these people, confront them personally (privately is good). Seek to reconcile. Once. Twice. Three or four times. The Spirit of God is always on the side of reconciliation. However, there is a time at which we must just break it off and apply Titus 3:10 (and 11) and turn that person over to the judgment of God.
Fortunately, most social media has a block or mute function specifically designed for these purposes.
5. Protect your soul.
I have friends who can engage with Twitter trolls much better than I can. I get angry and find myself lashing out, so I have to protect my soul and I am much more likely to pull back.
We need to walk in the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. If you are not engaging in the fruit of the Spirit but find yourself demonstrating the works of the flesh (anger, envy, rage, strife, etc) you should take steps to protect your soul.
There are so many issues here, possibly enough for a follow-up post at some point. We need to stop fooling ourselves that what we are doing when we eviscerate one another on social media is actually love. We need to read the Fruit of the Spirit and the works of the Flesh and judge our actions accordingly. We need to remember “Vengeance is mind, I will repay” and let God be God!
It is hard to broach a topic like this with so many layers. My key point is simple:
Evil eats itself. Remember that God judges sinners and sin destroys itself. We don’t have to weary ourselves tracking down every evil tweet or sinful post. Do good, obey God, seek his glory, and let God be God.
Now it’s your turn.