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Does “gentle” describe your tone when disagreeing online?

I’m no longer surprised by verbal savagery on social media. What does unsettle me is the tone of the commentary by Christians about Christians.

Imagine you and your spouse suddenly becoming the most hated couple in Australia.

Last month a Christian couple from Canberra discovered just what this is like when they were subjected to a firestorm of criticism following their appearance in a local magazine.

This is the headline from CityNews that catapulted them into both the national and international cauldron:

“Gay marriage may force us to divorce”

A Canberra couple has announced their intention to divorce if gay people are allowed to get married too.

‘Hate’ isn’t a word I use lightly. But after reading the comments made online, even this description seems inadequate.

Facebook Groups popped-up to “celebrate” their proposed divorce.

These were accompanied by memes like this that received hundreds of likes:

Gentle-2

Many of the comments about Nick and Sarah were so vile and degrading they are difficult to read, let alone repeat.

In fact, even the seasoned editor of CityNews was so affected by the avalanche of responses that he “could only read a dozen “comments” at a time without becoming morose. Many had to be moderated, such was the disturbing content.”

Sadly, this tone of commentary is becoming more commonplace, and particularly against anyone who fails to speak in support of same-sex marriage. Shortly after the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling allowing same-sex marriage, Matt Walsh wrote in The Blaze and pointed out the irony of the #lovewins meme, that saw him receive feedback that included:

“Hi, kill yourself. Thanks”

“Oh Matt, you are a perfect assh?le… Take your worthless version of the bible, and set yourself on fire. That would make my Sunday:)”

“The world would be so much better off with you.”

No, I’m no longer surprised by the verbal savagery that is now commonplace on social media.

What did unsettle me however, was the tone of the commentary by fellow Christians about their brother and sisters. Here’s just a few:

“People like this make Christians look like hypocrites.”

“This makes me embarrassed to be a wife, a woman, a Canberran, and a person.”

“I for one am thankful that Australia takes your marriage (and also my marriage) more seriously than you do.”

“Honestly, congratulations on inspiring and projecting more intolerance, selfishness, division and fear into society. I can just imagine Jesus being super proud of your representation of everything he stood for (“I'm so glad they're not wasting their energy by letting people know they are loved”)

You may well have seen similar comments in your Facebook feed.

Clearly (and thankfully), these comments don’t come close to matching the tone or language adopted by many an unbeliever.

But sadly, neither do they express the graciousness and gentleness that is surely appropriate for Christians communication – especially about one another.

There is no doubt that the proposal by Nick and Sarah to divorce in the event of a change in the Marriage Act is highly controversial. I can understand that Christians might disagree with what they said or the manner in which they said it.

What concerns me is that Christian disagreement online too often resembles nothing more than a profanity-free version of what is said by unbelievers.

Earlier this year, I heard former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson speak at a men’s event about our changing world. And one comment he made particularly stood out. He said:

“We’ve forgotten how to speak with one another.”

The more I read online, the more I tend to agree.

As Christians, how should we speak with one another, and about one another? Ephesians 4:1-6 are counter-cultural instructions:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Humble.

Gentle.

Forebearing.

Patient.

Promoting unity.

These words aren’t simply to describe our interactions at church or in Bible study. They are just as relevant to the way we express ourselves online.

Imagine running through this Ephesians 4 grid before typing a word online:

  • Am I being completely humble? (or are my words proud and arrogant?)
  • Am I being completely gentle? (or am I being harsh and unkind?)
  • Am I being patient? (or am I speaking too soon?)
  • Am I bearing with my brothers and sisters (or am I intolerant and ungracious?)
  • Will this promote unity? (or am I stirring up division and disharmony?)

The internet will always introduce us to fellow believers we disagree with. One day you might even find yourself to be the subject of vigorous disagreement.

When these situations arise, Christians have the opportunity to engage in a way that not only commends the Gospel, but also promotes a better way to disagree online.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. John Finkelde

    July 14, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Excellent reminder Steve, thanks.

  2. Lynne Castelijn

    July 16, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Couldn’t agree more, Steve! Well written, and well said. THANK YOU. I’ve also been shocked at the viciousness and intensity of attacks on those who make a stand against gay marriage. As Christians, this is the perfect opportunity to show love and a gracious spirit in return. While not compromising on what we believe, we can express a stark contrast to the hate by representing the loving heart of the Father for all.

  3. Wendy Stace Fowler

    July 19, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Great article Steve.It seems that often christians can have such a focus on arguing our own understanding of correct theology that the direction in Colossians 4:6 for our conversations to “always be full of grace seasoned with salt” gets twisted so that we are full of salt instead of full of grace.Too much salt rubs and totally overshadows and destroys any kernel of truth in what we are saying.How The Father must despair at time of our lack of love for each other

  4. Pingback: Recommended reading (30 July) | macarisms

  5. Rob Fearnside

    April 11, 2017 at 5:54 am

    Thanks Steve for your very thought provoking and relevant article, giving and covering the very real issues faced by men in the modern world. Some other areas for consideration might be ‘transition to manhood’ or ‘rites of passage’ , which I believe closely linked to your points on what defines a man. Also consider ‘single male parents,’ who only recently are given support and are vunerable to suicide due to their loneliness. I know as having spent 15 years as a single dad how ostracised one feels. The usual catch cry, if not expressed verbally was inferrred, was “man up!”.

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