Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
The Internet is not the cause of our anger, but it is merely the stage upon which we can let others know the latest ruminations in our hearts. Like real life, Internet communicators do not hide the ball: what you see is a commentary on who they are. James gave us the dichotomy that differentiates between what we see versus the source of those things.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2).
The cyberworld world was a surprise to me when I started blogging. Not being an avid Internet participant, and not being a blog troller or commenter on sites, I was not prepared for what I saw when I entered the blogosphere. The most alarming thing was the condition of our hearts—the command center that determines what we do.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
Of course, it’s not all bad. There are many bright spots inside this dark cloud of cyberspace communication: not every website, blogger, or viewer caves to unwholesome speech. One of those places is our website. God has given us the gift of a civil community where people can talk and disagree while not attacking each other, ad hominem—attacking the person and their ideas.
Occasionally, we will get the angry person who says something unkind or makes uncharitable judgments, putting us in our place. This individual is the exception. We are clear that we do not permit their communication style in our community, which is usually enough to encourage most of them to conform. Others choose to leave.
Anybody who blogs often and gets many readers will have to decide how to interact with angry believers. The reason I’m addressing Christians here is that we have the power to be a different kind of person. We do not have to act like our worldly counterparts.
I treat the Internet like a church meeting where a speaker speaks to a broad audience. In that context people do not stand up in the room and voice their opposing opinion to the speaker. Imagine going to your church meeting on Sunday morning, and someone stood up and expressed an alternate view. That would be rude, distracting, unkind, and unwise.
If you disagree with what a speaker is saying, there is a better way to let him know: talk to him privately. For example, my website is a public forum where I am teaching, hopefully, from the Word of God. I also share my opinions about the Bible and how it intersects with our lives.
I do not expect everyone to agree with me. We do not teach a you-must-agree-with-me worldview. What we’re doing here is not about winning unanimous approval from our fanbase—a fool’s errand. Because we traffic in the practical application of God’s Word, there is a built-in expectation that folks will have other perspectives.
When someone does disagree, we want them to do so in a more private setting first. It is a respectful thing to do. Conceptually, I’m speaking of the template that you see in Matthew 18:15-17. “If your brother offends you, go and tell him his fault.” This process is much different from blaring your alternate opinion in the public square.
Because your goal is about reconciling, your methodology should start on a more intimate level before it becomes a public matter. Matthew provides us a wise way to disagree on secondary issues, assuming that reconciliation is the goal. Sadly, too much talk on the Internet is about galvanizing the fanbase while alienating the other team, which opposes reconciliation principles.
Of course, if your disagreement with someone is on a primary issue—like the gospel—public discretion is not your highest aim. In such cases, people need a warning when someone is maligning the gospel. There are several helpful discernment sites that assist us with heretics. Even so, when conversing about the enemy, there are Christlike ways to do it.
There was a lady who commented on my Facebook page regarding my position on 1 John 1:9. She believes a Christian should not have to ask for forgiveness. She believes Christians are once and for all forgiven, and the church has misunderstood John’s teaching in his first letter. I disagreed with her position and chose to delete her comment to steer away from a public spat. In this instance, I sent her an email explaining why I did it.
There were three reasons I responded this way:
There was a time when the debate stage was for those who had the skill set to stand on it. Then the Internet gave us a cyber debate stage that anyone can access. Sadly, most Christians are not writers or public speakers or have the theological depth to communicate in a debate format.
With this new public access to a different kind of stage, some folks don’t know how to use it redemptively, choosing, instead, to use it as a place to vent gossip and slander and to argue. Some of the ways that we communicate with each other sadden God and the body of Christ. It also sends the wrong message to those who do not know our Jesus. There has to be a better way for us to do this.
I hope these thoughts will serve you as we engage each other in cyberspace. I do not share these things as though I have perfected Internet speech; I have not. There have been too many times when I was an impulsive keyboard warrior. To paraphrase our brother, James, be slow on the keystroke and quick to prayer. Sigh!
Here is a inexhaustive list of helpful tips that I trust the Lord will use to spur you on to good works as you think about others. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on these ideas, plus others that you may have. If you want to share, you’re welcome to do that in our free community forum.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).