By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBMB
“Just look at what’s on there,” he said. “Nothing but discord and dissension. We’d have been better off if there was no such thing as Facebook.”
I can imagine heads nodding in agreement at the reading of that last sentence. But as I’ve thought more about his comment, I concluded Facebook is not the problem; Facebook users are.
Scroll through your news feed and read the posts. It is a stream of pointed, partisan, vitriolic spew. People unfortunately exercise their liberty to vociferously and verbosely voice their opinions about everything. Just while writing this column I scrolled through my Facebook feed and read posts on gender identity, trade tariffs, immigration, #MeToo, Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Trump this, Trump that, and Trump the other. A verbal battleground lies in the comments sections below each post.
Sadly, when I click on the profiles of the people making the comments I find it’s professing believers going at each other like street fighters wielding broken bottles. They will know us by our love? Not on Facebook.
I’m not saying cultural issues shouldn’t be addressed, or that your Facebook posts ought to be an endless stream of cute puppy videos and food pictures. However, there is an apparent lack of social decorum and personal respect in our public discourse. That is not a Facebook problem. That is a user problem.
It reminds me of when I was a kid and pastors raged against television, thrashing the medium when it was (and is) actually a content issue. The difference between television and Facebook is that with television, a few control the content. With Facebook, we – the users – control the content, and our tone too often sounds like clanging gongs.
It concerns me. I often see pastors post statements or comments that are vehemently political, and I wonder if it closes gospel doors with spiritually lost people who do not share their political views. I’ll read barb-filled comments shredding actors/athletes/politicians and the next day see the same person post a devotional on grace and forgiveness. What is it that Jesus said? “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45). Christians are conflicted when it comes to Facebook.
So here are a few thoughts that can help you navigate Facebook without sliding into a pit that tanks your testimony.
Temper your comments. It is okay to post your thoughts on issues like immigration, abortion, supreme court appointments, Colin Kaepernick and more, but take a breath and read those comments before you hit the return key to post them. Have you communicated truth and seasoned your comments with humility and grace? Do you come across as arrogant? Does your language potentially damage your Christian witness? Will you regret what you’ve posted? Would Jesus hit “like” with the way your opinion is stated?
Recognize you’re never going to win the argument. It is doubtful anyone has ever been persuaded to change their perspective based on a Facebook argument. In fact, the interpersonal distance Facebook creates emboldens people to be more aggressively assertive. Conversations grow intense. People dig their heels in. A better strategy is to meet somebody for coffee and discuss your differences face-to-face. If that isn’t possible, just let it go.
Practice the discipline of letting it go. My immediate reflex when I read something I don’t like is to pound a person’s opinion into pulp. As I start to hammer out my response I am increasingly stopping mid-sentence and remembering, “I’m never going to win this argument.” I delete what I’m writing and move on.
Contribute something positive to the community. Every day doesn’t have to be a sermon or a Bible verse, but there are other ways to “redeem” Facebook. One of my favorites is done by an old high school buddy who features his “Facebook Friend of the Day.” He picks someone from among his friends list and says some genuinely encouraging things about that person.
Facebook is great for keeping up with people’s lives, sharing proud parent moments of a child’s accomplishments, posting funny videos, sharing great photos of that family trip to the Grand Canyon and countless other ways people use it to connect with one another. Facebook is a useless medium for “discussing” important social and political issues because we use it to initiate virtual shouting matches.
When we, the users, pollute Facebook with divisive comments that elevate political and social issues above our calling to be salt and light, we become the problem and we risk destroying our Christian witness.