By Chris Turner
Director of communications, TBMB
The growth of a person’s character and gospel witness is like that of an oak. You really don’t see a lot of movement from one year to the next, but over time you see a sapling mature into a majestic tree.
And like a majestic oak reduced to ashes by a sweeping wildfire, a person’s character and gospel witness can go up in flames with the click of a Facebook post.
I manage the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s Facebook account, monitor our many ministry pages and post to my personal social media accounts, so I spend a lot of time on social media platforms, often more time than I’d like. I sometimes shake my head at what I read. Last week I had my first jaw-dropper.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had just announced Kamala Harris as his running mate, and I saw the announcement in a news link on someone’s Facebook page. Immediately below the link I read — hands down — the crudest, most offensive comment directed at Harris. Seriously it was lewd, disgusting and birthed in ignorance. I clicked on the person’s name for more information to find he claims to follow Christ and is also a minister. I was so shocked by what I read that I asked my wife to read it and tell me if I misunderstood the statement. Her expression answered my question.
Over the past five months I’ve seen three topics in which Christians are torching their gospel witness at the speed of a click: Politics, race relations and the COVID-19 pandemic. A spontaneous and unscientific survey of my Facebook newsfeed just now revealed that 17 of the 30 most recent posts made over the past 38 minutes fall into one of these three categories. A few are head-shakers; fortunately, no jaw droppers.
The invasion of social media into our culture began roughly 15 years ago and, in many ways, has offered some positive benefits. For instance, it is a way for missionary families to easily stay connected with those who support them. Also, we’ve seen Facebook become the largest global electronic platform for proclaiming the gospel as thousands of churches have migrated to Facebook Live during the pandemic.
But the dark side of social media platforms is that they offer people an opportunity to blast their unfiltered opinions into the marketplace, often with the destructive force of a wrecking ball. Opinions are both heating up and intensifying their bite as we move toward the 2020 presidential election. Some posts are just downright vitriolic.
Here are a few thoughts to help you manage yourself and maintain your gospel witness.
Do your posts reflect the Fruits of the Spirit? This one is easy to discern. We don’t have to avoid politics and other issues, but how’s your tone and the content? The Bible says a lot about our speech, and no verse is more poignant than when Jesus told the Pharisees, “…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Is what you’re posting reflective of what’s in your heart?
You won’t win an argument or change someone’s perspective through social media. In fact, the impersonal nature of social media emboldens people to be more aggressive than they would likely be in a face-to-face engagement. The lack of discipline to simply “walk away” and not respond to someone’s post often leads to throwing verbal gasoline on smoldering embers. Relationships are torched. I’ve experienced it myself and have heard of countless stories where longtime friends – like real friends and not the superficial Facebook kind – have acrimoniously parted ways. Practice this: #JustWalkAway.
Determine you’ll redeem social media. I have read many posts by pastors offering biblical direction throughout the course of the “Big Three” issues and the content has been solid discipleship. Likewise, I have read some stridently press their political views and forfeit an opportunity to assert much-needed spiritual leadership. Believers should strive to live in Romans 14 humility, encourage each other through these difficult days and embrace (socially distanced) face-to-face conversations. At the least phone/FaceTime/Zoom conversations are still better choices than social media for working through differences.
Consider the spiritually lost reader. Hopefully, all Christians using social media also have non-Christian friends to whom they relate. Is what you are posting drawing that spiritually lost person closer to saving faith in Jesus Christ or pushing them farther away? Winning a meaningless debate over a fleeting political point is chaff swept away by the winds of eternity.
We live in some strange days and social media has been a way for us to stay connected in the absence of interpersonal gatherings. It is neither good nor bad in itself. The content with which we users populate the platforms determines the value of social media and its potential contribution to the collective good.
That means with every post you have a choice to make. Will you redeem social media, or will social media kill your gospel witness? B&R