I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It’s awesome for staying in touch with people, good for keeping contact details up to date, more interesting and engaging than email, fantastic for hearing what people are doing, a nice way to share photos, helpful for remembering birthdays (Happy 21st Matt), you can advertise events, get people into important causes, and lots more. But, what a distraction! How many hours, or should that be years, are wasted on games like FarmVille, words with friends (my archilles heel), personality tests, and other highly addictive activities. The clever predictive advertising annoys me, along with the many dating sites, and the lack of accountability for people posting pretty much anything they want.
But my big concern with Facebook at the moment is Christians. Christians using Facebook to air their grievances, stir up trouble, attack the words or actions or motives of other Christians. The bloodshed created in recent times has left me deeply disturbed. And I’m not just talking about the disturbed schizophrenic who posts constant attacks on my character, claiming I’m an agent of Satan being punished by God with cancer for not submitting to this person’s authority. I’m far more concerned about the rational, calculated, vitriolic, acidic use of Facebook as a medium for engaging in and stirring up conflict.
Yesterday, I found myself lured into some threads discussing John Dickson’s comments on QandA last week. Young Earth Creationists criticising John heavily for his expressed views on science and Jesus. Others getting in on the act and firing back. The temperature rising. Name calling and ridiculing, Blow for blow. Attacks on character. Attacks on motives. Accusations of selling out, heresy, ignorance, pride. I found myself arcing up many times. It was bloody! In all this, I believe that John acted with calm, restraint and humility.
Public wall posts on Facebook are not the forum for criticising others. You can at least private message. Facebook can be a very risky forum for passionate debate. It’s much more the canvas for smart remarks, clever quotes and pithy sound bites. It’s a great place for fun and a grotesque place for fighting. (Like that sound bite?!) It distresses me that I see Christians increasingly using this public forum to fight with one another.
If I can pick on my mate, John Dickson, once again… I’ve had a number of disagreements with John on different issues. We’ve argued over the exegesis of James 5, 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Peter 2, Colossians 1 and probably other parts of Scripture as well. I’m not persuaded by everything John has written. We have different views on some aspects of Christian faith and understanding. But we talk. Sometimes we write things down and send them to each other. Privately. Hopefully, with respect. And a deep appreciation that we are limited and inadequate in our understanding, that we act out of pride all too often, and that maybe we’re both wrong!
When it comes to conflict, public Facebook is hopeless. Private messages and email at least constrain it between the people involved – until one, accidently or even deliberately, passes it on. Phone calls make it a bit more personal, especially if you’re willing to listen and not simply accuse. You can hear tone of voice, clarify, ask questions. Perhaps, skype can make things more personal still. But there’s no real substitute for meeting face-to-face, in-the-flesh. This is where disagreements are to be worked through.
When it comes to Christians using Facebook, here’s a few of God’s words to consider very carefully (and maybe you can think of many more) …
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-25)
If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? (1 Corinthians 6:1)
Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)
Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16 However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matthew 18:15, my emphasis)
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)