Bloody facebook


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)

17 thoughts on “Bloody facebook”

  1. However.Without denying any of the Bible verses you quote, and essentially agreeing with large parts of the conclusions you draw, If I sin publicly, should I not be rebuked publicly?

    On the issue at hand, I’m a bit disappointed with the way Young Earth Creationists get treated by smarty pants people like me (my position is pretty close to John’s).

    And on facebook: it’s at least as possible to conduct a reasoned, reasonable and friendly discussion with people you’ve never met before as it would be, for example, to write a letter to someone in another country which you would expect to fall into the public domain at some point. Paul’s letter to the Galatians may be an example of this; his letter to the Romans certainly is.

    1. Public sin. Public rebuke. Leading to public contrition, repentance, the seeking of forgiveness. Yes, once all has been carefully considered and determined. Very different to throwing muck at people you think are wrong.

  2. Good thoughts. I also wonder if Facebook provides a Forum for people who have two things competing in their heart: A. massively held convictions and B. a kind of powerlessness to persuade others of these convictions off line. So one can make smart comments, attack, show up the folly, but mostly on the internet. But its all a bit Cassandra like, really. (I’m not excluding myself from this category, in case anyone thinks I am!)

  3. “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (says one who raises his voice with his kids too often)
    And meaningless online games are just entertainment addiction (a soundbite from one who gets bored with computer games and would rather be outside gardening and chatting to the neighbours!)

  4. Nothing really new. Although the medium differs from those available in the sixteenth century (e.g., in the speed and breadth of distribution) the tone remains essentially the same. It’s tempting to say it is nastier these days, but I’m not so sure. Both sides of the Calvin/Rome disputes were happy to keep saying “Anathema!” (in a way that just reminded me of the waving of wands accompanying the uttering of curses in Harry Potter). And then there’s the lowbrow humour of Luther, such as the woodcuts he commissioned from Lucas Cranach, such as
    The Papal Belvedere.

    Perhaps the difference here (if any) is the lack of theological and literary sophistication of (at least some of) the participants.

      1. My original comment relates only to the tone, not to rights and wrongs.
        The latter must be judged on a case-by-case basis. FWIW I don’t presume to make a blanket judgement on Luther and Calvin (it’s just too complex for that); in the present case, I agree with Macca (following the process of Matthew 18:15-17).

  5. Richard. I wonder if the speed has more to do with it as well. Luther had to wait for his woodcut to be completed, and then printed and distributed.
    With Facebook its a simple type and click affair, very little time between conception and realisation, which can be a problem as it removes the introspective steps inbetween.

    (Somewhat ironically i am using Facebook to authenticate for this post)

      1. And yes, I agree. It is not only the almost total elimination of time and cost involved in making a “contribution” but the “democratisation” that has contributed to “the lack of theological and literary sophistication of (at least some of) the participants”. The new media make it much easier for many more people to say anything at all and positively encourage them to do so!

  6. I agree. One of my favourite verses at the moment is 3 John 1:13-14: “I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face”

  7. I honestly think a key part of the problem is that Facebook (and really the internet at large) has become a melting pot of ideas and discourse. Christians will talk about christianity online, but will also talk about politics, sex, TV, how their parents annoy them, how their children annoy them, etc. In real life, however, a lot of the time we compartmentalise time and space for ‘church’ and non’church discussion (note I’m not saying such compartmentalising is a good thing). But Facebook has given everyone a model for how we should frame our responses to life (as a continuous discourse of ‘me’), and people follow it.

    This should be a good thing, because it should allows us to more readily speak into the world when conversation is less time and topic based, and more continuous. The problem is I think we are often too practiced in compartmentalising our church and non-church lives, and so online, while we can quite easily distinguish responses on the basis of content, I think we can often slip easily back into the manner of how we speak the majority of the time online, and perhaps also in our ‘non-church’ real life. Perhaps we revert to speaking pejoratively, competitively, sarcastically, oppositionally, because that is what is done elsewhere.

    In other words, I think FB, as the exemplar of this conversation, blurs the boundaries in conversation, and I suspect may actually bring some our rougher edges to light.

  8. I’ve held these frustrations about Facebook before & am grateful that you put a voice to them! I dont know you personally but have been greatly encouraged by your posts since I signed up a few weeks ago. Keep persevering in Christ 🙂

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  10. Considering the article I’m trying to be cautious in how I say this, but does Facebook not merely reflect society? Albeit a somewhat skewed version of society where people feel they can say some things online without accountability that they would not say in person.

    Nevertheless many things said on Facebook merely reflect what is being said in the rest of society and one must wonder, or even understand that Christians commenting on Facebook are simply doing so in a way they behave in the community, at church etc.

    And THAT is the greater saddness for us all.

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