Someone recently asked me, “How do you win an argument on Facebook?” to which I responded, “Don’t even try.” But that question got my wheels turning. Per usual, the inter-webs have been aglow with conversations, schisms, speculations, and back-and-forth banter around a bevy of hot-button topics:
The Mueller Probe
The Jussie Smollett Hoax
Lori Loughlin and the College Admissions Scandal
And everyone—including me—has had something to say about it.
Within the last few years, however, it appears as though the days of dogs, babies, and #foodie posts have taken a back seat to the chest-beating, opinion-wielding, “truth”-slinging voices shouted from atop the digital soapboxes of social media. On it, we throw proverbial stones, take sides, spew contempt, raise banners, dethrone leaders, and exalt others. Adding to the mix, despite the issue, debate, or status update, our sense of gratification and genuine contribution as a society has become enmeshed in the emotional payout of retweets, likes, favorites, tantalizing debates, shares, and comments.
Aren’t we allowed to speak our opinion freely? Of course. Shouldn’t we speak unashamedly about our moral and ethical convictions? Certainly. Shouldn’t we engage with our peers and spur each other on to enlightened thinking? Indeed.
But I believe we’re going about it the wrong way in the wrong forum. As a nation, we are more divided than at any other time in recent history (just look at the exit polls of the 2016 election), nor do we trust one another. By 2015, research provided the statistic that only 52 percent of Americans indicated that they trusted their neighbors.
Clearly, there’s a deeper issue at-hand. Arthur C. Brooks, of the New York Times, recently published a brilliant opinion piece that sheds light on this subject. In it, he wrote:
“Political differences are ripping our country apart, swamping my big, fancy policy ideas. Political scientists have found that our nation is more polarized than it has been at any time since the Civil War. One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election. Millions of people organize their social lives and their news exposure along ideological lines to avoid people with opposing viewpoints. What’s our problem?
A 2014 article in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on “motive attribution asymmetry” — the assumption that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent’s is based in hate — suggests an answer. The researchers found that the average Republican and the average Democrat today suffer from a level of motive attribution asymmetry that is comparable with that of Palestinians and Israelis. Each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred — and is therefore an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.”
So, what is the deeper issue?
The deeper issue, according to Mr. Brooks, is contempt. Expounding upon that from a Kingdom paradigm, we must understand that those with whom we have disagreement are not fundamentally our enemies. As Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 (NIV), “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” I believe a divisive spirit (see Proverbs 6:19, 1 Cor. 1:11) at work in one’s life (or a culture of people) is the primary catalyst severing relationship ties that were once intact. And in this context, I believe the agents behind our digital fists are either a political spirit or a religious spirit. Allow me to explain.
The Religious Spirit
The word “religion” often gets a bad rap, though, in-and-of-itself, it is not a problematic word. But often, a religious spirit runs rampant when a person motivated by fear and indignation bludgeons those with whom they find fault, wielding a caustic, letter-of-the-law “Bible thumping.” Not only is that approach void of solution nor aimed at a value for relationship connection, it is shortsighted, often arrogant, mostly militant, and completely ineffective. After all, Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save the world (see John 3:17) and point people to their significance in Him. In fact, those who take a militant stance with the Word are like Jesus’ favorite target of confrontation, the religious community, as recorded in the scene in John chapter five:
“And you have not His word (His thought) living in your hearts, because you do not believe and adhere to and trust in and rely on Him Whom He has sent. [That is why you do not keep His message living in you, because you do not believe in the Messenger Whom He has sent.] You search and investigate and pore over the Scriptures diligently, because you suppose and trust that you have eternal life through them. And these [very Scriptures] testify about Me! And still you are not willing [but refuse] to come to Me, so that you might have life.” (John 5:38-40 AMPC)
Was Jesus discounting the importance of Scripture? Certainly not. But studying Scripture to have a personal experience with the Person to Whom all of Scripture points is in fact the purpose of studying Scripture in the first place. The challenge to us, therefore, is to represent Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him without ostracizing them through condemnation. And if there’s one thing condemnation does well, it creates barriers bound by hurt, loneliness, and isolation.
On the other side of the equation is another insidious spirit at work, the political spirit.
The Political Spirit
The political spirit at work in a person’s life renders them limp in their character and ineffective in their delegated role as “salt and light” in the earth. Exemplifying this best is Pilate’s actions in the trial of Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 27:24 (AMPC), “So when Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but rather that a riot was about to break out, he took water and washed his hands in the presence of the crowd, saying, I am not guilty of nor responsible for this righteous Man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”
These days, because of the fear and shame motivation to avoid conflict, it’s not uncommon for some to quiet the masses in order to keep the peace and remove themselves from any particular stance as to disassociate themselves from any form of controversy. “I’m okay, you’re okay” is the theme song of this limp disposition. Specifically, there are many issues being debated today for which Scripture is very clear on God’s position. As such, a lot of the upcoming generation are confused about what they truly believe because their leaders have adopted a noncommittal position in order to not offend people on either side. The sad part of the story is that it’s not only their leaders, but also leaders who have been entrusted with a large platform.
And that’s weak. Really weak.
So, what is the answer to these multifaceted issues storming our society?
What is the Answer? Do the Math.
Operating above both the religious spirit and the political spirit, Jesus offered another solution, wrapped carefully around the value for imperfect people in process (like you and me), delivered off-screen and in the context of real, face-to-face, “breaking bread” relationship.
Pursuing off-screen connection with people, delivered in love, is the answer that opens the door to conversation with those in whom we have disagreement. In fact, love does win, but many people today make the mistake of believing that love is a message of universalism and tolerance. Yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. And that’s precisely the foundation upon which the political spirit is built.
Do some math with me. God is love. Jesus is God. Jesus is love. So how did Love operate? He met people where they were at but didn’t let them stay there.
Paul confirms this notion in Ephesians 4:14-16 (MSG): “No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”
Three phrases stand out to me: Grow-up. Healthy in God. Robust in love.
Where we often miss the mark is by approaching our mandate to be “salt and light” by hiding behind the screen, finger-on-keyboard, fueled by self-righteous, ego-centered, strong-arm legalism, denominationalism, and broken religious systems.
Here’s the fact: when we truly see Him, we’ll become like Him (See 1 John 3:2-3). And in the case of “seeing” Christ in order to be transformed by Him, to represent Him, to transform the world, the legalistic onslaught often comes into play when a person’s motivation is to bring about the change in someone’s heart himself or herself. But that’s just not possible. Until a person genuinely pursues heart transformation by the aid of the Holy Spirit, nothing will change.
Transformed by Grace, Transformed through Rest
What it comes down to is this: you will never gain any ground with people in an on-screen debate. Just stop it. Drop your proverbial fists. Self-protection and self-promotion only further the contemptuous assignment of the enemy to bring division in an already divided world.
See Jesus for who He really is by receiving His invitation to rest in your identity in Him. In that place, you’ll be transformed, not through your effort, but by His Holy Spirit. Then go about your everyday life—even on-screen—and serve people really well.
On-topic, the Apostle Paul hits the nail on the head:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)
And that’s precisely why using wisdom, valuing relationship, understanding context, and assessing the possible outcome of our digital diatribes (whatever the topic may be) trumps right, wrong, or even the entertainment value had in debate.
I can hear some of you responding, “Chris, you’re over-thinking this whole topic. I’m just having fun. My day goes on after I post. It doesn’t really matter. Who cares?” But no matter your opinion about this issue, there are five truths about social media you and I absolutely cannot avoid and should consider on a regular basis as we interact with one another. Because after all, there are real people behind those profile pictures.
Five Unavoidable Truths About Social Media
1. It’s easy to sit behind the screen and assert our thoughts (whether good, bad, right, wrong, ignorant, or studied) without considering the importance of rapport and relationship. As such, it’s easy to say things that are completely misunderstood, misconstrued, and blown out of proportion. In fact, we often have the confidence to say things on the screen that we’d never say in the context of relationship.
2. It’s quite difficult to perceive and understand emotion and intention in black and white. Consider these two examples: “WHAT’S GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND?” versus “What’s going through your mind?” The first question might be perceived as assertive and confrontational because of the use of all caps. The second question, on the other hand, reads like an invitation to enter conversation.
3. Social media posts become a rallying point for shared opinion. As a result, sides are taken, and often, our partisan cravings to be “right” are satisfied. To that, the lines between “truth” and “being right” are blurred.
4. It becomes an energy-sucking outlet for perceived change, when in fact, it’s a smoke screen; a distraction. But truthfully, real cultural transformation doesn’t happen on the screen. True cultural transformation happens on the street, in relationships, and like the prophet Daniel in the Bible, by serving a humanistic, self-serving culture with excellence and high character.
5. We get distracted by the chaos. The trouble for a lot of people is that social media has become the primary source of news, when in fact it’s nothing more than unsubstantiated media and disproportionate opinion. In turn, too many Christ-followers have been caught-up in the spirit of the age and have forgotten who they are as “salt and light.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and use it regularly. But in the long-run, I want to be known by what I’m for, not by what I’m against. I want to respond to life, not react to it. I don’t simply want to talk about change. I want to be a contributor to change. And instead of feeding chaos, I want to feed courage.
I believe you want the same.