Social Media Ethics: May the words of my internet comments and the meditation of my text messages be acceptable to You, Lord.

7 min. to read.

Jesus never wrote a blog post. He never posted his status on Facebook or Instagrammed the baskets of extra food at his latest miracle feast. (That would be cool, huh?) Jesus never got an angry email or got caught up in an emotional text argument.

Our faith is rooted in a time long before this sort of disembodied communication was possible for mere mortals. Because our technological reality seems so far removed from the dusty world of 1st century Palestine, it’s easy to let the digital domain remain separate from our life as followers of Jesus.

Our problem is not with digital communication. Our problem is that we compartmentalize our lives so easily that we think of digital communication as something different, something that falls outside of our relationship with Christ.

So, how do we communicate online in a way that Jesus might support?

Email is just business. Twitter is just for fun. Facebook is just for catching up with friends. Snapchat just for ephemeral messages between friends. We build these little boxes! But these are not separate things! They are all new ways to communicate, just more ways to be in relationships with others and with the world.

Everything we already know about being in relationship with others as followers of Jesus still applies. All that’s new is the need to keep in mind the limitations and potential problems of digital communication. Beyond that, it’s just one more way for us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Every comment, every text, every tweet, and post are pixels in the larger online image of our life in Christ. They contribute to the picture of who we are, and how the world sees us, the church, and One we claim to follow. They are new building blocks in our effort to bless and serve the world.

Scripture for the Internet Age

As followers of Jesus, thinking about how we relate to others is vital. There are, of course, piles of passages that can give us guidance. Two passages, however, summarize all the others. One found in the words of Jesus, the other in an ancient Old Testament sermon that Jesus truly embodied.
Taken together, these passages offer us a clear ethic for how to live in relationship. They also can give us guidance for our lives online and all our digital communication.

The first passage is Jesus’ own words, often called the Great Command. Matthew 22:37-40 is one version of it:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.

Jesus concisely took the 613 Jewish laws, and all of God’s scriptural guidance, and boiled them down to the heart of the matter. The second passage is Micah, the prophet’s famous injunction. Micah 6:8.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

This ancient passage beautifully encapsulates Jesus’ life and message. Reading through these two passages can present a kind of sequence:

  1. Love God with everything you are and have. This love is fully manifested when you…
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself. If you do this, you will…
  3. Act justly, and…
  4. Love mercy. This will lead you to…
  5. Walk humbly. Then you will be truly loving God and others, living in unity with God’s heart.

So far we’ve not mentioned our life online or digital communication. But because these things are just new ways to be in relationship with others, they don’t need new or different commands.

An Internet Filter for Godly Words

This sequence provides the filter. It may seem obvious, but let me walk you through it. I’m about to post a blog or a comment on Facebook. I’m about to write a reply email or a quick text. What would happen if, just before I tapped send, I stopped and ran my words through this filter?

  • Is what I’m about to post congruent with loving God with everything I am and have?
  • Is it an expression of loving my neighbor as myself? Would I appreciate being on the receiving end of this communication? Not just the content, but the tone, and the context?
  • Is what I’m about to post just? Not only in the sense of being fair, but also in the sense of being good?
  • Is what I’m about to post merciful? Are both the words and the tone carrying a sense of gentleness, care, and grace?
  • Is what I’m about to post humble? Is it presented with an awareness that I am not the final answer, not the final judge, not even always aware of all the details or nuances of any topic? Do I leave space to be wrong?

Perhaps you already carefully consider every word you say online, but I can say for me that running my words through this filter would dramatically change the things I have to say online. Heck… it would change the things I have to say in person. Maybe that’s the point.

Quote - Every Comment In Christ

As I consider this filter, I can immediately see changes that would happen for me. Maybe the same would be true for you?

We probably wouldn’t do drive-bys where we jump into conversations that we’re not really a part of, where we don’t fully understand the relational context.

We probably wouldn’t make universally condemning statements about complicated issues that we feel strongly about. Perhaps we might assume that if people who feel strongly on the issue and disagree with us might, in fact, have reasons that make sense to them, just like we have reasons that make sense to us. Maybe we’d choose dialogue over memes.

We’d step away from demonizing people, or condemn others to hell.

We probably wouldn’t exaggerate our life’s positives and underplay our life’s negatives when we post about ourselves online.

We probably wouldn’t post passive-aggressive rants about “some people” in our lives because that’s not how we’d like to be treated.

We might use our digital communication as a way to encourage and lift up people, rather than contributing to anger, fear, and division.

We might let online comments be the doorway to real-life phone calls and coffee visits where we can hear more deeply and understand the circumstances of people’s lives.

None of this means we should no longer speak out on important topics, or engage in controversial conversations. This doesn’t mean that we stand for nothing. This doesn’t mean that we stop advocating for the causes and needs that we care about.

Instead, this is an invitation to speak, to engage, to advocate, in a way that is built on a foundation of respect and love, something the internet could use more of.

Digital communication — social media, texts, email — this is new frontier for us. We’re only just learning how to handle ourselves in these spaces.

Be clear: Digital communication is not some separate thing, set apart from our life as followers of Jesus. It’s just one more aspect of our lives that we’re are invited to bring under Jesus’ authority. It’s one more place for us to love God with all we are and have, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

16 thoughts on “Social Media Ethics: May the words of my internet comments and the meditation of my text messages be acceptable to You, Lord.

  1. Love this! Been actually trying to walk this out…like, in a tough season (that has afforded me time to have A LOT of online conversation) I share when I doubt, when I falter…SAYING THAT. Which is a difficult balance, because I also feel the importance of keeping the tone on the positive side. Of course, David’s “posts” in Psalms weren’t always in a positive tone, in that moment…and I doubt I’m closer to God than He.
    That’s the deal, though, right? Being, online, who we are in life. I don’t weed out my friends list, online, because I don’t in life. I use discernment in conversation, I am closer to some than others…like the crowd, the 12, the 3, the 1. I don’t know that I CAN separate the wheat from the chaff, though…because today, one might think I’m wheat, tomorrow chaff. So I walk with them while they walk with me. I wonder about others…what they do about “thinning the heard” on social media. I think, if someone’s post are leading me off course, then I should unfollow…but usually I scroll, thinking if I see their posts about their big party this weekend, they see mine about how well my church family loves me. Anyone else talking much about this?
    BTW, @mattpeeples also did discuss social media at Multiply2014. It’s on YouTube. He starts about 1hr 14min into day 2.
    Enjoyed the blog. Have a great weekend.

    1. Those are exactly the issues we need to think through. No matter what position you take, I think at the very lease we have to consider this as an integrated part of our lives in Christ.

    2. That “heard/herd” bugs me more than it should. ? But you knew what I meant. From what you have read/heard/weighed, do most think to pare down the friends/followers, or only as you might stumble?
      And on down to the teens. Mine have “no expectation of privacy,” though I do afford them some. So many teens filter only their photos, and so profiles show content that would get them excluded from MPAA theaters but as they get older (the oldest is 15…brother doesn’t use social media), SOME discernment MUST be theirs…so I allow the online friendships…and I can SEE who they are. Also, my son are STRONG in faith, and for many of his friends, at least online, the brightest light they see. Most conservative parents seem to think shutting it down is the way to go… Is it foolish, in your view, to shuck that wisdom (within supervised reason), trust that the darkness will not overcome the light…and let my boy be a light house? He’s a bright one…in every sense.

  2. I commented, but it either didn’t post or will show up seventeen times. Feel free to delete 1-16. If it didn’t post, I will try to re-relate the comment/questions. Thanks.
    BTW, I am capable enough to “borrow” the meme, which I will, unless you object.
    Thanks, again

    Barbara

  3. My friends list includes folks
    From church, including youngsters whose parents trusted them to submit friend requests to people they could trust. That in itself makes me think twice about what I post or comment on.
    Many of my online friends are people I grew up with or knew through college or work. They post things I may or may not agree with, and using the filter you suggest certainly will affect how and when I comment or “like” posts. I thought I had done pretty well filtering things, but when I scroll back or have the “1 year ago” posts pop up, I find myself going “oops.”
    Now, for an interesting situation involving both in person and social media conversations:
    A recent conflagration involving two mutual friends has me really on my knees. One I have been friends with for many years, and the second one is an acquaintance I met through my friend. Both are Christians, from different faith traditions, and the acquaintance is very angry at my longtime friend, because of me. I had made an honest inquiry and statement about praying for the acquaintance, not knowing that what I had been told by the our mutual friend was supposedly not “for public knowledge.” (My friend at the receiving end of this angry person’s rampage via email was not aware of the information being confidential.)
    Now the angry person has made a public post on Facebook asking for prayers about her situation, but won’t state what the specific need is. This after telling my friend that she was washing her hands of her and to “get lost.” I am praying for her concern and for her relationships in general, and am not posting a comment on her “prayer request” because I feel like perhaps my comments would not be wanted. (We are “friends” on Facebook, but I have made the decision to hide her posts because I really am confused by this person and the whole thing upsets me.)
    The kicker? I and my friend are in our mid fifties , other lady is a bit older than we are. I feel like I have been thrown back into junior high school!

    1. FYI: my comment about praying for the lady was made in person, not on Facebook. With no other witnesses to the conversation.

    2. Yea… I think blocking that person and moving on makes sense. Pray for her, if God puts that on your heart. But that kind of chaos does not contribute to a good life.

      Blessings.

  4. I already am super intentional about my online presence, but I’ve been guilty of typing before praying. I have super liberal, atheist friends who post angry anti-Christian, pro-abortion, etc. things on line. And reaching out in love is very different than arguing online. I try just to ignore the post and pray for that person, but sometimes, my flesh just rules and I jump into a conversation that would have been best never started. While I try to speak light, truth, and love, saying nothing might have been better. I have to keep praying and growing in Christ so I can grow in discernment and wisdom. I’m learning that it’s not my job to convince everyone who God is, just my job to live like I know Him.

    1. Glad you’re thinking about this stuff. I find that we Christians like to take over the Holy Spirit’s job in other people’s lives. Doesn’t often work well. Thanks for reading and posting!

  5. Speaking with people of different backgrounds…I was guilty. In fact, I had one person that would try to bait me…and his doctrine (at least theoretically) is very close to that of my home church…but the conversations would tend to escalate quickly. The funny thing about this is what changed my heart about it. I would get fired up. Debate. Verbal jabs (all in Christian love, I would tell myself). It was my then 14yr old son that made the first big impact on how I do social media. “Mom, stop. Just stop. He won’t change his mind, you’re all mad, and all y’all are doing is causing everyone watching to think that Christians just sit and fight WITH EACH OTHER.” Yeah. Smart kid. So…i started a process of surrendering that to God. I remember the last debate type discussion…the guy was SO WRONG, and talking bad about God and Jesus…I was getting wound up…i needed to DEFEND GOD, but not let my son down. Yeah. God “needs” me to defend Him. I quickly lost the taste for that fight. My son was right. I will not be another angry ? Christian on social media. I won’t argue with one baiter, leaving four seekers afraid to ask me questions. So, I now have some self checks for these discussions. 1) am I angry? Because they are baiting me, or I’m looking for a fight? 2) Am I keeping score and knocking their points of the board? If so, He isn’t leading that discussion…and beating them down won’t convert them…not long term. 3) Am I DEFENDING GOD, or feeling offended? The Creator of the universe doesn’t need me as a bodyguard…and if I am OFFENDED…well, then I am coming from the wrong place. If I am operating in His Spirit, I am operating FROM LOVE, which takes no offense, right? So what is my objective?

    So, now…with ALL these types of conversations, as much as I am able, I have two primary objectives. 1) What I say should reflect a loving, merciful God that loves the other person. Always. Truth is truth, but ALWAYS spoken in love. If I’m offended or keeping score, I’m off track. 2) I try to remember these conversations are RARELY between two people. Perhaps the discussion is with someone who is known to me, is baiting me, will never relent. And perhaps they aren’t the point. It dawned on me that others follow this. Perhaps someone really looking for God is watching the conversation unfold, deciding if I am a safe person to come to with their questions. Then, I can’t justify letting the discussion become an argument. Or, maybe someone stumbles across it five years from now. Have I handled myself in a way that someone seeing it later could KNOW which God I was speaking of, what He’s all about. It has PROFOUNDLY impacted my online presence. And now, I am seeing people who I had conversations with…was sure that was rocky ground…come to me with questions or for prayer. These conversations are seeds. And they could also be…sort of our dead sea scrolls…our footprint.
    I’m with Shauna about the stuff that slipped by…is part of our profiles, now. But I heard one pastor say…that can be a growth marker, a public testimony. If someone looks that hard at my history…sees the old debates, and how I now am much softer, less sarcastic, difficult to offend…wont they ask “what changed her?” And it becomes the evidence of Him working in me…which is pretty cool.

    1. Your son is right on. God is not in need of our defense. God has asked us to love our neighbors in the way we wish to be loved. Jesus told us that the flag identifying us as his followers would be love. We have substituted doctrine, but that’s not what Jesus said. I’m not saying truth doesn’t matter. I’m saying that people wont listen to our truth if their experience is that we are selfish, hurtful, arrogant people aching for a fight.

    2. Thank you Barbara. Wow is this discussion timely. I had posted a meme (yeah, first mistake–shoulda prayed about it first),and two of my friends who do not know each other got into a heated discussion. The Christian was spewing anger, the liberal attorney made calm measured statements but also made it clear he did not agree with her position. At first I was mortified at posting something that became inflammatory, then realized that I did not have to respond to either of their comments as they were directed at each other and not me. And I am moving on.

    3. Shauna, it can make me crazy that people will turn anything into a fight, so we have to ask, “how can this go wrong or be misinterpreted?” But that seems to be where we are. While I am not really responsible for how they interpret or treat each other…i have started letting people know they can fight on their own threads, curse on their own threads, whatever…but mine needs to be able to be read by all the church kids, etc. I come down to deleting my original post, if that’s what it takes. And it happens less often, because they’ve learned it’s futile.
      Glad your on here. Good conversation. ?

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