Engaging less on social media

Submitted by The Inner Room on Sat, 05/07/2016 - 17:41

I recently made a decision that has led to a lot less stress and a lot more peace. That is, to be much slower to comment on inflammatory social media posts.

It started when a friend of mine posted something very anti-Christian on Facebook. He frequently posts this kind of material. He’s about as opposite of me as you can possibly get: extremely atheist, liberal, and anti-Christian. He thinks gay marriage, abortion, and gender-neutral bathrooms are wonderful things.

Despite this, we’ve maintained a friendship for several years, most of it long-distance. We get along well despite our differences, and I’ve learned a lot from him. However, I can’t say it’s pleasant to be exposed to much of what he posts on Facebook. He certainly isn’t the only friend I have who posts similar things, but is one of the most active.

My reaction when I view these posts is probably pretty typical: my blood pressure rises, my heart starts pounding, my brain starts indignantly thinking of all the reasons why it’s wrong, and my fingers get ready to pour out an eloquent response. Later, there’s the stress of getting piled on by my friend’s liberal friends, and having to formulate more responses to their responses. I get absorbed into the argument to where it’s all I can think about for a day or two, and it completely destroys my peace.

This time, I reacted differently. I was tempted to write a scathing response, and as more comments kept pushing the post back up in my news feed for the next couple of days, I kept being tempted. At one point I started typing a response, only to delete it. When I did, I instantly felt the same peace as when I first decided not to engage. It was a struggle, but that peace was worth it, as opposed to the stress and anger I knew I’d be feeling if I’d waded into the fray.

It was a relief. It was incredibly liberating.

I’ve continued exercising that same restraint since, and the more I do, the more I’m convinced that it’s the right strategy.

Why?

One, my friend, like most of my other friends who post things on social media with which I strongly disagree, is not a Christian. It should not be surprising when people who are not believers promote beliefs that are consistent with a without-God worldview.

There was a time when Christians could presume that most of society held beliefs that derived from a Judeo-Christian perspective. That time is past. As our culture increasingly rejects any notion of God-derived authority, almost everything is up for redefinition. Humans get to shape our identity and notions of right and wrong, and personal liberty is the highest value. “Intolerance”, meaning any disagreement with the new values of our culture, is the only sin.

Secondly, arguments about these issues are almost always futile. As Christians, we believe and know that heart change, arising from a belief in the gospel and newness of life, is the real need of every human being. Their primary need is not to be convinced of biblical values in areas like gay marriage or transgenderism. I think there is a place for wise, reasoned discussion of why Christians believe as we do. But those are secondary issues, and we should always seek to point people back to the gospel. A renewed heart that accepts God’s authority in moral matters is the fruit of gospel change. People are rarely, if ever, converted to Jesus or have their minds changed by arguments about social issues.

I’m not saying Christians should never speak up about these issues, or that social media is never the place to do so. But I think we need to be careful. If not, we risk feeding unbelievers’ assumption that we are obsessed with issues like sexuality, instead of conveying the message that the heart of the matter is Jesus and his Lordship.

Thirdly, focusing on what is happening in the world serves only to make me angry and rob me of my peace. Instead, I have chosen to decide to focus on Jesus, every day. I have found what he says in John 16:33 to be absolutely true:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

When I turn my focus away from current events and place it in him, I experience perfect peace. He is still sovereign; he is still ruling and reigning; he is still bringing about his kingdom, slowly and hiddenly, but invincibly and inevitably nonetheless. Lives are still being miraculously changed as people come into his kingdom from darkness and are transformed into his likeness. While the Western world is secularizing, Christianity is advancing rapidly in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

As we focus on Jesus instead of the culture, we are going to reflect more of his glory, which will in turn make us more effective witnesses for him than if we’re walking around angry and reactionary.
So how do we engage people? How do we discuss controversial moral topics without losing the plot? These issues aren’t going away, and when people find out we’re Christians, they often want to know what we think about them.
These are a few Scripture passages that I’ve found helpful:

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth....” (2 Timothy 2:23-25)

Remind them....to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit....But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:1-5, 9).

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

[I]n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience... (1 Peter 3:15-16)

The world’s way is to argue and fight and try to assert our “rightness”, and to hate those who disagree. As Christians, we can demonstrate our difference by not needing to “win” arguments. We can be right and yet lose people by our un-Christlike, angry, judgemental attitude.

We need to avoid getting into rabbit holes of arguments that go deeper and deeper and lead nowhere. Instead, be ready to gently steer the conversation back to the essentials: sin, faith, repentance, the cross, Jesus’ resurrection. Realize that keeping the peace and demonstrating love is a far greater testimony to Jesus than crafting perfect responses. Don’t shy away from lovingly explaining the Christian viewpoint on issues like gender and human life, but don’t be drawn into endless, useless arguments. Our persuasiveness doesn’t win people: the Holy Spirit does.

Remember that these conversations are usually best held privately, and a foundation of genuine friendship opens up far more avenues for discussion than debates on social media.

Our real weapons are spiritual. We need to pray for our world and for our unbelieving friends, and seek opportunities to do them good whenever we can. This will allow our light to continue shining in an increasingly darkening world, and make our testimony to Jesus far more persuasive than any cleverly crafted Facebook comment.

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