Like many people, I exited the year 2016 hopeful that maybe I had seen the worst of human behavior. I’m generally an optimistic person, but the months leading up to the presidential election and immediately following pushed me further into the political and religious wilderness.
The constant justifying and attacking and general ugly behavior made me lose hope in my fellow human beings. People were saying things online to friends and family members that they never would have said at Thanksgiving dinner. I watched as my nearest and dearest became prey to a growing number of misleading and false news stories meant to persuade and divide the American public.
Even worse, I watched my fellow Christians engage in one moral crusade after another, defending online behavior as godly patriotism or righteous condemnation. I continued an iron grip on my faith as a redeemed child of God, but I spent a lot of time reflecting on what that meant as I interacted with friends and family across the political and religious spectrum.
I almost considered a complete break from social media, but I’ve come to value the friendships I’ve maintained over the years and the ability to keep close tabs on my family through the easy sharing of information and photographs. I finally decided that breaking up with social media wasn’t going to solve all of my problems and it wasn’t going to stop the ugliness online. Instead, I could choose to do better and commit to changing my own online behavior. Every time I decided to post something or comment on something I would first ask myself, “Does this further God’s kingdom?”
I know, I know, it was incredibly idealistic.
While I’ve made occasional mistakes, I’ve worked hard to keep asking that question, especially as I’ve moved into platforms outside of Facebook. If I wouldn’t be willing to say it to a person’s face, I decided I shouldn’t be willing to say it online.
The new approach forced me to ask myself a lot of difficult questions. Does my approach make people want to know Jesus more? Or am I turning people away from God with the way that I’m approaching the issue? Is my goal to further God’s kingdom? Or is it to close the gates with an ear-splitting mic-drop?
Yes, Christ demonstrated the power of righteous anger. He overturned the tables of the money changers and shocked everyone around him when he called those participating in a financial and religious scam a “den of vipers.” But I believe that people often miss the point of the account of the one time in scripture when we really see Jesus lash out: He wasn’t lashing out at people participating in a multitude of sins. He was lashing out at those leading God’s people away from their focus on God and those exploiting the poor.
So what does this mean for us?
After the last presidential election, I started working really hard to avoid maintaining the “echo chamber” that so many people talked about during and following the 2016 election cycle. I focused on eliminating toxicity from my life by unfriending those few I saw as intentionally combative and then sought to diversify my newsfeed with people of different political views and religious beliefs. It is a diversity that keeps me honest, opens up my world, and makes me a more empathetic Christian.
And that diversity has taught me a very important lesson: My dear fellow Christians, the world is watching and we need to ask ourselves, “What is the world seeing?”
I don’t believe that we need to ditch social media. Quite the opposite. I believe that we can actually use social media to further the Kingdom. Social media has the potential to open up our world and create a forum for healthy and helpful discussions. Believe it or not, I have seen this happen over and over again when my friends and I have decided to act like responsible adults, listen to each other, and respond with respect and compassion. It is possible, and it is one way that we can, in fact, further the Kingdom. It allows us to turn strangers from around the world into our neighbors, cultivate friendships outside our normal professional and social circles, and open our perspective to the world around us.
Instead of turning everything into a high-minded moral crusade, maybe we should encourage our fellow Christians to use social media for just that purpose: being social. We can make new friends, learn about new customs, and gain a greater understanding of the challenges that face those who are different from us.
Maybe instead of “What Would Jesus Do” we need a new slogan: “What Would Jesus Post?” As Christians we should seek to not be the reason someone decides to walk away from the Church. We should demonstrate that we are Christ followers in all that we do, including how we deal with social issues on social media.
This piece is revised from longer blog post titled “Does This Further the Kingdom?”