How To Disagree Online Without Being A Total Jerk

Science has proven that the longer an online conversation goes, the more likely it is that someone will make a reference to Hitler.

It can start off very innocently, with two Christians on Facebook debating the relative merits of Calvinism. But after several comments, the innocence is usually gone, and is replaced with comments like, “I can’t believe that you would believe in such a stupid thing like free will! Have you ever heard of the Bible? You should try to read it sometime.” If it keeps going, someone will inevitably say something along the lines of, “I suppose you think Adolf Hitler didn’t have free will either!” At that point, the conversation is officially dead in the water.

How can we avoid dreadful conversations like that? How can we disagree with a person on the Internet in a godly, humble, God-honoring way? The truth is, we will give an account to God of every careless word that we speak AND every careless word that we type. I want my online interactions to be honoring to God. Here are a few suggestions for how we can honor God in our online speech:

Remember That Your Opponent Is Created In the Image of God

When we’re sitting snugly behind our computers, it can be easy to forget that the person on the other end of the conversation is a real person. A real person who is created in the image of God and should be respected as a fellow image bearer. A real person who has real feelings and strengths and weaknesses. A real person whom God really, really cares about. The words that I type will have a real effect on that person, either good or bad. My words have the potential to build them up or tear them down. To corrupt them or bless them. To strengthen them or be a source of temptation to them. God will hold me accountable for the ways in which my words affect others.

Remember That Your Opponent Is Your Fellow Brother Or Sister

If my opponent is a Christian, they are also my brother or sister in Christ. They have been bought with the precious blood of Christ and they belong to him. Jesus values. The Father treasures them. The Spirit dwells in them. If I insult them, I am also insulting Christ. If I speak poorly of them, I am speaking poorly of Christ. There is no place for maliciousness or backbiting or insulting in the house of Christ, and that house extends to the digital world.

Don’t Say Anything You Wouldn’t Be Comfortable Saying To Their Face

Being behind a computer screen gives me a weird, and often times sinful, boost of confidence. Suddenly I feel like I know everything, and that every person who disagrees with me is a complete and total moron. I also may be tempted to say things that I would never say to a person’s face. But when I get behind a computer, the Golden Rule still applies. I’m still called to treat every person as I would want to be treated. I don’t want to say anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying in person.

Ask Forgiveness Quickly

If I sin against a person through online speech, I need to ask their forgiveness quickly. Just because it happened online and I don’t know them that well doesn’t mean that I’m not accountable for it. The house of Christ should be a place ruled by grace and mercy. I want to seek out grace and mercy from those whom I sin against.

Spoken words matter and digital words matter. I want the words that I type to be pleasing to the Lord, don’t you?

  • http://sightregained.com Louis Tullo

    Great post! So needed among the Christian blogging community. We should be known for our love for one another and not our speed to dissect one another and tear each other down.

  • Larry Geiger

    Early on in this internet experiment, we had almost no tools, individualy, to converse online. Email, instant messaging, blogging, etc. We just were not equiped to interact with folks that we never meet face to face. We're learning. Obnoxiousness is not tolerated forever, in any civil discourse. We also did not have tools for replacing all of the interaction we get from a face to face communication. Many people wrote perfectly innocent messages that would have sounded perfectly fine coming out of their mouths verbally with all of the implied inflections that were interpreted on the other end completely wrong. We are learning.

    It will take at least one generation and probably two or three to get this right. We will probably get it mostly right just about the time the entire paradigm changes.

  • http://www.jennyraearmstrong.com/2011/12/28/kim-jong-il-horton-the-elephant-and-human-nature/ Tim

    Excellent list, and very well fleshed out too. This all reminds me of Paul's observation in Galatians 5:15 – "If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." Thanks for pointing us in a better direction, Stephen.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  • https://blogergism.blogspot.com Doc B

    I completely disagree with everything you say here! This is all wrong!

    Hitl…oh, never mind.
    ;-)

  • http://mrserven.blogspot.com Mrs. Erven

    I recently read "The Heavenly Man" by Brother Yun. A Canadian translator in the book tells Brother Yun that "In China, Christians are persecuted by inprisonment and beatings. In the West, Christians are persecuted by the words of other Christians." :-/

  • Elaine

    Fits so well with our Morning and Evening reading from Spurgeon: "Be thou ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven, that all who see you may know that you are the Saviour's, recognizing in you his features of love and his countenance of holiness."

    Remembering that we belong to the Savior should cause each of us to "pause before we post."

    Great practical advice! Thanks, Stephen!

  • Paul Zeron

    Great article.

    Prov 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.
    Eccl 5:3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.
    Eccl 5:7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.
    Prov 17:27-28
    27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
    28 Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

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  • http://twitter.com/Roger_Sharp @Roger_Sharp

    Thanks for posting this! I wrote a paper for the Evangelical Philosophical Society Annual Meeting in 2009 dealing with similar thoughts. It's lengthy, but has chapter divisions allowing you to skip what doesn't interest you. Check it out: http://confidentchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/11

  • Joan Kirk

    Perfect!! In sharing this, I'm probably gonna burn out my copy and paste function, especially during this special time of political..ahem, discussion.

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