Back in March, shortly after the Facebook privacy scandal, the NY Times ran a piece asking “Can Social Media Be Saved?” suggesting that perhaps the populace had finally grown tired of the incessant bickering, the character assassination, the bullying, the vulnerability. That was before Roseanne Barr’s disastrous tweet. That was before news of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn’s pedophile jokes on Twitter (which were a decade old). That was before discovery of Milwaukee Brewers’ pitcher Josh Hader’s racist and homophobic tweets (which occurred 7 years ago, Hader was 17 at the time). That was before the phony “we don’t tip terrorist” receipt went viral on Facebook. And in the past few days, the American couple that has received the most press as of late – SNL comic Pete Davidson, and fiancé, pop star Ariana Grande – both announced that they were leaving Instagram and Twitter due to backlash over posts and speculation about their relationship. Davidson commented:
I just don’t wanna be on Instagram anymore. Or on any social media platform. The internet is an evil place and it doesn’t make me feel good.
Not to repeat myself, but Americans have painted themselves into this brutal corner. We adamantly defend our “First Amendment right” to speak our mind and then we get completely offended when we hear someone else speaking theirs. Social media hasn’t created this problem. The internet isn’t evil. What social media did do, however, is pave a massive intersection in the downtown of public dialogue, where everyone on the planet now has access to virtually everything someone has ever said in public. And since everything today is now being constantly video recorded, chronicled, and archived for public consumption, what chance does any human stand to not eventually be exposed in the worst possible light?
Just imagine someone recording and filing every single thing you said and did when you were 17-years-old. Now imagine an employer interviewing you for a company position at 30-years-old, and evaluating you not merely on the basis of your resume and interview, but on whatever Google might find from the past thirty years. By our own society’s standards, virtually no one is employable anymore.
Ironically, despite the previously accepted moral relativism of postmodernism, we are now finding EVERYONE to be guilty of fireable offense. And if you honestly think you somehow make it through the judgment unscathed – that you have never said something even the slightest bit sexist, racist, ageist, or religiously discriminatory – you’re as ripe for slipping as anyone. I promise you that anyone who spends any significant time with you will be able to come up with something you’ve said at one point that they considered highly offensive.
This is now officially an epidemic. Go to the front page of YAHOO! today, tomorrow, or a month from now, and I guarantee you that several of the leading stories are someone being removed from a prominent position because of something they said that was perceived as highly offensive.
This social media crisis alerts me to two things Christians are going to need to lead the way on if public dialogue is ever going to improve:
1) Guard Your Words
Children are taught to disregard unkind words, because they cannot break bones like sticks and stones. It’s a clever diddy from a naive mind. Words have tremendous power and can reach into the human psyche in ways that a stick or a stone can’t. They cause significantly greater damage.
I don’t care what the parameters of the First Amendment allow for, if you’re a Christian, your speech is not free. It’s not even yours. It was redeemed by Jesus Christ, along with the rest of your life. Consequently, your opinions, your takes, your comments, your tweets, your pics, and your posts were all paid for by his blood and therefore, in some way, should have the intention of bringing glory to Him.
It is possible, despite what your overwhelming feelings might tell you, to NOT say something. When Jesus stood trial before Pilate and was asked about the ridiculous charges being brought against him, we’re told twice in row that he didn’t comment.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. (Matt. 27:12-14)
It’s not wrong to defend the truth. But it’s also highly unproductive to engage in the world’s lunacy. And it’s never good to misrepresent Christ. So if you can’t go on social media without sinning, or tempting others, or being overwhelmingly tempted by others, then delete all of your accounts. Cut it off (Matt. 5:29-30). It’s not worth it. Christians should be the first ones ready to get out of the pool.
2) Forgive Their Words
The clever two-step that Satan has done with our society has been to 1) convince us there is no such thing as universal right/wrong, and that we are free to speak our minds (i.e. moral relativism), and 2) allow us to get deeply offended by one another’s comments, because deep down we know there is, in fact, such a thing as justice, inappropriate speech, and moral code.
Why is this so brilliant? Because if there’s nothing technically wrong, then there’s nothing to forgive. In other words, forgiveness only needs to take place in the presence of wrong. But if moral relativism says wrong doesn’t exist, then forgiveness doesn’t need to exist either. And if the biblical concept of forgiveness carries the idea of “letting something go,” then if we lose forgiveness, we’ve lost the ability to drop hurt and bitterness. We’re doomed to carrying baggage forever. Without forgiveness, we must be angry, divided, polarized.
I commonly find this dynamic at work in people I counsel. I’ll ask them if they’ve forgiven a person who, perhaps even indirectly, contributed to their present hurt. Sometimes they look at me as though I’m offering them foreign cuisine. Now, if the people I counsel are not even thinking to forgive a parent, or an ex, or a minister, or someone else fairly obvious, I can guarantee forgiveness is not the first impulse people are experiencing on their social media accounts.
Again, Jesus teaches us a better way. As onlookers taunted and soldiers tortured in his crucifixion, Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
His grace caused him to let go of every stupid thing they said and did, to such an extent, that his primary concern at that point was that his Heavenly Father would have mercy on them for their stupidity. And his grace extended to our stupidity too.
If people could speak harshly to a perfect man, they can and will speak harshly to you too. But if that perfect man could forgive you, then you can forgive others too. And you’ll be much healthier when you do. Don’t seek justice. In your anger, seek Him, and let him sort out the justice.
When historians look back on this era of history, social media, and its stream of unfiltered comments, from our president on down, will be an important and embarrassing chapter. Every bit as addictive and harmful as the tobacco tar by which our country unwittingly stained its lungs 60 years ago, we’re just as naively breathing vitriol, gossip, and slander into the cultural ethos. And someday, maybe soon, we’ll be stuck with a societal cancer, our grandchildren wondering what people were thinking back in 2018.
We can’t control what the world around us says, does, thinks, or feels. But we can incarnate the Spirit of Christ, who was “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)
Guard yourself. Forgive others. Lead the way.