Handle with Care: Christian Conflict on Social Media

This article is the second in a two-part series on Christ’s command in Matthew 7:1-5. In this artile, we provide a specific application of this command. This first article provides necessary background and proper interpretation for the passage. You can read it here: Link to the first Article.

I grow weary of social media.

I understand the irony of that statement, seeing as how you most likely found this article through Facebook or Twitter. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as a neutral medium, and social media is no exception to that rule. Media changes us, and much like smoking or any number of vices, I fear uncritical social media use may have unintended consequences only discovered after the fact. Furthermore, as Cal Newport convincingly demonstrates in his book Digital Minimalism, the companies that produce our favorite apps are not unaware of the emotional and psychological impact of their products. They build them to intentionally manipulate our emotions, so that we will engage with even more energy. Joy or anger, it does not matter if it will cause us to spend more time in our newsfeed.

But for a Christian, it most certainly matters.

In part one of this two-part series, I touched on the frequent use and abuse of Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.” This simple command of Christ is found in the Sermon on the Mount and when understood in its proper context, goes right to the heart of our interactions on social media, especially with other Christians. I would encourage you to first read that article, as it provides the basis for what follows.

Now, let’s revisit the passage in full:

Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Far from telling us not to confront others in conflict, this passage tells us we should engage in hard conversations with other Christians about potential shortcomings or sin issues. However, it is very clear that hypocritical judgment has no place in conflict between two Christians.

This passage calls us first toward introspection and second toward interpersonal action, in that order. It does not absolve us from either, but it does tell us there is a priority placed on dealing strongly with our own sin first. It is a challenge toward humility and away from hypocrisy. It is a call to love your fellow brother of sister through correction, not to overlook issues that will hurt them. It is also a call to do so from a position of humility, caring about the wellbeing of others. Correction among Christians is not an opportunity to score points against an opposing view, or heaven forbid, attempt to make yourself look holy or right in distinction to someone else.

Enter Christian Twitter™.

Honestly, it’s not just Twitter; Facebook is at least as bad. If you follow a good bit of Christian social media, I imagine your newsfeed looks similar to mine: a long string of inspirational Bible verses, photos of precisely placed coffee mugs and journals, book recommendations from Crossway or B&H, requests to join a church for their online service during the pandemic, and the daily explosion of hateful vitriol and name calling on the Christian conflict du jour.

So, how do Christ’s words in Matthew 7:1-5 stack up to our current culture of Twitter spats and name calling among various evangelical factions? It has a lot to say.

First, let’s stop the nitpicking… especially in public.

Few things are tackier than a petty word fight in public, and yet, it seems we are often itching to hop in the ring in Christian social media circles today. Several years ago, I wrote an article (also based in the Sermon on the Mount) about how Christians deal with non-Christians on social media in our present “Age of Outrage” as Stetzer calls it. Since then, things appear to have only gotten worse, and now so much of that vitriol is directed at each other instead of the outside world. Different quarters of evangelicalism make it a hobby to blow holes in each other in front of an audience.

Do not hear what I am not saying. It is painfully obvious that we have some deep issues to discuss. I am not suggesting we just overlook those conversations. To the contrary, I think it is crucial that we develop some processes of hard dialogue surrounded by Christian charity. And, I’m not saying we keep our mouths shut about important things, especially doctrinal matters, in the name of some anemic understanding of unity. I am saying the medium matters. Ironically enough, it is possible to say the right thing the wrong way, and in doing so, make it the wrong thing to say.

Second, we need to work on that beam.

Unfortunately, even as I write those words, I fear the temptation is to recall all the instances where others have spoken the wrong way instead of first considering how I have misspoken. If your knee-jerk reaction to Jesus’ statement about the beam is to begin thinking of other people’s tweets as examples of unchristian behavior, then you’re not hearing what Jesus is saying. What’s the beam in my eye? That’s the question Jesus first tells us to address here.

It is too easy for us to hear this kind of command and agree but never practice it. If you leave this vague in your own life, you never actually do it. Faithfulness to Christ’s words here means we each need to do some deep introspection. Yes, we need introspection specifically concerning our relationship with internet megaphones and all of our platform-building tools. I think it’s easy for those of us without thousands upon thousands of followers to give ourselves a pass in how we speak and consume media, but we must carefully consider both what we say and what we read and share on social media. Do we drive up engagement of hateful statements by making sure we’re snacking on the controversial junk food, even if we don’t provide our own hateful hot take? We think our words are perhaps small enough to be insignificant, and then we uncritically consume the vitriol of others. In my heart and in your heart, we need to first answer the question of motive. What is my goal in posting that critique? What am I doing to myself and others by reading or spreading this stuff?

Too often, I fear the motivation is not winning a brother or sister. Instead, so much of this public conflict and criticism appears designed to further entrench divides. Instead of love for the one we’re engaging, the motive appears to be gaining the admiration of those who already agree. This is not removing a speck, it is building a personal platform among one’s own crowd. It is taking shots at the people who are perceived as shared enemies to prove one’s position as an insider of a given tribe. This form of social media interaction says, “I’m with you!” by slapping someone who is not.

May our motive never be ensuring we are seen publicly on the “right side” of an issue by those whose admiration we seek. Jesus had sharp words about that kind of righteousness.

Finally, we help our brother or sister with the speck.

We love to jump to this step, and we can quickly classify our Twitter rants and Facebook slams as helping others through correction. But hear this, you are not truly doing this last step in the spirit of Jesus’ words until you have worked on the first two.

Jesus is not telling us to overlook the issues of others in our church family or among the family of God more broadly. He is not telling us to “be soft on the issues.” He did the opposite. We remove the beam so we can help a brother or sister with their speck. But how do we do this well? I’m inclined to suggest it’s not over the internet. It is far harder, and far more humbling, to speak directly with people in a loving and non-platforming-building way. Authentically personal moments become the soil in which loving correction and dialogue can occur.

Do you have the kind of relationships with others in your local church, in your denomination, even across those network lines that allow for that kind of dialogue? Do you have real relationships, that allow you to speak into people’s lives in a loving way? If not, perhaps your first step in loving correction is building those kind of bridges.

Those are the kind of relationships that will allow us to serve one another, even in the hard things.

Further Reading


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