I remember the lecture after one of my first kids talks, where I was standing, how he began. Disregarding everything else, he honed in on the vital detail: ‘kids’ are baby goats and children are children and never the two terms should intermingle. It may be a bad example – his opinion was pernickety to say the least – but you get my drift. Having strong opinions and making them known is nothing new to this church kid goat. It’s the difference in audience that chills me, the difference between a quiet corner or an awkward triangle over bad coffee, and every person on your friend list participating in a far more terrifying international roast.
There isn’t a buried lead, we’re talking Christian Facebook debates. Not Christian’s (am one) or Facebook (love it) or debates (go for it) but the special kind of beast that results from the marriage of the three, namely the double or triple digit-strong comment thread on a Christian’s political \ religious\ social-conscious post. And here’s my beef: can we really say the potential good of a robust to-and-fro outweighs the actual bad?
Because I’ve heard your pro-argument arguments and I agree with them in theory. Iron sharpening iron. A healthy exchange of ideas. A viewpoint one may not have been exposed to otherwise. Freedom of speech. Engaging in the public sphere. I heartily endorse these beautiful notes that sound in the pre-post chamber. But the actual output? How often are these noble goals drowned out in a cacophony of noise? An escalating exchange of crisp replies which draw the battle lines and arm the soldiers, where the winner is the wordsmith tallying up their hard-won ‘likes’?
My response when I see such a post is rage. Coarsing rage. I keep my high horse saddled for such an occasion, ready to climb aboard and punch-type and noun-clip until I’ve reduced my opponent to a puddle with my withering reply. I rarely ride the horse – climbing it is usually enough. No sooner do I feel the reins in my fingers and there is something else. Often fear. Sometimes hot shame. Awareness of what others will think. Rarely is my reason for silence noble. Dismount. But I watch the race.
Oh how many people are watching the race? That’s what terrifies me. How many silent people are watching these races of ours? Listening to this so-called symphony. Thinking it looks just like every other race, sounds like every other song. Same smugness. Same crushing defeat. Same discord. Where is the love?
We talk about it. We write about it. We craft clever sentences which mention it. But today I have seen a weary friend wilt at a combatants challenge, and I have not seen love. It is only the final straw. There are literally thousands of posts that I could name, thousands of other days I could have written.
But today after climbing down from the horse I did not ride, I wilted too. I am so sad and sorry about the fallout from these spectacles. I am so nervous about the onlookers, because it is all I can do to cling to Christ in the face of such behaviour by his people, myself included. I am desperately sad that the proverbial person who could harangue a few friends over gingernuts and egg sandwiches can now harangue everyone they’ve ever friended and their voice can drown out reason, and grace, and kindness, and the Saviour who bought them.
I recognise the irony in using my words to write about this, and share it. I know some will disagree. Yet I write not to incite but to plead for a pause and a prayer before you post. I’m begging for care as you share your opinion. I’m begging for care as I share mine. May we do it with trembling, with trembling at the power our words wield. In recognition of the tongue which starts forest fires, turns ocean liners. In an instant we have incalculable power to reach and to reason, to inform and to infer. And I worry about these words of ours, all pretty and witty and dripping with clever. I worry about my words. I wonder what my Saviour thinks, is all. And I long for peace.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace- loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favouritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.” James 3:18