I am certainly a lover of computer technology. I am glad for the benefits computers and the internet have brought us over the years. I have benefited from being able to keep contact with friends from around the country because of email, Facebook, and now Google Plus. I have enjoyed online conversations and discussion on several discussion forums. But in the last couple of years I’ve seen more of the ugly underside of internet conversation.
If you go to any news site on the internet such as CNN or other popular site you can find that the websites have comment sections. I’ve noticed that no matter what the subject, no matter what the article there are persons making rude, nasty, mean, demeaning, comments about the article. There are people jumping to conclusions, insulting public figures, the person who wrote the article, people mentioned in the article, and even other persons making comments. It isn’t much better than a three ring circus and honestly it does not make internet conversation look very valuable.
Even sites dedicated to religious discussion have some of the very same issues. Some of the sites that I used to participate in which talked about ministry, mission, theology, and Christian faith over the years have just degenerated into arguments, finger pointing, and even questioning the Christian faith of the other Christians in the discussion.
Often these forums revolve around all the hot button issues of the day that Christians have differences of opinion on. And the discuss seems to get less and less enlightening all the time. Frankly I’ve entirely stopped using several such sites.
So then how should Christians comport themselves on the internet? I have some personal rules of thumb that I follow:
1. Don’t ever say anything on the internet that you wouldn’t be happy about if it were published in the New York Times tomorrow morning.
2. Don’t ever say anything on the internet that you can’t sign your name to. Why? Because many forums allow anonymous posters. And the temptation of posting anonymously is that you can do and say things that you would not do and say in public. If you cannot say what you want to say with your real name in the signature then it does not need to be said.
3. When discussing church, theology, or faith with others on the internet avoid being judgmental. Avoid absolutist statements. Avoid acting as if you, your church, your denomination, or your interpretation of the faith is infallible.
4. Avoid discussions with people who just like to argue but do not really want to have an exchange of ideas. On the internet we call them “trolls.”
5. Know when to walk a way from an online discussion. When a discussion seems to be going around in circles or if you began to feel angry or frustrated with the discussion than you are not doing yourself or your witness any good.
6. Christians should always be thinking about how their words, deeds, and actions which are revealed in a public forum will reflect on their faith and the church of Jesus Christ.
There are a lot of advantages for sharing your faith on the internet. There are a lot of opportunities to be a Christian before the world on the internet. But to be the body of Christ in the world we all, myself included, have to be careful about the image we portray to those who need to hear about God’s love. Running across forums or discussions where Christians argue and fight does not do that.
Let’s be good examples of what the net can be and should be!