Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other forms of social media are terrific ways to share what you are thinking with your friends and family. And commenting on other people’s posts is a great way to encourage and befriend them. Social media is also a wonderful means of sharing your faith with others. Unfortunately, there are times when our use of social media actually serves to undermine or discredit our Christian witness.
Years ago, long before the advent of social media, one of my best friends sought to witness to his faith by placing a bumper sticker on the back of his Chevy that said, “I follow Jesus.” I remember being out for a ride in his car when someone pulled in front of us just before a stop light. My friend became angry, and when the light turned green, he sped around the car, pulled in and slowed way down. The driver behind us honked his horn. At the stoplight, both drivers jumped out of their cars . . . at which time I heard the guy behind us shout, “Is this what following Jesus looks like?”
Among the lessons learned by my friend: Don’t put something on your bumper you’re not willing to try to live. I think the same lesson may be important for our use of social media. There are many Christians who talk about their faith on social media, and that’s terrific; but once we’ve shared it, we need to make sure that the other things we share line up with our witness.
For instance, many Christians want to share their political views on their social media. That’s okay, but do your political views line up with your faith? More importantly (given that most Christians on the left and right believe their politics lines up with their faith) does how you talk about your political views line up with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (“Do unto others,” “Love your enemies,” “Let no evil talk come out of your mouth,” “Consider others better than yourself…”)?
I think of the Christian “clichés” that seem true, but which may only be half-true. I’m reminded of a woman who miscarried who had several friends seek to encourage her by commenting on her Facebook page that, “It must have been the will of God.” Without realizing it these well-meaning Christians just suggested that God caused this woman to miscarry her child.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right of gay and lesbian people to marry in the U.S., there were more than a few Christians who shared that they, “love the sinner but hate the sin.” They no doubt intended this as a gracious statement, but it doesn’t sound gracious to someone who is gay or lesbian, when the “sin” that is being hated is the love they share with their partner or spouse.
Then there’s the fact that it’s so easy to express our feelings using social media without the filters we would use if we were speaking to someone face to face. We post snarky comments about another, or to another. We hurl 140-character zingers at one another. And we often pass on gossip, innuendo, and outright lies about other people as we forward things we assume are true, without finding out of they really are. There are words for this in the Bible: gossip and backbiting.
Social media is an amazing tool. It is also a wonderful way to share our faith with others. But it can also quickly undermine or discredit our witness when we’re obnoxious in how we share our political views, or when we communicate Christian clichés that are only half true, or when we use social media to gossip, backbite, or spew snark on or about others.
This is why some of the best social-media advice I know is what the Apostle Paul gives us in Ephesians 4:29: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths [or from your keyboard!], but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (NRSV)
Adam Hamilton is the Senior Pastor at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection and is the author of many books including the upcoming, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say. (April 2016). He was recently appointed as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships by President Obama.