Virtual Voices

Believers behaving badly

Technology

Thank you Jon Acuff from Stuff Christians Like for stepping into the firing line in your CNN Belief Blog post last week. In "Why Christians are jerks online," he posits two reasons believers are so badly behaved in the virtual world.

With "The Business Traveler's Approach," Acuff says that people comment online with a "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" attitude. They do what they wouldn't dream of doing at home. Or, in this case, they say online what they wouldn't dream of saying to a person's face. Anonymity anywhere frees us from the rules of propriety, but no place as conveniently as the internet.

He labels his second reason "Room Cleaning Christianity," where we go out of our way to not do what we are called to do. Acuff writes:

"Think of it like college. When you've got a final paper due Monday, you will be amazed at how energetic your desire is to clean your room. You will scrub tile with a slow toothbrush if it means avoiding the bigger, more difficult work of writing your paper. The same thing happens with Christianity. Loving your neighbor might be simple, but it's not easy. Maybe my neighbor is a jerk too. Maybe they hate God. Maybe they are actively and violently opposed to everything I believe. And showing them grace feels impossible. So instead of dealing with that, we get online and police people. We find small things to focus on that will distract us. I think God wants us to discuss the little stuff, but we make it an idol when we practice room cleaning Christianity at the exclusion of love. And we tend to become jerks."

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Acuff ends his piece with a plea: "So my hope is that you won't prove my point in the comments section."

Which, in the 1,600-plus comments that follow, is exactly what happened, Acuff's admonition apparently went in one cyber ear and out the other, as Christians and non alike go at it Gingham Dog and Calico Cat style, chewing each other up with, if anything, extra verve.

Unfortunately, WORLD's site is no exception to this trend. It is common for our comments sections to descend into a tit for tat, he said/she said, accusatory and condemning judgefest. Being anonymous certainly promotes this. WORLD's writers and columnists here, however, with both our names and faces accompanying our work, don't have such a luxury. We have to be ourselves, keeping in mind our reputations both as writers and as Christians, which means we can't pull off the kid gloves and come into the ring swinging, as much as we may want to when our posts are challenged, criticized, or misunderstood. My point is not that we are perfect, but that being identifiable encourages good behavior.

Disagreement is a big part of online discussion, and I get that. I love a good debate as much as anyone. But what I see here sometimes goes beyond cordial discussion and the respectful exchange of ideas. And I cringe when I think of what nonbelievers must think of some of our interchanges.

That said, I'd like to see the WORLD site become a place where grace, not jerkiness, is the rule of the day. Let's become one of the first Christian websites that doesn't let anonymity (or anything else) excuse our acting like Cretans.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Humpty Dumpty Just Needed a Nap: What Children’s Stories Teach Us About Life, Love, and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.

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