by R. York Moore
(Editor’s note: This is the 1st in a 9-part series on Finding Our Gospel Voice in a Changing Culture.)
During the courtship of my now-wife Jodi, I recall one evening at her home with her mom and dad for dinner. We were laughing and joking about likes and dislikes, family backgrounds, and pet peeves. After a spectacular meal I was feeling just a little bit too familiar with my now-in-laws and I exclaimed, “I’ll tell you what I hate: country art!”
Laughing, I continued in my diatribe against rural/woodsy canned art, “I have no idea what possesses people to put pictures of deer and dogs and mountains and birds and birch trees on their walls!” Complete silence fell on mom and dad as Jodi kicked me under the table.
To my horror, I looked behind me and on the wall was a large painting of deer drinking from a stream surrounded by, you guessed it, BIRCH TREES. I was mortified. The painting had a special place in the family’s heart and was proudly displayed in the center of the staircase. As I began my tongue-fumbling apology, they stared at me in silent disbelief before bursting out in uncontrollable laughter at my faux pas. My missteps over the years have become the stuff of legend and in a family of love and laughter, her family is one of the few places I don’t have to live quite so carefully.
Unfortunately, the Internet is a lot less like my family and much more like a land mine field.
Such benign missteps on Facebook, Instagram, or any social forum can impact people’s lives in many ways. I learned early on that my social presence online needs to have much more attention to detail and that there will be far less grace for social faux pas online than in my in-laws kitchen.
Unlike a swift kick in the shins, the pain people have experienced for online mistakes is real—lost relationships, financial support, jobs, and respect, all often with less than 140 characters.
One of the most important things we can lose as Christians is the witness we have as followers of Jesus. Our online presence as believers can anaesthetize people to the gospel. We need to ask, “What does it look like to be a woman or man of God online?” “Does my online contribution help Christ’s kingdom expand into the hearts and minds of others, or does it hinder it?”
Too often, we look at the lies and evil online, and in a moment of conviction and burden, we post out of anger, out of fear, or out of concern. We often baptize our unloving posts by saying to ourselves, “I am standing for truth—somebody has to, right!?” What ensues is the very predictable anger and hostility that grows out of any human interaction when truth comes at the expense of love.
What I’d like to propose as a foundation for Christian online witness is what I will call the apotheosis factor. The word apotheosis means to glorify a thing, ideal, or person. As Christians, our words have the capacity to glorify the things of God, God’s kingdom, and the person of Jesus. I try as often as possible to make sure my posts meet the apotheosis factor, particularly when it comes to engaging real issues like poverty, human trafficking, and human sexuality issues. When commenting on videos of cats (which I don’t think I’ve done to date), the apotheosis factor is, obviously, of a lesser concern, but even then, we need to make sure our consumption of pure entertainment is glorifying to God.
Imagine 100 year from now when social archaeologists, using intricate algorithms, record for historical posterity’s sake what Christians were like in 2015 by mining online posts. By mining Vine, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, blog posts, and other publically-oriented sites, what might the future tell us of what Christians really believed?
What if, by 2115, social archaeologists found a way to mine our texts, Kik messages, Snap Chats, and Yik-Yaks to add sophistication to the ‘secret lives’ of Christians in 2015? What would that say of Christ’s Church now?
The reality is that my dislike of artistic renditions of deer and trees and streams was never recorded on a plaque and hung in my in-laws house, but our online presence is. In a very real sense, our online contribution to the world is etched in digital stone for all to see until Christ’s kingdom comes.
James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” We know that words have the power of life and death, and James reminds us that the extent to which we bridle our tongues is the extent to which our religion has worth. The imagery James uses of ‘bridling’ has to do with harnessing and focusing the power of a horse to purposely move forward an otherwise uncontrollable and extremely powerful animal.
Our digital tongues are like a powerful beast, uncontrollable—carrying grave consequences unless bridled.
Practicing the principle of online apotheosis before we click ‘send’ is our way of bridling our tongues for the honor and glory of God. If, before we click ‘send,’ we can say that this post, this Tweet, this ‘Like,’ or this Yak gives glory to Jesus, we can say it passes the apotheosis test, that we have bridled our tongue, and that our religion has worth and value now and for years to come.
On the other side of a thread about homosexuality or body image or race and ethnicity is a community of people. One of the most damaging things to the Christian religion in our day is the profound ease with which so-called Christians objectify and demonize real people and contribute to their shame, their struggles, or their pain.
There are no people-neutral issues. There are always human consequences for the ideas we have. Asking the question of how our online contribution helps people flourish is important. How we demonstrate grace and truth or gracious truth is important for our Christian witness.
To fail to pay attention to these things could end up losing the battle for the hearts and minds of a watching world and relegate the Christian religion to an archaic and unhelpful malady on the digital social conscience of our world.
Instead of picturing enemies on the other side of the ‘send’ button, before we post, what would it look like if we pictured potential family members and loved ones? What if we pictured our digital world more like the family dining table? What if the people on the other side of the table—no matter of their likes and differences—were people we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with?
This would change everything in our motives, it would shape our words, and it would teach us to slow down long enough to think about how our interactions expressed grace and truth for the glory of God.
R. York Moore (@yorkmoore) is national evangelist for InterVarsity USA. He is the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away and Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice. Learn more: http://tellthestory.net