"So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil." - Ephesians 4:25-27
Paul did not do a good job of anticipating the Internet. Like, I'm not blaming him or anything, but let's just be honest that he really failed to see Facebook coming. All his advice is given to people who are looking each other in the eye. What would he say about how to engage on Facebook, or Twitter, where you can easily be in electronic relationship with thousands upon thousands of people you will never meet in person?
"Speak the truth"—OK, that's pretty clear, I guess, maybe. But "speak the truth in love"? What does love look like in the middle of a Twitter flame war or Facebook showdown? Is it always patient, kind, understanding—or is it sometimes a smackdown? Does it ever silence people, banish them from its newsfeed? Should you be loving in the same ways to someone you know well in person, someone you interact with a lot but only online, and to a troll you've never met before and who might be a Russian hacker?
"Don't let the sun go down on your anger"—but anyone who's ever been engaged in a heated conversation online knows that sometimes sleeping on it is a way better strategy than responding immediately.
And what's at stake in an online interaction, anyway? In person, what's at stake might be families, churches, relationships. But how much rides on a Twitter battle? Do minds ever actually get changed in one, or do we just find out who we already agree with and who we (think we) ought to hate? Maybe even more is at stake in such conversations than in private ones, because so many more people witness them. I dunno.
Paul did not do a good job of anticipating the Internet, but I bet God did. And since God doesn't seem to have spoken very clearly through Paul on the Christian ethics of Facebook, maybe God will speak through you. Would you head on over to The United Church of Christ's Facebook page and tell us what you think God's guidelines for being Christian online are?
Holy One, let me show your love everywhere I go…and please tell me how to do it. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.