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Our Online Presence

Allen Pirness | The Voice of Zion May 2024 - Column --

I’ve been part of discussions regarding comments made online, and we agreed that at times the conduct of believers has brought sadness. The concern is that sometimes social media comments have been distasteful, mean-spirited and hurtful. This has been on my mind for a while, and I felt it useful for me to process this in the light of God’s Word; I also want to consider my own online presence.

When I read the comments section after an online news article or social media post, I often feel that many comments were written in anger or with a selfish need to air disgust. I have wondered, if the person writing the comments had a better opportunity to gauge the negativity of their emotion, would they still hit the “post” button after typing? Maybe a good use for AI (Artificial Intelligence) would be to review comments and suggest to the author prior to posting that their comments seem hurtful and ask, “Do you really wish to post this?” I would hope that this would slow or prevent some of the incivility we see online. 

I can’t approach this topic from a place of superiority because I have needed to delete comments quickly after posting them or before hitting the post button. In my mind’s eye, I see a cartoon of an old man sitting in his chair muttering into an open newspaper with the caption “The way the comments section used to be.”

When believers read online articles, a comment section or a social media posting and find it goes against our beliefs, it doesn’t feel appropriate nor effective to post a rebuke in reply, especially anonymously. Our response may be based on God’s Word, yet if the tone conveys “the final word” on the topic in question, it doesn’t feel good to read. Overbearing language and tone do not show the balance of grace and truth that brings out the mind of Christ. 

Jesus taught an important lesson on the question of moral superiority when a woman caught in adultery was brought before him by her accusers. He didn’t even look up to see who was there yet instructed that whoever is without sin could cast the first stone. This is very important for us to consider when wishing to pass our emphatic judgment on an issue. When we face questions of right and wrong in our personal life it may be appropriate to express our views on the topic, but even there our example is much more important than the expression of our view.

Anonymity, when online posting, creates a disconnection to the ownership of comments. Online pseudonyms, for the purpose of posting hurtful comments, deliver a deception that says, “I really do not wish to be attached personally to this comment, but I am willing to make everyone experience my displeasure by forceful insertion of the abiding truth on this matter.”

If we read a believer’s comment on social media postings or discussion forums that causes concern, it becomes our Christian duty to privately approach the individual. It does not serve anyone if we begin to use the forum as a place of online rebuke or on the other hand try to ignore it and hope that someone else will deal with it. There are also times we wonder why a believer has liked an inappropriate post or comment. It’s important, if we have concerns about another’s “likes,” to individually express our concern by asking the person about it. Just as we would appreciate the loving care from our brothers and sisters in faith, we also need to extend that care to our brothers and sisters.

It’s a comfort that in times of societal change brought about by innovation and discovery, we can turn to God’s Word for timeless instruction. The Apostle Paul was a modern man in his time. His mind was opened to a lot of different experiences and ideologies while serving the believers of his time. Some of the experiences brought concern because they warred against living faith. He could see that some of the things that the believers were hanging onto from their former ways were causing them difficulty in the endeavor of faith. He encouraged them to put those matters away and not return to them.

Paul encouraged the believers of different cultures and traditions to be joined together in the most important matters and to leave differences aside. When something new emerges in society, believers are no different than the rest of society. Some are early adopters of technology and others are less inclined to disrupt what they are accustomed to. Not everyone is exposed to social media or internet discussions, yet the Holy Spirit guides us all in the same peaceful discussion around it.

God has seen our day since before the beginning of time. He has given in our time a relatively easy standard of living and with it much energy for discovery and leisure. He has also given us a special time of work and confessing our faith in the world. The internet has been a blessing for the benefit of humanity and for the furtherance of the living gospel. The threefold enemy has taken this powerful tool and found many ways to corrupt and destroy lives with it. May we always remember that the light of God’s kingdom always shines to the world in a modern way. As we say today, it meets people where they are. 

If your online presence, including your messages, likes and created content, portrays something that doesn’t show the light of God’s kingdom, may God give you the footsteps to take care of this. It’s okay to apologize for hurtful messages in the same place they were posted, after they have been deleted. In owning our wrongs, we don’t have to continue to carry them. We are encouraged to bring these matters into the light of the congregation to care for them with the gospel. This doesn’t mean that we would need to make a public spectacle of caring for them but even privately we can hear and believe from a brother or sister in faith the forgiveness that comes from the heart of the heavenly Father. We are faulty travelers at the best of times, so let’s endeavor to bring the brightness that shines from God’s kingdom, not the darkness that comes from our earthly portion. 

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