I have wrestled with this topic for two months at least. Please don’t misunderstand, this is not a rant against technology (see Part 2). Rather, it is looking at the internet in terms of Christians and relationships—what happens to Christian relationships and why the internet is troubling. The spark that led to finally posting was a comment that Sarah Markley tweeted: “Convinced more than ever that the Internet can be a soulless place. Wondering how much longer we can do this b4 losing our humanity.”
“I hate the Internet”
Not all of it, of course. But here my concern is what it does or does not do for Christians in terms of relationships. It is wonderful to meet so many people throughout the world. Good discussions can occur on a wide variety of topics. But here are the problem areas:
To snark or not…
Because communication is more than words spoken or typed, much is lost when other clues are not available. Often I will hear, “But that was true when physical letters were written.” Perhaps, but I think some things change. The speed of response on the internet changes the interaction. I grew up and lived much of my adult life prior to personal computers. When writing a letter, I was much more careful about what I wrote, often throwing pages away. I had time to think and reflect on what it say to the person reading it.
With the internet, the instantaneous nature of communication, time to think through what we write demands “response” not reflection. And there is a critical factor. I have been on Christian discussion boards over the past 13 years, and the attacks by one Christian on another is amazing, or better stated, disturbing.
Speed of response raises the temperature of the “discussion” before it can even become a true discussion. And if several are involved, it is “one Christian gang vs. another Christian gang.” Sadly this environment is not just a case of one-up-man-ship. It becomes vicious so that conversation does not happen. And this between Christians… It makes me sad.
What can we as Christians do to halt this? I think asking ourselves some questions can be helpful.
1 “Is this beneficial for myself and for all who read? Notice, it is not just the one you are trying to communicate with; it includes those who are silent observers. Ephesians 4:29 comes to mind:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (NIV)
2 Does this require an immediate response? 99% of the time the answer is no. I learned very early on, that if the topic was hot, and my emotions were involved, I needed to write my response in a word processor, put it away for a while (1-2 hours, maybe a day), re-write and reflect. Sometimes I would even send a copy to a couple trusted friends to see what they thought. It has spared me and others much grief.
3. Am I demonstrating Christ in my response? I have heard some say, “Well, Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees publicly!” So, are the people in the forum in the same category as the scribes and Pharisees? My guess is, no. But even prior to that, I have to ask: who put you in the position to categorize that way? And by the very reasoning above, it is likely that the person who does it is also a scribe or Pharisee.
Forgiveness and Restoration
This area is much more critical for Christian relationships and the internet’s role in the disruption of this. When we live in community and we sin against one another (and we do!), Jesus provides the perfect resolution. In Matthew 18:15-18 we read:
If your brother (sister) sins (against you), go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother (sister). But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
Note several things: 1) Sin is confronted so that the person might repent and sin is done away with. If repentance happens, then “you have won” your brother (sister) back. 2) The person you are approaching is “your” brother (sister), not just some stranger with passing acquaintance. Community is strongly emphasized in the pronoun “your.” 3) The continuing effort to win back the brother (sister) denotes a love that is willing to go a long way to re-establish Christian fellowship.
The internet changes the dynamics. We “meet” Christians from all over the world, with all kinds of backgrounds, etc. But do we really know them? Do we know their “hot buttons”? What might be meant jokingly by one person can be devastating to the other. Now what? We can’t “go to the person” in the same sense.
How is that resolved on the internet? Often one person will just “disappear” so there is not further contact, no resolution. No email contact, no forum discussion, no way to stop the unfriending if on FB, and certainly no phone to call. What could be resolved in person now becomes an impossibility.
And therein lies the problem. The sense of community in struggle, now restored is missing. There is no community in that sense. And the result? One person who is deeply offended, hurt, or sinned against gets no comfort from a restored relationship. The one who perhaps unknowingly wrote something begins to draw back, no longer willing to extend to another person—“I can’t go through another loss.”
So instead of community being established, encouraged, and strengthened, the opposite happens. And this relates to Sarah’s comment on Twitter: “Convinced more than ever that the Internet can be a soulless place. Wondering how much longer we can do this b4 losing our humanity.” And even more serious, “losing our Christian community.”