When engaging in conversation on social media, especially with those with whom you disagree, three important ‘guidelines’ come to mind (especially in light of the CRC’s Synod 2016).
“All spaces are real spaces,” says my friend Dane Boersma to the high school kids he teaches. Despite the fact that social media sometimes doesn’t ‘feel’ like real life and is often criticized as such, it is very real.
That leads me to Guideline #1: Remember that there are real people reading those tweets and comments, and although sometimes less believable, there are real people writing them too. The people with whom you are engaging are also image-bearers of God and deserve to be treated as such. For this reason, make yourself known. Don’t hide behind avatars or ‘egg-heads'.* Stand up for yourself and your point in a gracious way. If you wouldn’t say it to a person standing in front of you, don’t say it online.
Guideline #2: Remember that what is a ‘theological debate’ to one person can be a damaging and harmful discussion for someone else.
There are, for example, many rich theological debates like “worship styles: contemporary or traditional” and “methods of communion: crackers or bread.” And then there are topics like “should women be ordained” or “should the church perform same-sex weddings?” All of these topics get people wound up but the first two, although meaningful, could perhaps be left as ‘theological debates’ while the second two can cause people to question their own worthiness, call, or even salvation.
For example, imagine engaging in what feels like a hearty online discussion about women in pastoral leadership. It feels like a hearty theological debate to many but here is the difference: when you are arguing with a woman about whether or not she should be in church leadership (whether an elder, associate pastor, or head pastor) you are not simply having a theological debate, you are calling her identity in Christ into question. I know that may sound harsh to some of you but it’s true.
When you throw verses at someone and tell them that their role in the church is not ‘true to scripture,’ what you are saying is, “Nope, God is not calling you to do what you think you are being called to do or be who you think God is calling you to be.” Scripture should be our guide. Absolutely. As you are guided by Scripture, be aware that the “cost” of a certain interpretation of Scripture may be much higher for someone else than it is for you.
Think about that for a minute. What if someone said, “You can’t be a pastor because you are a father.” This may be a core part of who you are, and something you are unwilling or unable to give up. Yet you are also called to be a pastor. Conflicted? I think so. No matter how strongly you hold your convictions, be mindful of the fact that those convictions may cause others deep pain, and interact with them graciously.
The third guideline I will offer summarizes this whole #CRClistens series: Listen first. We all come with passionate feelings about certain areas of faith. We often come ready to share our opinions, or back up our thoughts with scripture or other texts. But when dialoguing with those whom we disagree, we must be willing to listen first. Are you a woman? Do you identify as LGBTQ? Are you a refugee? No? Okay, then stop yourself and listen before giving your reason that you think the church should do one thing or another for, to, or with these people. Does our interaction with people measure up to the example of Jesus, who consistently showed a compassionate awareness for the situations people were facing? (For just a few examples, see Luke 8:43-48, Mark 8:1-12, Luke 7:36-50, and Luke 13:10-17.)
Have you ever sat face to face with a fellow Christian and heard their story of growing up knowing that they were gay? Have you ever heard a woman talk about what it felt like when her family refused to come to church the Sunday she was asked to preach? Listen first.
In the world of curated social media, listening to dissenting voices or even just different voices can be difficult. Facebook’s news feed shows us only what interests us and we can curate Twitter and Instagram to fit our personal preferences.
But how will we ever learn if we don’t take time to listen? Seek out people with whom you hold differing views. Follow them on Twitter, read their blogs, listen to them preach. Pray for them. Learn about how others think. Imagine what it would be like for you to change your mind on something you hold as right and good.
I know there are topics about which I will probably never change my mind, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t know what others believe, that I shouldn’t have friends with those views, that I shouldn’t be respectful. Listen first. And don’t just listen so that you can then speak. Listen for the sake of learning and growing.
*The default avatar (if you do not upload your own profile picture) on Twitter is an egg.
Editor's note: During this series, we hope to learn together how to communicate about contentious issues in ways that build up the Body of Christ. Above all, we hope that this series will help you stay in conversation in constructive ways that honor and respect the image of God in those you disagree with and in the people affected by the issues about which you are talking. Perhaps these reflections will even help us to engage well as a Christian Reformed Church in dialogue around hard questions, particularly at Synod 2016.
To engage in the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #CRClistens. If you'd like to comment on this post, please do so on the CRC Network or on the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue or Office of Social Justice Facebook pages.
[Image: edited from Pexels original with permission]