When Christians trash and mock politicians and their allies, they harm their witness to Jesus.
Over the last year, new governments rose in the nation of Canada and in the province of Alberta. Internationally, we perch on the edge of our seats as the next season of American leadership is decided by democracy. With political change comes passionate heat. But the ones from whom we expect more light than heat often disappoint.
Scrolling through social media before, during and after the elections was very revealing. And disturbing. I watched Jesus-followers reach into the slop to sling immature taunts more at home in a barn yard than a public forum. I was appalled at the ways Christians (who should know better) spewed on people publicly, especially on Facebook. Disagreement on important issues sank quickly into mocking ridicule for whichever political leader they despised, then extending to anyone who dared agree with that leader. It was ugly. It was unhelpful. And it harmed our witness to Jesus.
Day after day, post after post, followers of Jesus forgot who they follow and brought disrepute to Jesus in how they behaved online. It was sick.
Don’t get me wrong. Thoughtful disagreement, passionate push back on the issues that matter–that we want. Strong positions on economic
or environmental policies are good. We desperately need insightful people to clarify the issues and forward the concerns driving the various political platforms, without reaching for the idiocy of superficiality. We need people who can envision good futures and move us toward them. And we need leaders who maintain dignity and respect among the crowds who’d rather mock someone’s hair than discuss their foreign policy.
But here’s my main issue: Our witness is more important than our politics. And when Christians mock political opponents and ridicule people’s political choices, they harm their influence for Jesus. Not because they disagree with them, but because of how they treat the people with whom they disagree. When a Christian passes around demeaning memes or posts disgusting personal attacks, it hurts fruitful conversation. Disrespectful behaviour doesn’t serve to enhance our understanding of why others vote the way they do, nor does it help us understand the concerns and convictions informing their perspectives. But it can sure serve to alienate us from them. Let’s remember what we teach the kids about cyber-bullying: You can’t mistreat someone online and then expect them to be your friend in person.
Too often we forget that our online presence directly impacts our daily witness. When you mock a political leader like a grade 8 thug, how will you sit down with a friend from that political position later in the same afternoon and share the good news of Jesus with them? (I do hope I’m not assuming too much by expecting us to have friends we love who hold other political perspectives.) When a quick survey of our Facebook posts reveals more hatred for certain politicians than love for a certain King, we’ve got a problem. And we need to repent.
What should you do? Go ahead and hold your political perspectives. Think through the issues carefully, with Jesus’ kingdom in full view. When appropriate, state your position positively and clearly. But for Jesus’ sake, don’t be a bully. Don’t be a snark. Don’t ridicule or call people names. Don’t be that Christian, who seems more allied with the latest (or potential) Caesar than with the greatest Messiah. Paul, himself incarcerated under a less-than-stellar government, reminded Christians to be mindful of “outsiders” in their prayer and speech, so that nothing would hinder the message of Jesus getting out here. It was in that context he encouraged them to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Surely this applies to our online political conversations?
Instead, be a prayerful presence. Be a poster of good news. Re-post writers who are helping us think through the issues, or even raising concerns about certain candidates in helpful ways. Listen, ask, connect. Make sure what you say online would further your relationships in reality, not create barriers to Jesus in the lives of friends.
After all, governments will continue to rise and fall. But Jesus has already been installed as the King over all the nations. And we are called to remain faithful ambassadors of his kingdom to every nation, in every time and place.
As Christians, how can we do better online?
Can you give examples of helpful, Jesus-honoring disagreement which clarifies issues without mistreating others?