The new online world has flattened leadership. Most of the time this is good, increasing accountability and allowing undiscovered talent to rise. But there is a downside. Criticism now comes easier, with the click of a “send” button on a variety of media tools, you can “call out” Christians with whom you disagree. I would argue that a few rules should guide our online rebukes. Here are five questions I try to ask myself before writing critically about someone:
1) Do you have all the facts?
Proverbs 18:3 seems wise counsel in this social media age: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” We mock news organizations when, in their rush to break news, get the details wrong. But when Christians do this, pushing out accusations against people they either a) don’t know or b) don’t know except from afar, they look foolish, not only to those who do know all the facts, but also in the sight of God.
We should be wary, really wary, about writing about, acting on, publishing information based on hearsay, half-truths, etc. We shouldn’t simply read headlines and react to them. We should read the full story and know the whole truth before opining. Once the facts are out, there is a place for winsome, thoughtful critique. But we have to guard against a carnal desire to believe the worst about people with whom we disagree, which violates the law of love (1 Corinthians 13:7).
2) Am I the best person to write about it?
Just because I’m a blogger and I have a Twitter account doesn’t mean I’m the best person to opine on someone else’s poor choices. There is a carnal pride in being “the one who took down so and so”, but this is not the spirit of Christ. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have thoughtful, sober, robust engagement with ideas we consider unbiblical. What we believe matters. If God has given a gift of writing, speaking, and teaching, we should employ those wisely for the good of His Church. But each of us must know his place.
There have been controversies about which I’ve had opinions, but I’ve not felt I was the best or most qualified person to write on them. There are others with more respected voices, whose platforms cry out for a response. Sometimes its better to admit, “I’m not the best one to write on this.” Sometimes its wiser to simply retweet or link to someone who might be more thoughtful and biblical, whose experience and proximity to the situation is deeper than my own.
3) What are my motives here?
Let’s be honest here: controversy sells and many are willing to sacrifice unity for a few more clicks. Some topics are like catnip for bloggers. But we have to ask ourselves: what is the motive here? Am I building a platform on the mistakes and foibles of others? Am I a Christian tabloid, trafficking in all the stories that will make people click? Is my ministry, over the long haul, building up the body of Christ or tearing it down? Note: this doesn’t mean everything we write has to be toothless mush. There is a needed place for robust, deep, theological reflection. There is a place for warning the body of Christ about aberrant theologies that can shipwreck souls. But before we write, we should ask ourselves, “Am I doing this out of genuine concern for my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord or am I doing this to increase my platform, to create controversy to help sell books, build traffic, etc?”
I haven’t always done this well, but God is teaching me to steward my words with caution. I can think of two instances in the last six months where I was deeply convicted by the Spirit of God to not publish something out of impure motives.
4) What’s my tone?
There is such a gotcha mentality among some precincts of the Christian blogosphere. There are some who thrive on the misfortunes of others, ready to pounce on the smallest infraction. Ready to expose the falleness of the leaders they despise. Some leaders have made mistakes that they should answer for. Some eschew accountability and have created protective bubbles that keep them from genuine shepherding. But there is also a tone of nastiness among those who would gleefully expose them, an elevated sense of self among some Christian bloggers and journalists that looks for the smallest character flaws through which they can ram their Titanic agendas.
There is a place for winsome, public rebuke. But it should be done with tears, not glee. 1 Corinthians 13:6 says that love doesn’t “rejoice in iniquity.” We could all adopt a better tone. We could do without the sort of snarky, arrogant put-downs found too often online among God’s people. We should remember that at the very least, the person with whom we disagree was made in the image of God and very likely is a brother or sister in the Lord knit to our souls by the blood-bought sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. We need to realize that there is a way to be right about an issue and yet sin in the way we deliver the truth. Humility is the oil of human relationships.
5) If this was read publicly in 25 years, would it make me blush with embarrassment?
This last one is a hard one, because those of us who have spent our adult lives putting words together have work we hope nobody ever sees. We even have published pieces that, in hindsight, we wonder what in the world we were thinking. But, as we are composing that blog post or that article, especially ones we know will be controversial, we should ask ourselves: “Am I giving this my best effort?” “Will I read this in a few years and be embarrassed about it?”
I’m not simply talking about the quality of writing, but of the people about whom I wrote. Will what I write damage relationships? Is what I wrote fair? Is what I wrote kind and loving? Is what I wrote even true?
Bottom Line: The bottom line for all of us is that we should heed the words of James 1:19: “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”