Christians can’t debate online

Incase you haven’t noticed the world is turning, has already turned to an online world. We are connected to each other and complete strangers via: twitter, facebook, skype, email, and blogs, just to name a few.

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I’ve use all of the above forms of communication and I spend a lot of time on each of them. Hey, that’s how we communicate these days so you can understand. But there’s one thing I’ve discovered, and it really hit home this last week. Christians can’t or shouldn’t debate online. Apologies for the very general blanket term ‘Christians’, it just sounds more dramatic when you use generalisations.

Anyway, as I was saying, Christians can’t or should’t debate online. Last week, and I’m sure most are completely oblivious to it all, there was a reasonably big, in-house, Christian argument that took place in the blogosphere. Jared Wilson from The Gospel Coalition posted a blog about a popular book.

However in that blog he chose some very poor words to communicate his point.  Furthermore he used a quote from Doug Wilson’s book “Fidelity” which either: with the absence of context, or just in and of it’s self was very offensive. And as you could imagine, this caused a massive blogging blowout.

Rachel Held-Evans, an author, speaker, and blogger, lead the charge. She, in my opinion, wrote an emotive but solid rebuttal, asking The Gospel Coalition to remove Jared Wilson’s post and issue an apology, which the eventually did.

However it wasn’t long before the debate, if it was ever that, turned into a mud slinging match between Wilson supporters and Held-Evans supporters. There was no (or very little) critical engagement with the issues, and I mean critical in the good sense of the word. The mud slinging turned into personal attacks, gross miss-representations, name calling, over the top stereo-typing that just went on and on and deeper and deeper into downright viciousness.

All of these commentators, people commenting on the blog posts, were Christians from what I can gather. And yet their comments and language were as far away from Christian behavior as can possibly be. In reality I don’t think Christians should debate online because they can’t do it in a Christian manner.

Firstly, I think the problem lies in the fact that any Joe Blogs can say anything they like without consequence. I imagine the majority of people commenting wouldn’t dare say the things they did if they had to say it to the other person’s face. You just don’t say those things. But in my room on the other side of the country, or globe I can say what I want and know that I am safe, I can leave the debate anytime.

Secondly, the content of an online argument doesn’t need to have any substance to it. I can say anything I want without any need to backup what I’m saying with facts and evidence. Online arguing is for the large part anonymous, so what’s going to happen to me if I do miss represent a view or stereotype someone? Nothing.

Thirdly, no matter how much we try, online we will always be 2D experience. We are only our written words, we are not tone, we are not body language, we are not volume. No matter how much bold font, or CAPITALS, or :)smiley faces:), or LOLs we use, it is our written words that others read and they read them how they want as do we read things how we want.

CHRISTIANS if you want to debate online, please please please, do it well. Maybe before you fire off that quick comment, imagine saying it to that blogger face to face with Jesus standing next to them. If you wouldn’t say what you’ve written face to face then don’t click send. It doesn’t glorify God, and it certainly does nothing for your Christian witness even if you use an alias like God-dude or God-chick.

Let me hop of my soap box by finishing with Jesus’ words to his followers, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35 NIV11

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7 thoughts on “Christians can’t debate online

  1. Great post Ben. I think you’re spot on re the issues of personal distance and lack of accountability. Such a pity if we can’t find a way to bridge this online as online allows such wide debate.

    1. Thanks Scott, I thank we can bridge this online debating, it’s called the moderate button. But we also need maturity when it comes to commenting, then we can have great, wide debates.

  2. Well put Ben. I have wanted to comment on a th post & realised that without tone or body language it was best to remain silent.

    1. Thanks Margaret for the comment. I think the trick when commenting is to keep it on topic and leave out the personal insults. We can engage content without body language or tone but when it becomes a personal mudslinging match that’s when all the tone and body language in the world won’t save you. And be assured blogging and commenting can be great fun.

  3. A timely word, Ben. When we were toilet-training our kids (a long time ago now!), they initially flushed the toilet every time they sat on it… whether a “deposit” was made or not. I chose to not correct this because I figured the greater, more desirable, outcome was flushing after each use. In this “online argument” topic/issue, I would like to see Christian people speaking even more. Okay, their arguments may not be so well-thought out or enunciated. And, yes, the reader may misunderstand content and/or intention. But like all new skills, it takes a while to develop effectiveness in e-communication. Who knows, maybe a first skill for readers will be the inquisitiveness to query meaning, and for writers a gracious valuing of diversity?

    1. Thanks Joe, absolutely. The online world isn’t going away and so it’s important for there to be a Christian voice. We should be encouraging people to engage etc, we all had to start (in my case still starting) somewhere. I think the main issue is when people use the anonymity of the online world to get away with things the never would in real life. Hate, insult, false accusation is not ok in the real world nor should it be online. We’re Christians wherever we are. So by all means engage in the debate but we need to remind ourselves we’re Christ’s ambassadors online and offline.

  4. I think this is a really good addition to the internet. I do not think it just applies to Christians, but everyone. So many people these days are so obsessed with having their say, and often on the net begin an argument they have no intention of finishing, but just to stir up conversation and often anger. I find on the internet more so it is becoming easier for Christians to fall into sin with their words, which often gives a really bad image of Christianity. I once read this argument with many people involved regarding a statement supporting evolution. The argument escalated and eventuated in someone who had supported creation stating very negative personal attacks on the person who began the argument with their statement on evolution. The attacks also included accusations that the person who made the initial statement was going to hell. The person who had started the argument had not made any personal attacks, instead had just stated ‘facts’ that most people use to ‘support’ the whole evolution story. After this occurred the person who had started this discussion stated they were Christian, believed in creation and was looking for arguments to use against evolution. I think he was surprised by the reaction he received. I just found it quite interesting and also dissapointing that the people who are supposed to be the ambassadors of God are the ones who personally attacked their brother/sister.

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