How to Have #CivilDiscourse Online
Christians often struggle with the disease of terminal niceness. We avoid conflict, shy away from hard conversations, smile and say we're fine when we're not. Somehow, the core message of Jesus has been replaced with a sort of bland commitment to niceness.
On the Internet, people are accountable for their behavior in very different ways than we are in person. Because we are likely to surround ourselves in real life with people who tend to think and believe the same way we do, it is often the case that we only stumble upon opinions very different from our own when we are online. And because we are behind a computer screen and not across a table from another person, we can sometimes allow the very worst parts of us to have free rein. Dallas Willard once wrote, "Feelings make excellent servants, but terrible masters," and this is just as true about the state of our online discourse. If I read something I disagree with and follow my feelings to respond, I am prone to be concerned with things like proving I am right. But to follow the example of Jesus, whose confidence was in the character of God and not in what anyone else thought of him, I have to be willing to let go of my own emotional response.
To that end, I've been trying to walk through five thoughts each time I feel compelled to respond quickly online. They are principles rooted not in the desire to be right or to be heard, but to be faithful and patient—to recognize and pursue the fruits of the spirit everywhere, especially in our lives online.
1. Don't assume the role of the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit that convicts, searches, and sanctifies us in the mysterious community of the Trinity. The good news for us is that we are freed from the burden of having to draw doctrinal lines in the sand or deciding which sins are worse than others. That's simply not our job, and to pretend that it is denies the work of the Holy Spirit. If we read a blogger with whom we disagree, it is not our job to point out where we think they have gone wrong and strong-arm them back to orthodoxy.
2. Check in with your own spirit.
Is it bitter? Angry? Calm? This one may seem like a given, but as someone who has written for a variety of Christian outlets, I can tell you from experience there are some people who are quick to respond from a place of self-righteousness rather than a posture of learning–myself included, at times.