Communicating Faith On Digital Platforms
Personal blog post by Ben Elliott
Most of us have done it. We’ve read something online that we fundamentally disagree with and 'snap respond' with a reply, pouring fuel to the flame and now there’s an inferno. Was it necessary? Did it achieve anything? More importantly, did our response imitate Christ?
I’d never really considered my role as a Christian online until Brexit. I engaged in debate and I was enthusiastic in the articulation of my argument. On referendum result day I was horrified, on my knees in tears and screaming out. In that moment I felt as though part of my identity was due to be stripped from me, my children’s future robbed by a small majority of my fellow citizens, and the prospect of severed ties with Europe appeared like absolute madness to me. In my anguish I snapped. I said things online that weren't wise, weren't considered and did not reflect the image and example of Jesus.
I started to grieve for the nation and our loss and tried my best to love those for whom I strongly disagreed with. I never expected to be someone who would snap and say inappropriate things online and it was insightful to me that the significance of the brexit vote had had on me - drawing out some of the worst elements of my character. I've moved on a lot in the months since and I've certainly learnt to put my trust and identity in Christ, knowing that my identity is secure in Him.
So what things must we watch out for as we, as Christians, bare witness to others online? This relates to any topic and is general good practice for our interactions online.
ONE: Our actions are noted
Be wary. When we physically speak maybe it’s only a friend/family member/colleague who hears your words. It is not the same on social networks. Your digital footprint means the world can see your status’s for years to come. This is far beyond your Facebook friends. Prospective employers will look at your profile and if you breach lines of conduct you could even find your comments could bring you to court. A heat of the moment tweet or crass joke has resulted in some people loosing their job or finding themselves in jail.
TWO: Never say something online that you wouldn’t to someones face
It’s common sense but it’s true. When we communicate face to face we use body language and carefully (often subconsciously) craft the intonation of our voice when delivering our thoughts and opinions. When we remove those elements our perspectives, in written form, are open to interpretations - mostly in a negative respect - so be wise. If something really has 'ticked you off' and you feel it is inappropriate, have a face to face conversation with that person or unfollow them if needs be. Don’t be a ‘barker’ take a deep breath and reach out or step back positively.
THREE: Speak in a universal language
We read the bible and sometimes we have expressions which quite frankly are alien to most people outside of church, and we can come across as plain strange. Try to avoid religious terminology, write in a way that anyone can easily grasp what you’re saying. Jesus did just this by speaking in parables that enabled the marginalised to approach and gather round him. He made his message accessible to everyone and that is something we need to do.
FOUR: Respect opinions
I always love the way Alpha’s Nicky Gumbul would say “how interesting”. This is the response he gives when anything that is said is something we may disagree with. Use the opposing thoughts of others as openings for conversations. Respect them and validate them as people. Ranting at someone is never going to change their opinion and it only serve to categorise you in their eyes.
FIVE: Don’t do the rant
You read something that you totally disagree with, your heart pounds, you can’t believe what they are saying. Don’t take the bait. Breathe, then choose to either let it go, plan to speak with them face to face about this, or write a response separately, reading it back a couple of hours later or ask someone else for their opinion on your response before posting it.
During and after Brexit I was shocked, saddened and deeply hurt by some people’s thoughts to our departure from the EU. I jumped in and challenged what I saw as ignorant and misguided views. I barked. Has this helped? Nope. Should I just have spoken with these people? Yes. I need to understand their reasoning and lovingly engage my brothers and sisters so we can move forward and work harmoniously to love others in a Christ like way.
SIX: Be clear
Don’t leave things open to interpretation. Don’t force anything upon anyone, invite them to interact with your communication.
SEVEN: Try and create common ground, rather than building walls
We live in an age where some would use religion to separate us. Christ called us out of the religious institutes and to go to those who are cast down in society. Those who use religion to drive hate and prejudice are in no way serving as an example of Christ. Go forth and spread the word. Love your neighbour and love your enemy. Sadly Christianity is sometimes used by war mongers to create fear where in fact Christ championed and destroyed fear itself. Let's build bridges.
EIGHT: Elevate, empower and offer hope
Social networks allow us to share any aspect of ourselves with the world. We have become our own media outlets and what we choose to broadcast can have a long lasting impact.
Recently I saw Christians opposing other Christians online when they marched in protest against Donald Trump and his attitudes towards women. This was heartbreaking to witness. We may have different perspectives to our brothers and sisters, but it’s not right to publicly mock and discourage them, and why would someone outside of church want to join a community that seemingly hate each other?
Let’s be clear, casting opinions against others on social media is the same as standing on a large stage, pointing at that individual and declaring your perspective in front of all of your friends, family, colleagues and theirs. Would you actually do that? There are very few of us that would.
Don’t become the self appointed judge on that self maintained stage. Be a friend willing to listen and love.
NINE: Let love be the language
We need to reflect Christ in all we do and our digital activity is no different. Our peers notice how we behave in the world. They see us do charity, how we act at work, how we love our families. They also see how this is then communicated online and how we choose to broadcast our activities, opinions and thoughts.
We need to let love be the language. After all "love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 New International Version).
Social networks allow us to reveal more of our private life than ever before. We offer the world an insight to who we are, and the world watches. Let's make sure they see Jesus through the windows we choose to open. Let's be the light to the world, the city on a hill ("You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house" - Mathew 5:14).
The ways in which we can now choose to communicate are more varied than ever and whether you have a faith or not, how we stand for what we believe and defend the rights of those for whom we disagree with, allows freedom to reign and when our journey here is done we can hope to say we 'ran a good race'.
Ben is a Director of Social We Talk and a follower of Jesus. We work with a wide variety of companies, charities and organisations and this blog is written from his personal perspective and are his opinions alone.