For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak – Ecclesiastes 3:7b
Recently, I’ve found myself trying to be wise and use discernment on when to speak up and when to shut up on social media on a number of important issues, including sexuality, doctrine and politics. Do you ever struggle with this? Do you ever see something posted on Twitter or Facebook that is contrary to your view and you feel compelled to enter into the discussion, whether it is “liking” or retweeting a comment, or adding your own comment? In general, I think that people are likely to post comments on social media that they might never say to your face. Have we become addicted to outrage?
The issues mentioned above are ones in which there is a great deal of diversity of thought and passion among Christians. How can we represent Christ well in our interactions online? When should we speak up and when is it better to shut up? I want to have a teachable, not a critical spirit, here.
Some months back I wrote an article “Confessions of a (Recovering) Elder Brother”. In that article I wrote about doctrinal pride and a critical or judgmental spirit, both of which are problems for me when I read something posted on social media that I disagree with on an issue that is important to me.
I am an elder in my church. 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 lists qualifications for elders, several of which are applicable to how I engage on social media. These include such things as being self-controlled, respectful, not quarrelsome and well thought of by outsiders (those outside of the church). Titus 1: 5-9 adds that elders are to be disciplined and not quick-tempered. I have to keep these qualifications in mind as I go about my social media communications on “hot button” issues.
Thomas Kidd has written that online communication is uniquely susceptible to bad judgments and overreactions. His suggestion is that you should wait to respond when you feel irritated or provoked. If you are getting ready to send a tweet, e-mail, or other message that has any potential to be misinterpreted or damaging if not handled correctly, wait before sending. He tells us that just a bit more time and perspective can save us from saying some really stupid things.
I was recently helped in this area by watching this roundtable discussion on “How to Disagree” with Tim Keller, Michael Horton and Matt Chandler. They stress the importance of relationship, and also not assuming “slippery slope” intentions on others. I would also add that we should not assume someone’s public silence is tacit agreement.
So let’s start with some clear cut examples. When to speak up? Adam in the garden of Eden. He would have saved us a world of hurt!
When to shut up? Maxwell the Geico spokespig:
I think I’ll get all Likes and Thumbs Up on those examples. But it would be nice to have some guiding principles when your finger is poised on the ‘Post’ button.
- In an article by Jonathan Parnell he states, “… all Christians should stand up and tell it like they see it. Let the chips fall where they will. Don’t worry if the public doesn’t even agree with your most basic assumptions. Your job is not to win. Your job is not to control this society. Your job is to say what God wants said.
The Bible says that the law of God is written on the heart of every person (Romans 1:32; 2:15). It says that everyone is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). There is reason to believe, then, that your witness to the truth — about abortion, or any other issue — will trigger something deep inside of people.”
- Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6
- First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller
- Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9
- If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back. – Proverbs 29: 9, 11
- James tells us that the tongue is a fire (James 3:6). On this verse, the Reformation Study Bible tells us “An uncontrolled tongue is likened to a fire that rages out of control. Evil speech (including blasphemy, gossip, slander, lying, false vows, and the like) has the power to spoil, stain, and corrupt the entire moral character of a person”.
- Tim Keller writes in his book God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, “According to Jesus, all words – good and bad – are indicators of our heart”. He goes on to state “An abrasive tongue, a lying tongue, a foolish tongue – all of these are signs of a person who has resentment, dishonesty, and pride in his or her own heart”.
These tips from Scripture, and some wise leaders can help us to be wise in determining whether we should speak up or shut up. What other thoughts do you have on this subject?