As Christmas approaches, most people look for ways to show kindness and charity. We may slip some change in the Salvation Army bucket outside the grocery store, buy gifts for a needy child, or bake cookies for a lonely neighbor.
But have you put thought into how you can show more charity online, especially with other Christians? Instead of getting into yet another Twitter fight or angry Facebook thread, let’s try to be more gracious to each other.
I believe these six steps can help us have a charitable interpretation of the words and deeds of others and demonstrate to the watching world that Christians can disagree about serious issues, but do so in love.
1. Assume the best–
How often do you automatically assume those who disagree with you do so because of some fault? They don’t love others like I do.They don’t care about the Bible like I do.
Instead, why not give them the benefit of the doubt? Go into the discussion believing the other person has a heart for people and God’s Word. Proceed from that starting point and the conversation may go much differently.
2. Speak honestly–
On several occasions, I read posts that were purportedly disagreeing with my viewpoint, but I could not recognize my opinion in their words. My position was being caricatured instead of being given a fair hearing. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences.
We should work to convey the convictions of others with honesty. The sign of someone truly confident in their position is the ability to fairly present the arguments of their opponents and then, and only then, demonstrate why you disagree with them.
3. Be personable, not personal–
The easiest way to attack is to go after the person making the argument. But if we actually want to dialogue and have a discussion, then we need to deal with the issues being presented, not the ones presenting them.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to remember those on the opposing side of an issue are actual people. They are more than pixels on a screen. When you call some a heretic over a third tier issue, you aren’t doing so to a Twitter account. You are literally telling an individual person created in God’s image that they are outside of the faith. That is not something to be done flippantly.
4. Don’t enflame emotions–
How easy is it to go over the top online with emotional language? It comes so natural and we get rewarded for it. Calm, measured tweets don’t often get retweets. Fair, loving blog posts don’t frequently go viral.
We elicit temporary gains with bomb-throwing – increased web traffic and nods of approval from those on our side among other things. But in the long term, the scorched earth can leave us with very little worth having after the fires have died down.
5. Step away from social media–
Smugness and sarcasm come fairly easy online. Conveying deep theological concepts? Consistently displaying love to those who disagree with you? Those are much harder to do and almost impossible to do in short social media posts.
For those of us who enjoy social media, this can be difficult. But sometimes the best thing we can do is put down the phone and step away from the argument before we say something we will (or should) regret.
6. Pray for each other–
How often do we stop and pray for those with whom we disagree? No, not like how the Pharisee prayed for the tax collector. Not prayers where we thank God we’re not like thosepeople.
I have to believe if we stopped and prayed for the person we see as our enemy, we won’t see them in that light much longer. If we are praying for God to work in their life, reveal more of Himself to them, bless the work they are doing for Him, encourage them in their faith, we might start seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ.
There is always another Twitter fight around the corner. Someone will say something you disagree with on Facebook tomorrow. I am holding out hope it will be different this time. My prayer is that Christians will choose to be Christlike.
May 1 Peter 4:8 echo through our conversations despite disagreements. “Above all, maintain constant love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends. He is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared at numerous sites, including The Washington Post, World Magazine, and Think Christian.