6 Ways to be More Charitable Online
As several incidents have recently revealed, there are deep rifts between different groups who claim to be evangelical over how we interpret the Bible, particularly those passages dealing with homosexuality.
Perhaps even more troubling, recent events also brought to the surface a different kind of interpretation problem, one that crosses both sides of this issue. We have forgotten how to interpret one another’s words charitably.
The World Vision move to change their hiring practices to accept individuals in legal same-sex marriages, which ironically was said to come from a desire to promote unity, brought those bubbling tensions to the surface and placed these differences in an emotionally charged atmosphere.
After only a few days, World Vision announced a change back to their previous stance of not hiring those in same-sex marriages. Everyone got whiplash, but some decided to get in some lashes of their own.
Those who opposed the initial move were said to hate homosexuals more than they cared about helping starving children. This clearly showed their obsession with that issue.
Those who opposed the subsequent change were said to love sin more than they cared about following Scripture. This clearly showed their disinterest in what the Bible says about that issue.
This was not the finest moment of Evangelicalism. The reputation and work of a long-respected relief organization was severely damaged and our often ugly in-fighting was put on display for all to see.
This debate is not going away. While we are discussing World Vision and Mozilla today, we were discussing Chick-fil-A and Duck Dynasty yesterday. There will be something else tomorrow. This is the new reality.
Because we will face this again, and most likely sooner rather than later, I want to propose some guidelines as we attempt to navigate our rapidly changing world, while remaining faithful to Scripture and our convictions.
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 we automatically presume those who disagree with us 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 don’t we give them the benefit of the doubt? Go in to 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 those on the other sides 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 those arguments are wrong.
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 “Farewell” someone from Christianity, you aren’t doing so to a Twitter account. You are literally telling an individual person 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. Stop tweeting – With 140 characters, you can be snarky, smug and sarcastic fairly easily. Conveying deep theological concepts? Displaying love consistently to those who disagree with you? Those are much harder to do and almost impossible to do over Twitter.
For many 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 Twitter arguments.
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 those people.
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.
While I am sure the next moment in this cultural discussion is coming, I am holding out hope it will be different this time. My prayer is that it will not mimic the previous ones.
Before it even happens, I’m praying Christians will implement a charitable interpretation of others and display how there can be love in the Church even when we differ.
May 1 Peter 4:8 echo through our conversations despite disagreements. “Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins.”