Over the last several weeks, I have watched with a heavy heart as social media has exploded with blog posts, tweets, and Facebook comments regarding the actions of a high profile leader within the Southern Baptist denomination. Other key decisions surrounding the Southern Baptist’s annual convention, specifically the speech given by Mike Pence, led to further division which flowed over into social media. It was disheartening to watch brothers and sisters in the family of Christ be divided and then become what we call in my family “picky chickens” (chickens are known to peck each other to death).
Brothers and sisters in Christ were dividing over personal feelings and allegiances. They divided over personal preferences. They divided over the circumstances. Division itself, in the right context, may not be unreasonable and in some cases may be necessary. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that much of what was shared via social media carried a sentiment of anger coupled with possibly a hint of revenge. In some cases the attitude of what was shared seemed to be haughty (pride) under the guise of righteous indignation. I was left wondering, were these conversations and opinions born from righteousness or a response of anger fueled by a tinge of retribution?
As Pandora’s box opened, commentary regarding politics, race, and gender began to surface. Suddenly, it felt like the conversation at hand was spiraling out of control. While, this type of free flowing banter might be an acceptable practice at a family dinner table where life can be hashed out and participation is limited to the immediate family, the issues at hand were being aired to a much wider audience. With the advent of social media, gone is the day of private family matters, and here to stay are conversations that will inevitably take place in the public square where the world would have a front row seat.
While the world watches and hears our conversation, it cannot fully understand the complexity of our political, racial, sexual, and gender views as Christians. How could they? As Christians, our identity in Christ always comes first. An identity in Christ is something that the world does not share. Yet, what the world could understand was a group of “set apart ones” behaving no different than themselves (the world) in their social media responses. The world understands revenge (a skewed form of righteousness) but what it fails to understand is redemption. Redemption is deeply attractive to a world in need. As Christians our response to any aspect of the fallen-ness of this life should always be redemptive in nature, extend forgiveness, and where and when appropriate, seek restoration.
As followers of Jesus, we should strive to mirror our Savior’s heart of kindness and truth (Proverbs 3:3-4) in any and every response to life. No matter how complex, grey, or impossible the situation, Jesus always held kindness and truth in perfect tension! We as Christians should strive to model his example! Our motivation for speaking out should always be Biblical, in a word, redemptive. It should always point to the greatness of our Savior and not the righteousness of our opinion (John 3:30). Our actions and our words should highlight the humility found in the redemption and restoration of the cross and not the pride that flows from revenge and self-righteousness of our fallen hearts.
This leads to a myriad of questions:
What should be our first response to the failure of leadership? How can we keep our heart (and our pen) from running away from us? How can we distinguish ourselves from movements such as the “me too movement,” feminism, right vs. left, and the “victim” mentality that seems to plague our society? How can we not only distinguish ourselves from the prevailing culture’s response to fallen individuals (e.g. Matt Laur, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, etc…), but rise above it and speak into it? Are Christian’s to be purveyors of shame and fear or people of faith that have obtained victory in a dark and dying world? How can we be ambassadors of Christ who, when we speak, reflect Christ?
These lead us back to the main question: how can we be a people of restoration and not revenge regarding our use of social media and current issues?
Let me offer four “Christian” responses to failure:
(1) A Heart for Redemption and Restoration (no one’s perfect) vs. Revenge
The apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 13:11 to aim for restoration. In Galatians 5, he says to gently restore one caught in transgression. Restore means to mend, repair or make useful again. Cannot fallen men and women be restored and used by God again? If they cannot, the cross of Christ is void. Depending on circumstances wisdom dictates that those who have fallen will not always be able to return to their former positions.
We must be diligent to check our human impulse to throw stones in the midst of our perceived righteous anger, and instead remember that Jesus’ ultimate goal is to redeem and restore. We must also remember that God as a righteous judge will be just; for our part, may we reflect his mercy.
We must chose to align with our Savior’s heart and will for our lives. 2 Corinthians 5:18 tells us that Christ reconciled us to himself, not counting our trespasses against us and entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation.
(2) Point to the Reconciling Work of Christ on the Cross vs. Reveling in the Fallen-ness of Man
Often those who have been accused of failure do not “own” that failure. This leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths and makes us want to cry out louder for justice and judgment. The world and those that live in it are fallen. We should not be surprised when perfection is missed. So how do we reconcile, the irreconcilable? We don’t; God does. Where does this leave us? Perhaps the silver lining of others perceived failure is an opportunity for self-reflection which acknowledges that we too are not perfect in this fallen world. Instead of focusing on where others have missed the mark, may we not ask ourselves if there is an area that we need to take action either on a personal level or from a leadership perspective?
Perhaps we need to take Jesus’ advice in Matthew 7:5 a little more literally and “remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
(3) Promote Prayer vs. Public Shame
Instead of arguing and proving points on social media perhaps our time would be better invested in prayer. We are called to pray in everything. We are even called to pray for our enemies. Prayer above all else has a way of aligning our heart with God’s heart. Pray for the person. Pray for the issue. Pray before you post. Pray. Prayer has a unique way of slowing down the picking up of stones.
(4) Pursue Peace vs. Fuel Division
We live in a culture that is fueled by polarization. For the culture at large, if news is to be sensational, then it must be polarizing. As Christians we have been promised that the gospel will be polarizing. Would it not be a blessing if as Christians our newsfeeds and posts would be less hostile and more kind for the sake of the gospel.
While we may differ in opinions, let this not cause worldly divisions that hinder our unity in Christ. Let our views be found from the word of God and not our own preferences, ideologies or rights.
The Psalmist writes, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers (and sisters) to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down up on the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing – life forever.” Psalm 133
So what is the proper Christian response to failure? We the forgiven and redeemed should be the last to throw stones. We should first look to the plank in our own eye. We should pray more. We should reflect peace to a lost and dying world. We must choose to reflect the kindness of Jesus in our deeds and words while like Jesus graciously upholding the truth of God’s will “go and sin no more.”