Those of us who have a ministry of writing are usually pretty tough folks. Many of us have been in the combat zone for quite a while and can take almost anything that is said by readers of our articles. This short is more about my embarrassment for all of us who are web-interactive Christians than it is for my own hide. In short, I’m appealing for etiquette characteristic of believers in reader’s responses to articles, blog entries, and social media posts.
When reading through responses on social media, various blogs and faith-based forums, I often wonder if those who are outside the faith are looking on. What do they think about the sometimes mean and vindictive words that are used? Or what do new believers think? When they read that tart, angry or demeaning language, are they really being helped toward Christ? If it doesn’t smell good to us, it certainly is rancorous to the alert souls looking over our shoulders. At best they find comfort for their own acrimony in our unguarded words; at worst, they reject our beliefs as those which produce little change in a person.
Sadly, a collection of the extant social media, blog and forum comments (which would fill up the Vatican and a Wal-Mart or two as well) is both a tribute to and an indictment of many of our more courageous late-night wordsmiths. With all the good that is being done, and all the spiritual gifts that are coming out through writing, much that is counter-Christian in tone spoils the pudding. The reality is that all our entries are extant to God.
When you read responses from professing believers, you expect a distinctively Christian tone to be heard in the words used. In most cases, we are not enemies but brothers, seeking to work out the truth. But, frankly, believers should not respond even to their enemies the way some do. You certainly should not write your comments to Christian writers or fellow bloggers like you intend to bruise them with your words. You should not write so as to put down the person. Rather, love for Christ and for brothers or sisters should be reflected in kindness and respect, even when you disagree. You should attempt to write with the spirit we expect in our children when they disagree with us.
I don’t mean to say that you cannot be clever, but there is no excuse for being ruthless, even when you oppose. For one thing, you hardly win anybody over that way. If you intend to persuade, you must use, as Solomon told us, a little honey. Mary Poppins sang good practical theology in the words, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
Don’t expect that the author of the piece you are responding to intended to say everything that can be said about the subject. That’s unrealistic. Nobody does that in short articles or blog entries. Realizing that authors must be selective is helpful when considering what needs to be pointed out to everyone in your responses. In most cases, you should keep your comments to what he or she has chosen to write about and not everything else that could have been said. Try to understand what he means and not just what was written, even if you could nail the author on a technicality.
It is certainly not courteous to be long and tedious with your observations and advice. Some quote volumes of verses one after another to make their points, pummeling the writer with text after text. I’m for the authority of Scripture, but this is not Christian water-boarding. Some rejoinders are even longer than the original piece under consideration. Perhaps they think they will overcome the writer with their many words, but when I see those long arguments, I usually skip over them. I’m sure most others do as well. Such lengthy pontifications are rarely read, in fact.
Some responders cover their own pet agenda time after time, and it almost makes no difference what the original article is about. When given a chance they make a bee-line for that one issue that most concerns them. On a certain website where my articles sometimes appear I can almost always count on two writers to press their warmed-over points. They’ve got them down pat and hope to wear everyone down so that we all will finally come over to their viewpoint. But, sadly, they often argue into the air. I don’t believe most people even read their particular comments any more. But these two do read each other’s. They sometimes carry on a spirited feud right in front of our eyes! It isn’t thoughtful of them to use the response space for their favorite subjects, or for bloodbaths between them on issues that are not germane to the point at hand. I find myself almost always unappreciative of such deadening, spirit-killing, doctrinaire diatribes.
All of this does not mean that we should never disagree in writing, but we should do so thoughtfully, with respect. Before writing, read over the original piece once again and see if the author missed his point so obviously. If so, take the apostle Paul’s lead and tell the writer something good about the article or entry first before probing into deeper waters. Think of how Paul begins most of his letters.
Finally, for those less verbal ones who read and benefit from what is written, try your hand at responding to the articles from time to time. Get into the conversation. Be specific about some helpful line or point made. Ask appropriate questions. Make sensitive points, if you disagree, with charity. Do it all to edify and to encourage others to love Christ more from what is being written. Seek the unity of believers and not their harm. You might even pray as you write. Disarm them with kindness. It will open many hearts and minds.
Some authors writing for various ministries might wish to entertain all reactions of any stripe, helpful or unhelpful, just as long as people are at least indicating that they are reading. The number of hits is paramount. I know what they are thinking, and there is some merit to the idea. In my view, no perceived value, however, is more imperative than being Christian in all that we do or say. As Paul taught us, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God.”
Copyright © Jim Elliff 2008; revised 2018, 2021