Anger, Christianity and Twitter (Matthew 5:22)

Okay, this post isn’t really looking at a specific Bible passage as normal, but I need to write this. Maybe it’s because it’s something I think Christians need to grapple with immediately, maybe because it’s something that exposes my own weaknesses, but either way I need to get it out there.

Yesterday, I was watching the TV show Come Dine With Me, a competition where four disparate strangers cook meals for each other and vote for the best. And because this is reality TV it has elements of the freakshow about it.

Anyway, one of the contestants was introduced singing in a church choir, and during her meal she insisted on starting with a prayer and singing a hymn. Uncomfortable for her guests, sure, but the best was yet to come as she embarked on what looked unpleasantly like bullying one of the other guests. Sure it was ‘justified’, because she always “Tells it like it is”, but whatever her defence, it still resulted in one of those cringe-worthy where Christianity gets…

I was going to say “misrepresented” but I can’t. Because this sort of thing keeps happening. On TV we could write it off as selective editing to create the juiciest story, but communication technology has moved on. Now people expose their lack of love and grace directly, without the excuse of a filter.

And so one of my favourite comic book writers was called an “ignorant fool” this morning, because she disagrees with a particular Christian’s stance on an issue. I’m not going to say what that issue was, because I don’t want this post to become a debate over a specific talking point. I’m not suggesting that people aren’t allowed to disagree with each other – I believe in freedom of speech, even if I don’t agree with you – but I’d suggest that calling someone an ignorant fool is far from being a good witness. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What makes this worse, what really set me off, was that fifteen minutes earlier, the Tweeter in question had written a nice piece about how he’d been saved by Christ and his life had been changed. Which is awesome, but there’s a painful disconnect between the two tweets posted within minutes of each other.

And I was going to jump in. I was going to question this guy’s attitude and go in all guns blazing, because I like the writer who was under attack, I respect her interactions with her fans, and I didn’t want her to get the wrong impression of Christians.

In rushing to defend my point of view, I was ready to be snarky and judgemental. Heck, I’ve done it before; attack a writer I like and I’ll get mad; attack the Prime Minister in a funny way and I’ll give you a retweet. This whole situation exposes my hypocrisy as much as anyone else’s. Not that I think I’ll ever agree with this government’s policies, but like I said, calling an individual a fool isn’t the best witness.

The Bible verse that came to mind is Matthew 5:22: “But anyone who says “You fool!” will be in danger of the fires of hell.” Jesus is emphasising that anger and mockery are dangerous things, as dangerous as the ‘big’ sins.

This is a key verse for social media. Back when Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, giving in to your anger and calling someone an idiot wasn’t particularly public, witnessed only by people within earshot and those who heard the gossip about it later. And yet that was bad enough for Jesus to make that point I just quoted.

Nowadays if you want to attack someone you can do it on social media – call someone a fool on Twitter or Facebook and it’s not a relatively private thing, it’s out there to be seen by thousands of people, and it’s permanent, because even if you delete it, someone somewhere may have cached the message. God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west, but Google doesn’t. If you lash out at someone, it can potentially been seen by around a third of the world’s population. Exaggeration? No, that’s just the internet for you.

So any time someone goes online and calls someone a fool because they somehow think they’re standing up for Jesus, they do so in the shadow of the cross, and they do so in an environment where a mistake or an angry moment can be seen forever. It becomes just another piece of evidence that all Christians are judgemental and bigoted and angry. And people turn away from Jesus because, well, they might respect him as an historical figure, but why should they follow him – look at how his followers treat ‘outsiders’. Look at how his followers treat each other.

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Ouch.

One of Jesus’s main bugbears was hypocrisy that drives people from God. Double ouch.

Of course, often lashing out is hidden in terms of defending the faith, of standing up for what we believe in the face of opposition. But that’s the thing – no-one’s saying don’t debate, no-one’s saying don’t disagree, no-one’s saying you have to compromise your beliefs. But it’s the attitude in which these things are expressed that’s the problem.

Because all this talk of witness and social media is about the external stuff, and there’s no point sorting out the external when the internal is still screwed up. If our initial reaction is to show anger, not love, is to show hatred instead of grace, then something’s wrong and it needs fixing before Christianity gets wounded by any more friendly fire incidents. Jesus works less through angry tweets and more through fixing hearts. In an ever-more connected world, that’s a lesson the church needs to learn – that I need to learn – all over again.