We are almost all online. One way or another, God’s chosen people are making use of the technology that this age has brought us. And yet with that use has come, I fear, a lack of reflection. As Christians, we tend to talk a lot about the Internet – what should and should not be accessible on it and how we should or should not handle that – but not about who we are on the Internet. In what ways does our faith inform our technology?
Or, more to the point: how do we behave like Christians on the internet?
Here’s a helpful list:
1). Mind your words. James’ dictate about taming the tongue also applies to taming the fingers. Think before you type. If you wouldn’t say it out loud, don’t write it down on a website/Facebook post/blog for all to see. Avoid cruel and hurtful language. Avoid gossip, backbiting, and slander. Don’t lie. Don’t troll.
2). Avoid boasting, self-righteousness, and arrogance. Let me start out with this: it’s good and fine to share your life online if your motives are good. We share photos of our vacations with family and close friends; people we love post announcements about new houses, new babies, and new marriages on Facebook. Sharing joy is not bad; sharing things in an effort to make others feel bad, or to inflate your own ego, is a problem. When it comes to what you share, all I’m saying is that it’s good to examine your motives. And if you feel good about them, share away.
3.) Avoid plagiarism. When possible, try to attribute quotations and information. Using quotes and words that aren’t yours is plagiarism and it’s a form of deception; you don’t want anyone to think you thought these things up yourself! A quick Google search should reveal the source of the quote you want to use, and if that doesn’t work, find some way to indicate anyway that the quote isn’t yours.
4.) Flee from envy and covetousness. If looking at other people’s lives makes you wish yours was different, flee from Facebook. If Pinterest is sowing dissatisfaction and discontent in your heart, get off the site. Some people struggle when they’re confronted with the idealized lives they see on social media websites and blogs, and if you’re one of them, don’t subject yourself to that conflict!
5.) Disengage. We are called by God to behave exceptionally well so that those who oppose us will have nothing bad to say about us. Unfortunately, some of the online behavior I’ve seen from Christians who engage in arguments about religion and spiritual matters is far from graceful and far from exceptional. We are called to act in love – always. We are called to treat others as Jesus would – always. And if we can’t do that online – if things get heated or we get angry or upset – then it’s best to walk away.
6.) Don’t waste your speech. The Bible calls us to treat our language with care. We are not to use it in abuse – and inversely, we are supposed to use it for good. We cannot be casual with our language online. And I would venture that a careless “praying for you!” or “bless you” or “Jesus saves!” thrown away without thought or further prayer can do as much harm as a hurtful word. We must be mindful of what we say. If you type to someone that you are praying, pray. If you want to engage with someone about Christ, engage – a like on Facebook might be a start, but it isn’t enough. We must always be willing to go the extra mile, and to not convince ourselves that a well-placed emoji is the sum total of what we can do for our fellow human beings.
7.) Don’t forget the real world. Online activity can quickly become a bubble where the only people we hear, read, and see are people who are just like us. And time spent online, while often useful and rewarding, can – like anything else – become a drain that sucks us away from what’s important. Balance your time wisely and use it well!
These guidelines aren’t comprehensive, but surely they are a start for Christians trying to embrace God’s word in the cyber-realm – and the younger we learn them, the better off we’ll be.
I’m away on vacation for the next couple of weeks. Please feel free to comment on or respond to the posts; I’ll certainly get back to you when I return!