Does Your Social Media Outrage Bear False Witness?

What we post on social media can take on a life of its own

Christians wouldn’t murder someone they disagree with in the name of standing for the truth. Yet some believers use social media to assassinate an individual’s character, going far beyond the critique of a specific action or words. As James writes, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10).

 

In the wake of devastating floods in Houston, social media—including conservative Christians—spread word that Joel Osteen’s 16,800-seat Lakewood Church turned away people who sought shelter. Many believers called the polarizing megachurch pastor a hypocrite.

“This jives perfectly with his behavior during Katrina. What would Jesus do @JoelOsteen. He’d open the doors (and also turn over the tables),” one woman tweeted.

“You’re not Christian. Failing to help those in need, come your judgment day, how will you explain your actions to the Lord? Shame on you,” another posted.

What we post on social media can take on a life of its own. The matter feels urgent, so we hastily type rebuttals. Veiled as zeal for truth, we run to our computers and phones to adjust error and admonish the man who got it all wrong. Any public misstep can be called out to legions of our followers who, in turn, can pass on the public rebuke to their followers.

With so many people agreeing with us, confidence grows that we have chosen a worthy battle.

Love Truth, Hate People?

It felt good and right to call out Joel Osteen, but was it true? Did it honor the Lord?

The truth is Lakewood Church itself had sustained flooding. At the time of the backlash, only three people had requested assistance from the church, and they got it. Considering this, how often do we tweet retractions when we’ve posted something we assumed was true but turned out to be false? Have we considered that as surely as we know others’ words and actions have consequences, so do ours?

In Scripture, the point of rebuke is correction and, if necessary, repentance. But this goal often seems lost when we log on to our computer. On social media, public rebuke can seek to shame or discredit. As friends like or retweet our thoughts, our reprimand toward another can fester into outrage.

Maybe they had it coming? Perhaps they said or wrote something horribly wrong. After all, if you speak publicly, it’s only fair to be rebuked publicly, right? I used to think this was true, even biblical. But what happens when we pass on information we cannot possibly confirm? Will we place a kind intent on their words as we read them, or are we quick to assume the worst motives?

As Ed Stetzer writes, “It seems some Christians hate Joel Osteen more than they love the truth. I’d expect that from the world, but I hoped for better in the church.”

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