I have friends who are of a variety of faiths or no faith at all. I have friends who are sold out to their political party – to the Right, the Left, and those in between – as well as friends who want nothing to do with politics. I have friends who have been hurt by prejudice and racism and others who struggle with judging others based on their culture, gender, or ethnicity. I have friends who are pet lovers and others who find life much happier without a feathered or furry friend. I have friends who are married and others who are single – either by divorce or loss of a spouse. I have friends who are straight and others who identify as LGBTQ. I have friends who have had children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren and others who have decided not to have children at all.
I am both blessed and challenged by these relationships. They force me to think outside of the box and understand that I live in a world where there is beauty in variety and richness in knowing others unlike myself. There is a kaleidoscope of people whom I appreciate, welcome, and admire – people with whom I enjoy sharing life and its diversity—but also people with whom I sometimes vehemently disagree.
Facebook can be a wonderful “place” to gather with all of my friends in one location. There is an opportunity for dialogue—to share our ideas, our beliefs, ourselves. In doing so, however, we place these things in a public forum and open ourselves to judgment. Given guidance from Scripture to “Love your neighbor as yourself . . . Honor one another above yourselves . . . Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” does this obligate those of us who profess to be followers of Christ to pause and carefully choose words that uplift rather than tear down—to offer reconciliation rather than judgment?
I would be lying if I claimed to never be tempted to post a comment, cartoon, or essay that would offer a “zinger” of a response, “dropping the mic” with my personal bias without any concern given to those who may be wounded. If I caved to those impulses, would my action offer an opportunity for respectful and thoughtful exchange . . . or would it simply be an aggressive and careless statement without regard for someone struggling or finding identity with the very issues I flippantly malign? If I choose to engage in social media, should my intention be about feeling self-satisfied or encouraging important conversations?
Politics, sexuality, race, religion . . . the list goes on. I personally believe these topics can and should be discussed in a positive and respectful manner – with allowance for difference of opinion. There is great potential for learning, understanding, and tolerance to take place. Sadly, most of what occurs has no resemblance to honest and respectful thought. It is generally cheap shots taken to smack someone down—an opportunity to judge without consequence.
“Can’t you take a joke?” “C’mon, lighten up.” “If you don’t like it, just don’t read it.” Or there’s an attempt at justification: righteous discipline, “calling sin by its right name.” After all, Jesus didn’t tread gently when clearing the temple or telling someone to “go and sin no more.” Except . . . well, here’s the thing: (1) We're not Jesus, (2) Jesus’ anger was directed at those who were misrepresenting who He was to those who needed Him, and (3) Jesus’ intent was always from a perspective of love and for the purpose of redemption.
It’s so easy to throw stones and cast judgment from our computers. I wonder if these same comments would be made face-to-face, or if personal contact might cause pause before those hurtful words and thoughts are flung. I would like to think the eagerness to “share wisdom,” by offering scorching opinion and making snap judgments might be stalled when it is seen first-hand how these things cut and hurt.
Management Consultant Gary Hamel once said that "Church has become a weekly convocation for the converted and the content.” How sad . . . and how true. If what we are hearing and experiencing at church doesn’t challenge us and demand that we behave differently when we leave, what is our real purpose in attending? If we put on a “Jesus face” and shake hands with our fellow believers then turn around, behave with unconcerned ugliness to our world, and judge without self-reflection and compassion, aren’t we defaming and defacing the name of the God we claim to worship and serve?
In her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, Lysa Terkeurst suggests, “But what if, instead of being so epically disappointed with everyone, we saw in them the need for compassion?”
I believe, when we love with compassion, sometimes difficult conversations with friends need to take place. I also believe our world is richer because of the variety of thought and opinion found on this journey of life. My hope is that, as we make the trip, those who profess Christianity rediscover their directions to the “high road.”