When Christians Turn Facebook Into Hatebook

hate facebook hatebook

I’m working on a new blogging pattern–being more personal and transparent here and saving the more analytical and linear stuff for my new blog at Huffington Post. It may work for my lifestyle, it may not. It may work for my readers, it may not. Feedback is always welcome.

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I don’t know what your Facebook page is like.

Mine is a little jumbled–a mix of friends and acquaintances from all the communities I’ve been part of; all the communities that are still in someway a part of me.

There’s kids from high school, who no matter how old they get in their profile pics, are still 14 in my mind’s eye.

And then college. I went to a Christian one and I think a lot of us passed through it and came out with some similar hopes for stirring good in the world. So a lot of times when I read posts from other alumni I feel a kindredness and not-aloneness, a fleeting reminder that there are other people sorting through this mess of a world and trying to right wrongs and show kindness and muster faith and make life count.

Then there’s a strand of co-workers from various workplaces, dating all the way back to my Glory Days as a waitress at a Denny’s restaurant as a teenager. Add to that church friends–people I know from my roots in the Southern Baptist tradition where my dad is still a church planter, to the short list of non-denominational and Wesleyan-ish communities I’ve stumbled into since.

There are conference-people too. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to gather people up around good causes and good ideas, trying to help them connect to each other and connect each other to their ideas. (It’s really a sort of tribe-building that is so much deeper and richer than anybody would guess given it has the fairly institutional word “conference” attached to it.)

And finally, there are readers. People who’ve picked up my books here and there or who whisked across me as I spoke at some retreat in 2011 or some random year. People who for a second at least saw something in me they related to and so, we move on together forever, sharing bits of life on Facebook.

It is the variety that is beautiful. And also horrific.

There’s such a poignant and awful mix of conservatives and liberals amongst my online people. People who are flaming on the left, people who are ball and chaining themselves to the right.

In many if not most one of them, I’ve found something magnificent. Something endearing or profound in a post. Something so real and understandable about their journey to become more than what they are now. To do and be enough, to feel, to scrape up some meaning and contentment. To exercise faith and goodwill.

And I’m confident, partially because I’ve made a habit of it, that I could meet up with any one of them for a coffee or to walk through some local festival and find rich, rewarding conversation. Little moments that light up between our eyes because we discover that both of our four-year-olds take off all their clothes the minute they walk into the house. Or empathetic touch points where my heart can sense how badly it felt when their much loved someone just died last fall and it suddenly doesn’t matter how much or how long I’ve known them because I instantly want to move the world to mend their hurt.

I really like them–all of them.

All the warmth between me and them is a bit ironic for me a lot of days though because mostly, I realize, my Facebook friends would really hate each other.

Really. They would.

Not if they got up-close and dropped their biases and looked for that grain of learning or value or commonality the other held. Not then of course. But in the humdrum, surfacey world of Facebook, they’d absolutely be driven mad by each other. And are sometimes.

(And that last paragraph says a lot all by itself.)

Anytime a political news story breaks, I want to duck and run for online cover because I know that morning my news feed will be populated by 141 Republicans and 134 Democrats or 356 theological Liberals and 299 theological Conservatives who have made it their morning agenda to oust the other side.

There’s so much propaganda, so much angry entrenchment in various camps, you could cut through clogged sink pipes with the acid exchanged. It’s gang wars.

And right inside of it, at least among my friends, is a whole lot of people of faith. And a whole lot of humanitarians. Charitable, I-will-vouch-for-them-good-people. And some of them–yes, some of those good and faithful–are leading the charge. They’re taking every opportunity–even unfair, petty, small-hearted ones–to attack or undermine whoever they’ve deemed their “opponents” in this world.

The verse and song–they will know we are Christians by our love–seem lost here.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve said and done more than one unJesusy thing in my day so I’ve got no halo to brandish in this fight.

And also, let it be known, I don’t discourage belief-sharing. I’m all for stating your beliefs clearly and honestly and not backing down. (Remember I said this.)

I’m just grieved when we state our beliefs as ungraciously and offensively as we can, for purposefully demeaning and demoralizing, for picking and going for the throat, for looking for every flaw that we possibly can.

I’m a little sickened every morning by bloodthirsty social media vultures hiding behind religious emblems.

I know they, yes–they on both sides–must think they are standing up for truth. That they have some kind of conviction that even though their comments are so brash and direct that God somehow wants them to be forceful, even volatile to try to get people’s attention.

It always makes me wonder, though, if they–the theys on both sides again–who do this kind of political-sociological-theological anger-mongering and anti-campaigning know how volatile and ungrounded it makes them seem. How much it entangles their credibility.

I want to tell them what the other 90% of my reasonable, less-extremist Facebook friends think. Which is no matter how passionate and outrageous your posts become, people will never ever buy what you’re selling if your alleged “right beliefs” don’t result in “right actions.”

If all your intellectually and theologically “correct” statements make you a heartless cut-throat who, when it comes to a certain group you disagree with, allows yourself to completely black out that the Bible says love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you or to humbly think of others as better than ourselves.

(After all, this group of people we disagree with are such monsters. So intellectually unsound. So without intuition. So flaw-flaw-flaw-flaw-flaw.)

But here’s the thing. Even if your beliefs are right, like legitimate and superior on paper, if the way you share them comes off like you’d be celebrating on other people’s graves if they died today, no one sees Jesus in that.

And instead of helping people see what’s “right,” you helped them hate truth instead.

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  • http://joannamuses.com Joanna

    You’ve managed to articulate (a lot more clearly than I could) a lot of what I’ve been feeling about political tribe wars. The lack of empathy is truly disturbing

    Generally Australians aren’t quite as politically polarised and fired up but some of the political facebooking ahead of our most recent election was disturbing. Granted, there was a lot to be very concerned about with many parties and candidates, but the level of intensity was insane. I kept seeing things like links on how to quickly find who of your friends had liked pages related to particular political parties (so you could tell them off) and saw pages titled things like “Tony Abbot- worst prime minister ever” when he’d only been prime minister for 3 hours. I think a lot of people forgot that the political parties they were railing against were made up of people, not sound bite spewing machines.

  • http://www.backseatwriter.com Amy

    Sarah, great post! I often wonder if my FB friends would get in fist fights if they all hung out together. I want to connect to people on the soul level because that’s where we really “live” and who we really are. Thanks for this post!

  • http://www.kristinemcguire.com Kristine McGuire

    And you’ve hit upon why I try to avoid certain issues on my Facebook pages. Great article. :)

  • http://www.francispage.com Christohper Francis

    As the Beatles once sung, “But if you go around carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…”

  • http://warrenbaldwin.blogspot.com Warren Baldwin

    Good article, and very good comments here.

    This statement is particularly apt: “Even if your beliefs are right, like legitimate and superior on paper, if the way you share them comes off like you’d be celebrating on other people’s graves if they died today, no one sees Jesus in that..”

    I have a number of friends whose comments I agree with, but I can’t “like” b/c I don’t like how they expressed it. Sometimes I even hide them.

    I am very concerned about the health of our country, and I want my kids/grandkids to enjoy what I have. But even more, I want them to have a chance to see the Spirit of Christ operative in all contexts, including that of political discussion.

    Thanks for writing this.

    WB

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  • http://cambodia.lifehouse.com.au Dom

    Wonderful work Sarah. You’ve articulated beautifully how I feel standing on the sidelines of different christians as they hack away at each other on my feed.

    • http://www.sarahcunningham.org Sarah

      Thanks for leaving your comments, Dom. I am glad I am not the only one hoping for a better way of interacting on behalf of the faith. :)

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