Social Media & Christianity: A Forgiveness Problem

Social media is a glass half full/half empty. Naysayers see the glass half empty, painting social with the broad brushstroke of “bad.” But every technology has a half full/half empty use case: it’s just a matter of perspective. Consider the telephone … conversations over distances (half full); annoying telemarketers (half empty).

Social media “half full” is the perspective that despite the bad, there’s also plenty of good … connections, creativity, mass movements, social change, knowledge, and (most importantly) a voice for all. And as a Christian, I’d like to add another “good” … an open and honest assessment of forgiveness.

What Is Forgiveness?

I’m no theologian, but I believe forgiveness is an act of absolution and an act of recollection. To forgive is to not simply forget. Forgiveness balances the act of mercy against the need to remember, the struggle for justice, and the refusal to be hurt again.

I’m saying this first to establish an understanding that people can forgive their enemies and, at the same time, keep fighting for their cause, their healing, their preservation. This view is well stated in the article Forgiveness: What It Is & What It Is Not:

Forgiving Those Who Trespass

The commandment “forgive other people” is something I’m terrible at.[1] For me, carrying a grudge has always been (the best word is) “satisfying.” Growing up, the church wasn’t my home so the Christian practice of forgiveness wasn’t grounded in me.

But later, when I became deeper in my faith, I was taught and ministered to forgive. Consequently, I sorta assumed that long-practicing Christians — those who walked the walk and talked the talk — would be quick to love and compassionate in their mercy.

However, social media has revealed a different truth.[2]

Forgiving Those Who Tweet

Within my sphere, I’m surrounded by devout, passionate Christians … loving brothers and sisters of the faith. At the same time, having worked in social media for nearly 10 years, I’m neck deep in the battlefield that social media can create (i.e., one of those half empties). And what I’ve learned on this battlefield is that when it comes to forgiveness, the Christian sphere and the social media sphere don’t mix well.

When these worlds collide, Christians can hurt, and they can be hurt. In the latter case, angry backlash[3] is understandable and sometimes justified. What’s not justified is the Christian response post-apology … i.e., after the offender seeks redemption. Because the offender (more times than not) receives something other than Christian grace. Typically, it’s more backlash[4] … no dialogue, no love.

Should The Medium Determine The Grace?

Is this lack of grace wrong?

If I was speaking as a non-Christian, I might ask for more kindness, but that’d be my personal perspective. For those who’ve been hurt or trampled or belittled, they have a different perspective, one that I’m easily blind to. In a secular world, the victim is free to condemn, free to stone, free to avenge, free to inflict their pound of flesh. In that world, the answer is “no” … the refusal to forgive isn’t necessarily wrong.

But in the Christian world, forgiveness is a tenet of our faith. It’s foundational, It’s commanded. It’s biblical.[5] Despite this, I’ve seen many Christians-their social media posts populated with Bible verses, their bios trumpeting their faith, their pictures illustriously pious-who don’t believe in forgiveness. They refuse to practice what they preach. In fact, in the context of social media, they viciously refuse.

So is this lack of grace wrong? Yes! Which means social media has revealed a Christianity that’s only half full. And a Christianity that’s sadly half empty.

[1] Yes, I’m writing this as a hypocrite. But often, it’s the spoken truth that makes one the hypocrite.

[2] And this cuts across all politics, race, gender, age, and denomination. No Christian is immune.

[3] “Angry backlash” is a powerful tool for change and education, much like the power of non-cultural “cancellation.” But “angry backlash” with no opportunity for redemption is simply malicious.

[4] Post-apology, there are often two branches that diverge … either a backlash that’s unaccepting of the apology (without reason) or a backlash that finds the apology lacking. In the latter case, this might be true, though “lacking” is subjective. This then raises the question: Are Christians honestly judging a bad apology, or are they spitefully wanting an apology to be bad?

[5] Along with the ones mentioned above:

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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Travis Burchart

Travis Burchart

6 Followers

Social media expert, higher education advocate, writer, Founding Fathers fan, lawyer in a past life