By Mark A. Taylor
Among the many (too many!) Internet posts I’ve skimmed in the last week, a few have led me to some decisions about my own behavior on the worried World Wide Web. The Internet is good for much; I’m not saying we should learn to live without it. But I’m concerned about the way we Christians sometimes decide to use it.
What I’ve decided:
1. We can’t relate to each other via the Internet alone. If my opinion about another Christian isn’t based on an out-of-web relationship, then I’ll think twice about discussing him or her on the web, especially if my post would be a critique. I’m guessing a second thought will usually lead me to avoid such posts altogether.
2. If I have something intimate or disturbing to share about myself, I won’t be posting it on the Internet. I’ll tell my family and close friends. I may even e-mail the news to a long list of associates who care and need to know. But I won’t be putting it out there for anyone who knows my name to read, share, discuss, and criticize.
3. If I decide to renege on the above decision, I won’t be surprised by rejection from those who don’t know me; I won’t be hurt by rebuke from those who don’t understand my situation.
More people skim the Internet than use it for careful research about a situation that baffles them. I’d expect those close to me to do that work. I wouldn’t assume that the casual web browser would invest the same energy.
4. But, as a casual web browser myself, I’m going to exercise some restraint. When I read something about another Christian that angers or frightens or confuses me, I’ll write him or her directly. Or give him a call. If I don’t know the person well enough to contact him or her directly, what right do I have to write about him, by name, on Facebook?
You can make a case, I guess, for saying that a person who “goes public” should expect public reaction. (This is why I don’t intend to seek celebrity status with revelations about myself.) But when the person is a Christian brother, we owe him a careful response and a concerned inquiry.
Even if his action is a blatant sin, we’re to “restore that person gently” with care to keep ourselves from sinning in the process (Galatians 6:1).
I’ve seen too much sin on the Internet lately. And it comes from the keystrokes of Christians who believe their Internet access gives them the right to make personal attacks.
I intend to work at avoiding the same error.