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Missives, Missiles, and Mission: A Challenge for Christians to Do Social Media Better

Some time ago, a reader rather viciously attacked me on social media for something I posted. I obviously hit a discordant chord with this person, and I regret any emotional/spiritual pain or suffering I caused her. I'm sure she had some useful critical comments about my posting, but her response was so laced with hyperbole and sensationalism that its content was altogether useless to me or anyone else. In the end, it was nothing more than an overdramatized missive that probably provided more commentary on her character and intellect than it did mine.

But the incident got me thinking about social media and how easy it is for users to lob ill-conceived missives and missiles at others in vainglorious displays of something I call "e-courage." How many times do people say things on social media that they would never say in face-to-face interactions? Unfortunately, I've encountered quite a few e-courageous brutes in my time on the internet whom I know possess rather weak constitutions when they step away from the keyboard. The fortress wall of the computer screen and the vast internet sea that stands between them and their opponents bolster their confidence to the point of ostentation and amour-propre. The results...hurt feelings, intentional mischief, and nothing of value.

The incident also reminded me of James 3:1-11, where James challenges Christians to weigh carefully and temper what they say. He likens the tongue to a ship's rudder and a raging fire and emphasizes the damage that can be done when it is unbridled. Therefore, James alludes, the call on each of our lives is to tame the tongue and use it for constructive purposes such as praising the Lord. That is to say, our tongues should be used to serve the mission God has called us to perform (i.e., to make disciples and give glory to God, e.g., Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:31), not to serve the wiles of the evil one, whose mission it is to steal, kill, and destroy (e.g., John 10:10; 1 Peter 5:8).

Consequently, my would-be condemner's misstep was two-fold. First, by offering e-courageously "destructive" criticism, she made herself look like a fool and placed an unnecessary bulwark between herself, me, and other readers. Had her objections been offered more constructively, the results would likely have been respectful conversation, mutual empathy, and clarity, and she may have even garnered support from those who ultimately agree with her assessment of my post. As it stands to date, her tongue-lashing response has been supported by no one.

But the second element of her misstep is the more egregious of the two. As a professed follower of Christ (or so I surmise from past interactions), she broke fellowship with other believers and me when she lent her services to the evil one--when she used her tongue as a misdirected rudder or consuming fire. In so doing, nothing of value was created; yet, regrettably, things of great value were consumed, such as positive relationship, personal testimony, and the reputation of Christ in culture. Had she thought through these implications prior to launching her short tirade, I'm sure she would have made another decision. The temptations of the flesh, though, are quite strong.

All this said, I have certainly used my tongue to communicate in other-than-Christ-like ways on far too many occasions. I have been as guilty at times as my social-media accuser! So, I don't offer this commentary as a counter-missive to her. I offer it as a means of challenging all believers--including myself--to do social media better. Missives and missiles are easy implements to employ in the cultural war in which we find ourselves...and social media makes it easier than ever to deliver them. However, as followers of Christ Jesus, we must take the high road by trading missives and missiles for mission. Sure, the former make us feel good in the short term and sometimes help us to save face, but the latter provides the Kingdom-building results that last for eternity. Plus, in the long run, mission is something everyone can get behind, thus resulting in greater unity and Body life.

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