Last week I was verbally attacked on social media, once in public and once in private. I should have expected this, but for some reason I am always taken by surprise when a reader impugns my character.
The first assailant launched a direct attack against me in the public forum for having posted an invitation to sign a petition with which she did not agree. Understood.
The second accuser contacted me via private Facebook message and basically called me a “hater.” Why? Because he equated speaking the truth about the evil of a particular sin with hating the sinner. “I am in no way condoning homosexual acts or any other sinful act,” he wrote, “However, I’m not going to pass judgment on a person for that sin or any other sin. I just leave those stones on the ground.”
“Jesus left the stones on the ground, too,” I responded, “but He called sin by its true name. Jesus helped sinners to repent and find the joy of living according to the will of God.”
To which he replied, “He is Jesus and I am Scott [not his real name,] so I will leave it to him to call sin by its true name.”
“But you can’t,” I countered. “Read the Great Commission from Jesus before His ascension. It’s our job, too!”
Scott concluded, “I will just disagree. I don’t believe Jesus intended us to hate people based on their skin color, or religion or their sexual preference. I don’t believe he ever intended us to decide when we thought it was appropriate to pick up stones and pass judgment. We will just have to have two different versions of Jesus.”
At that point, I realized that further discussion would go nowhere because Scott did not accept the premises that 1) Christians are called to speak the truth about sin and the need for repentance, and that 2) there is a difference between hating the evil of sin and hating the soul of a sinner. I chose to let it go.
Did I do the right thing? When engaging with others on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media regarding matters of faith, what is a good Catholic supposed to do? How are we to behave? Are we allowed to defend ourselves when attacked? How far do we have to go in our mission to spread the Gospel? When are we allowed to shake the dust from our sandals and move on? Is it really necessary to share our faith? Having recently asked questions such as these in spiritual direction, I’d like to pass along to you…
1. Determine your goals for engaging in social media. Are you there for professional networking and advancement? Do you enjoy keeping in touch with family members, keeping abreast of their achievements, travels, etc.? Do you post articles and quotations that witness to your faith in Christ? Do you scroll through Facebook in order to unwind? Do you find social media entertaining and enriching? Examine yourself for the real reasons you are active on social media in order to decide the “brand” of your presence on social media. Regardless of your overall purpose, every item you post should reflect and uphold the goals and values that you hold dear.
2. Choose your friends wisely. You don’t have to be “Friends” with anyone and everyone! Choose those who help you to maintain your peace, those who will help you in your Christian walk.
3. NEVER argue with family in public. Period. Family matters are not to be aired in the public forum.
4. When entering into a discussion, first state your premise of your position. Ask the other person: Will you accept that this presupposition is true? If the other does not accept the thesis upon which your position is based, you cannot have a productive discussion of the topic. As St. Paul instructed St. Timothy, there is no use in getting into pointless theoretical arguments. “Have nothing to do with godless philosophical discussions–they only lead further and further away from true religion.” (2 Tim 2:16 New Jerusalem Bible)
5. When entering a discussion or debate, ask yourself: Can I come out of this unbruised? Without negative anger? Without sin? If not, it’s better to let it go. We don’t want to build animosity toward people using a medium where we cannot ask questions for precision or where we can’t see the look on someone’s face that would clarify their state of mind. Furthermore, if a particular person continues to attack you or to treat you in a disrespectful, destructive manner such that you cannot maintain your peace, it is better to “block” that person rather than to sin by harboring anger, resentment, or fear in your heart. On the other hand, if you can maintain your peace when all else are losing theirs, you may make some headway!
6. Realize that often people merely want to express their own opinions and do not want feedback of any sort. In that case, if you cannot stomach what that person tends to post, it may again be best to “unfollow” that person’s posts or to “block” him or her.
7. In witnessing to the truth, do your best to build up the Kingdom of God. In his book Christus Vincit, Bishop Athanasius Schneider wrote that the aim of a Catholic blogger should be “to help renew Holy Mother Church in our time,” and “help to elevate the minds of the people and seek to promote the beauty of truth and the glory of God.”
In this mission, we must not compromise the truth! In an address to students at the University of St. Petersburg, Fyódor Dostoyevsky stated, “If one distorts faith in Christ by uniting it with the goals of this world, the whole meaning of Christianity will at once also be destroyed and the mind will necessarily fall prey to unbelief.”
And yes, every now and then, we must expect to be attacked. Our Lord Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matt 5:11-12 The New Jerusalem Bible)