Christian Living

Think Before You Post

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 03/28/2024

Posting and engaging online should be a privilege that one must qualify for, not a right that is automatically granted. Instead, the bar is embarrassingly low. If you can fog a mirror and procure a keyboard, you’re welcome to write anything you want. Sound like a recipe for disaster? It is. There’s too much trash that passes for online dialogue, especially about spiritual matters. Much of it is rude, hostile, and condescending.

If it were up to me, getting the privilege to engage online would be at least as arduous as getting a driver’s license. First, you must study to get an education. Learn the rules of engagement, basic logic, and common courtesy. Then, you must pass a test to obtain a permit that allows you to engage online. Next, during your probation period, every post is monitored, and someone with experience reads everything you write. They give you feedback, correction, tips, and other guidance. Finally, you take a test where you must kindly and thoughtfully respond to 100 people who curse at you, malign/mock your core values, and throw every logical fallacy at you. Then, and only then, would you be granted unfettered freedom to post on your own. Of course, such a solution wouldn’t eliminate all bad posts, but it might mitigate the problem a bit.

It isn’t the online engagement of secular people that’s a problem; it’s the posts of Christians I’m concerned with. The majority of what I witness them posting is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus. Even posts that contain truth or appropriate correction often lack grace, kindness, or humility. Impolite posts aren’t justified just because someone else started it (Prov. 26:4). And rudeness isn’t right if the other person is trolling. No need to quip, “Troll much?” Just let it go.

It's as if Christians feel obligated to address every instigator, every false claim, and every invitation to debate. They’ve thought of some clever and funny retort and are eager to invite their followers to a ringside seat as they deliver a decimating smackdown.

It needs to stop. I’m calling on Christians to resolve to do better. So, before you post that next reply, consider these three things.

One, you represent Jesus when you post. The Bible says that every believer is an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Everything you say and do—online and offline—represents Jesus. Shouldn’t that identity, then, affect what you post and the manner in which you engage? Ask yourself, what would Jesus think of your reply? Would he approve of the tone? Would he think you’re treating your interlocutor, who is a fellow image-bearer of God, with respect? If not, don’t post.

At Stand to Reason, we have an ambassador’s creed that would be helpful for you to read as you engage online. I recommend paying special attention to the last four characteristics of an ambassador. It says you should be humble. Be provisional in your claims, knowing that your understanding of truth is fallible. Don’t press a point beyond what the evidence allows. Also, be patient. Don’t quarrel, but listen to understand. Then, with gentleness, seek to respectfully engage those who disagree. Be fair. Strive to be sympathetic and understanding towards others and acknowledge the merits of contrary views. Finally, be attractive. Act with grace, kindness, and good manners. Don’t dishonor Christ in your conduct.

Two, you don’t have to respond to everything. Every day there are millions of posts, and many of them contain content that you disagree with or is simply false. That’s okay. You don’t have to respond every time. In fact, you don’t have to respond to any of them. You are also free to ignore posts by friends and family. You can let them all go. Think of the amount of stress you will eliminate. You may even extend the duration and quality of your life!

Three, if you still think you should post, ask someone to review it first. To this day, I often ask my wife to read my replies before I post. I want someone who has different sensibilities than I do to check my post for snark, contempt, or condescension. I don’t want to bring shame upon the name of Jesus.

When my children were young, we had a magnet on our refrigerator that read, “THINK before you speak.” It was a reminder for them to ask themselves if what they were about to say met the requirements of the THINK acronym: Is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind? If not, don’t say it. Perhaps you could THINK before you post or find a similar system to filter your replies through.

When in doubt, don’t post. There’s no requirement to reply.

Though we live in the world, we shouldn’t conform to it (Rom. 12:2). I understand that most online engagement is rude, snarky, and condescending. I experience that myself almost every day. That’s no excuse for us to behave that way, though. We’re supposed to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–14) and return good for evil (1 Pet. 3:8–9). Don’t succumb to the pressure to act the same as everyone else. It isn’t just your reputation on the line but every believer’s and, most importantly, Jesus’ as well.