Here is what seems to happen when a mildly controversial event happens in the Christian world. An event happens [Osama Bin Laden gets killed / Rob Bell posts a video implying he might be coming out as a universalist / Secret footage is released revealing a major Christian celebrity has eaten all the pies]. Someone of influence [Mark Driscoll / John Piper / The sub-editor of Christian Dog Walkers Monthly] picks up on this and states their obvious conclusion [It’s good news that Osama Bin Laden is Dead / Rob Bell’s ministry is over / That celebrity is a glutton and a fraud] on their preferred medium [Twitter / Youtube / their Livejournal account]. This gets bandied around [Re-tweeted / linked to / e-mailed to their grandma] and quickly someone else probably less influential replies with disagreement [“They’re wrong” / “This is not Christian” / “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed”] and takes up the opposite position [It’s the worst tragedy that anyone has died / Rob Bell is telling the truth that no-one else will / eating pies is enjoying God’s creation which you clearly hate]. Meanwhile various people are agreeing aggressively with both sides, far more aggressively than the original posts were. These posts in turn spark off their own aggressive disagreement from other people, and soon a whole budding and flourishing system of disagreement rolls out across the land. Then the last stage comes, someone posits a safer middle ground where points from both sides are accepted and unity and generosity is encouraged [It’s good and sad that Osama is dead / Rob Bell is probably wrong, but we should wait to react to his book / Pies are a gift from God, but like all gifts shouldn’t be abused]. This, humanity’s poor attention span, and some new distracting controversy [Why are we celebrating a royal wedding? / First Past the Post is morally wrong / Why aren’t we celebrating a royal wedding?] pretty much finish the topic off. Until next time.
Predictable, but so what? Is there a moral to all this? A lesson to be learnt? I say yes. Three lessons in fact. First, maybe think before you speak. I know this is obvious, but when you say something on Twitter all you get is 140 characters. You don’t get much room for clarification, and you don’t get any real control over the context in which your 140 characters appear. If you won’t back up your statement and if you won’t concede you’re wrong if shown to be, then maybe don’t say it. Secondly, the internet and Twitter especially are anonymous mobs. It’s easy to be carried away and lynch someone without thinking “hey, lynching is wrong”. There is a heat of the moment on Twitter. Thirdly –and this is less obvious so maybe most important– just because some nice middle way comes out towards the end of this discussion doesn’t mean that it is the right response. One of the extremes may still be correct. The temptation of today is to always look for a nice acceptable middle ground where no-one is offended, but avoiding offence is not an inherently good thing, and sometimes one extreme is right and the middle ground is wrong. To give an example; if someone says something extreme that is true [“There is definitely a God”] and someone responds with the opposite [“There is definitely no God”] then the middle ground [“Maybe there is a God”] is also not true either. It might be a less offensive thing to say, but it is also an evil and wrong thing to say.
All these things are matters of discernment, and we deal with matters of discernment like we deal with everything, by looking to Jesus. Not just looking to Him so you know what is true, but also so you trust in Him to be bold when you tell the truth and not conform to everyone other than Him, and even more also so you conform to his loving heart, and seek God’s glory, not your wittiness or your desire to put people down. What here will build up and edify (even if to build up you have to cut down)?