What a year 2020 has been. It has been a constant stream of bad news — of natural disasters and civil unrest in many parts of the world and, of course, the global pandemic of Covid-19 which has created the deepest worldwide economic recession since World War II. All around the world, plans have been frustrated and movements restricted by lockdowns and travel bans. The Internet seems to have become the only sphere where we can freely roam around and shop for our needs and wants; it is where various forms of art such as free museum tours, concerts, and even memes have provided us an oasis of entertainment and escapism.
On the other hand, the Internet also has its own dark side: A battleground where netizens flame others and spread gossip on forums and comment sections, upload content that stir public sentiment, and, increasingly, promote online activism in the face of injustice, both perceived and real. You may have had been angered by the video of how a black American man named George Floyd was killed by police officers needlessly and because of this got alerted to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. #MeToo has been trending for a few years now and shows no signs of slowing down. Influencers have been flamed and “cancelled” after their posts that touched on sensitive issues like sexuality and race riled up netizens.
It’s hard to know what to do. Writing our thoughts or reposting articles may make us vulnerable to critique, draw us into heated debates, and potentially get us shamed or similarly cancelled by random trolls or even people we thought were our friends. But remaining silent may signal to our online communities that we are not “woke” but rather are ignorant, or are complicit for not doing anything about the issues of the day. After a while, it gets exhausting having to scroll through all the intense drama, or sieve through the polarising information to figure out where we ourselves stand on these matters.
REMAINING SILENT MAY SIGNAL TO OUR ONLINE COMMUNITIES THAT WE ARE NOT “WOKE” BUT RATHER ARE IGNORANT, OR ARE COMPLICIT FOR NOT DOING ANYTHING.
While we are not to identify ourselves with the world that has rebelled against God, the reality is that we are in this world (John 17:15–16). But we are also the Holy Spirit-filled body of Christ that is sent to make Him known (John 17:18; Acts 1:8). How then should we engage the world as Christians, especially regarding such matters on social media? As God’s people who are called to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8), could we remain silent in the face of all that is happening around us and on our screens? In the face of all these heated discussions online, how are we to respond?
First of all, we must remember that we are human beings engaging fellow human beings. None of us have all the answers, but we can always actively listen and prayerfully discern. Whenever someone says or posts something, there is always a reason why, valid or not. If you are triggered by what they are posting, do not comment immediately. Take a deep breath, and hold back those fingers. Consider where this person is at in life right now — what could be a possible reason why they are posting about this? On what points do you necessarily agree or disagree? Is there a need for the original poster (OP) to clarify potentially controversial statements?
Social media posts can be one-dimensional as we do not see the whole person behind the post. If this person is a friend, meeting face-to-face may reduce the potential for further misunderstanding, and gives you the opportunity to care for them as a person.
As we graciously ask questions for the sake of listening and understanding, we may find dialoguing more meaningful. For example, someone who may find certain topics a non-issue may have never been exposed to or had a relationship with people who have a very different reality. Listening will help you to realise that an argument that does not provide real-life examples may just fall on deaf ears.
AVOID JUMPING ONTO HASHTAG BANDWAGONS... HAVE YOU DONE ENOUGH RESEARCH TO MAKE A RESPONSIBLE AND CONSTRUCTIVE COMMENT?
LEARN & DISCERN.
After listening to what is behind the OP’s actions or speech, learn — what are these issues really about? Avoid jumping onto hashtag bandwagons; do you know the historical and social reasons behind these issues, and have you done enough research to make a responsible and constructive comment? Reading up on the issue, fact-checking, and speaking to friends or church members who are involved in related fields can also help you be more informed.
In turn, learning will help you to discern how controversies that happen overseas may be relevant to your own context, such as the BLM movement. For example, Singapore does have race-related issues too, but our approach to them requires nuance because we face a rather different context.
Last but not least, consider the platform you are using for your message. Will it achieve your purposes, or will it lead to further misunderstandings? For instance, talking about sensitive topics like homosexuality online may create greater unresolved conflict than real-life conversations. We need God’s wisdom and discernment more than ever.
Social media is designed to encourage “likes” and “shares” as quickly as possible so as to increase online revenue. It has made us more likely to thoughtlessly cancel someone for an unpopular view, or reject seemingly outdated ideas (especially by conservative/older folk) with a dismissive “OK boomer”. Failing to learn, listen, and discern will lead to us reacting too quickly with actions that tear down rather than build up (1 Cor 8:1). When we have already cancelled someone from our lives, how will we be able to share the good news of God’s grace and mercy with them? We must be merciful, for we have received mercy (1 Pet 2:10).
God does not desire for people to be cancelled, but to be prayed for and to understand His truth (1 Tim 2:4). Jesus Christ had compassion on the crowds that were troubled and helpless, “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36–38). Jesus walked the ground and actively lived out His love and compassion for people, and His actions gave His words and character full credence. We must therefore ask ourselves as we attempt to respond to views we disagree with — have we been giving these people love apart from disputes? We may win the verbal battle, but if we fail to show God’s love to them as fellow human beings, we are nothing (1 Cor 13:1–3).
TYPE FOR HOPE!
Many issues in this world today are the result of complex reasons from yesterday which cannot be resolved with a click. God grieves along with us for the injustice in this world (Ps 10:14). But as Jesus reminds us that although there will be trouble, He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Let us leave the ultimate judgement to Him (Rom 12:19)!
REMEMBER THIS TOO: THE ONLINE MEDIUM IS NOT THE ONLY CHANNEL TO SPEAK UP OR TAKE ACTION!
However, since Jesus has sent us to the fallen world as His Spirit-filled body, let us do as He did by living with grace, wisdom, and love as a church, as sons and daughters of God. As we reach out, remember this too: the online medium is not the only channel to speak up or take action! So, take the time you need to prepare a response, or take it offline with the other person. Speak to a mature leader about your thoughts. If you feel too overwhelmed, take a break! It is OK to do so. Regardless, do listen, learn and discern, and love the human beings behind the messages. May you, too, grow in God’s grace, wisdom, and love — the very things we are typing for.