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A Spiritual Perspective to Your Online Etiquette

I don’t buy into it – the language on both sides of the political debates that serve only to demean the other side’s position to the point of labeling “them” as “destroyers of America” or “God’s judgment on our country” or labeling whole groups as “backward” or “bigoted” without ever attempting conversation that truly hears their opinions, fears and beliefs.
By labeling each other in such ways, our conversations suddenly move from interesting interactions, where all involved learn something new about the people to whom they speak, into idealistic rants that no longer conform to reality.

Moreover, when Christians buy into the one-sided hype of a news group, Facebook meme or conspiracy theory, we become unable to love our neighbor.

That’s the second greatest commandment, according to Jesus, so it’s kind of a big deal.

When we believe the other side to be nothing but hostile to our own, two negative consequences result.

1.    We let a “side” identify us rather than our Kingdom identity as citizens of Heaven.

2.    We reduce people who are our friends, family and colleagues to faceless drones promoting our anti-ideal.

When we do this, we create an image of these people that is not the image God gave them – namely, God’s image, not conservative/liberal, not pro-life/pro-choice/anti-choice, not gay/straight, not left/right.

I am extremely distressed when my dearest friends, of any persuasion, reduce the people they claim to love as inherently wrong, godless, merciless people because of a political leaning or personal opinion.

Our words are indeed powerful. They can build up and they can tear down, so what we choose to do with them matters greatly.

Yes, be involved in national politics. Speak up when you see injustice or bad decisions or speech on either side. But never, ever buy into any group that labels whole groups wantonly.

We are so often deceived by our own prejudices, which is why we must fight to reclaim the inclusive love of Christ that sees all people equally – that says, “the one who is without sin should cast the first stone.”

That means stopping hateful speech, first from your own lips or keyboard and then from the lips or keyboards of those you love.

When you hear or read the phrase “all those (conservatives, liberals, bigots, illegals, gays, Muslims and so on),” immediately understand and accept that the author could no more know all of that group any more than you do.

No one is an expert on all persons in any group, and only God knows the human heart anyway.

When you are tempted, because of your own fervent political or even theological belief to speak or post a snide, rude, unthoughtful or generalizing comment, use the spiritual practice of self-discipline to withhold your initial feelings.

Sleep on it. Ponder both sides. Maybe even go take a few minutes to meet with someone of the opposing position and just listen.

Perhaps “those people” are not as general a group as you first believed.

And remember that just as your neighbor might not be perfect and might even be wrong, so, too, are we all often wrong, horrible and unkind. 

But we are a forgiven people, begotten of God, beloved of the Eternal, and we have been given grace beyond measure – grace that should always be extended, whether or not our family, friends, colleagues or enemies choose to extend it to us.

As it was written to the Christians in Ephesus (Ephesus 4):

I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Those who love the body of Christ will:

â—     Strive to maintain unity in the Spirit.

â—     Avoid believing everything they hear about whole groups of people.

â—     Speak up when a group is marginalized, even a group they may not always agree with.

â—     Make wise decisions about what should be reposted, shared or commented on.

â—     Take great pains to do the hard thing Christ commanded us to do: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

In Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were a hated, marginalized group who were often generalized in Jewish circles as being inherently wrong about matters of faith, practice and politics.

They were called horrible names and chastised by their Jewish neighbors. They were theologically and politically considered absolutely wrong in most every way.

And Jesus, a faithful Jew, tells us through the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37): Such as these are our neighbors – we are called to care for them, and they for us.

You may disagree with them, but you are called to speak up for them.

You may not care for the way they live their lives, but you are to love them.

You may not want to support their causes, but you are called to avoid gossip and hate speech, all while standing up for them in their time of distress.

You’re even called to spend your time and money caring for their needs.

This is the way of the Kingdom.

Libby Mae Grammer is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology, where she wrote a thesis titled The Baptist Response to Undocumented Immigration in 2010 and is currently an immigration paralegal in Chattanooga, Tenn. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, LibbyGrammer.com, and is used with permission.