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Defriending Gossip, Slander and Discourteous Talk

I enjoyed recently a wonderful break in Tiree, Scotland, where I not only enjoyed the quiet and natural isolation that the island brings but also was blessed by the absence of Wi-Fi and 4G signal.

Ten days without Twitter and Facebook was a real blessing, and on returning to it I saw afresh the good and bad influence it can be.

I was delighted to post pictures of Tiree and later in the week photos of our daughter’s graduation. Many liked, others shared, some retweeted. Soon hundreds of people were sharing our joy.

At the same time, I was reading endless posts and shared stories concerning Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and lots about the “Named Person Bill.”

If sharing photos of holidays and family occasions were the good, then many of the comments, articles and statements by Christian people on the present political situation had to be the bad and the ugly.

As Christians, we have a perspective to share on the political life that is inspired by belonging to the Kingdom of God, as children of a heavenly Father, redeemed by the Son and being renewed daily by the Spirit’s presence in us.

However, it would appear we have lot to learn about sharing our Kingdom perspective in a Christian way!

My current role as general director of the Baptist Union of Scotland allows me the privilege of the occasional face-to-face conversation with our Scottish Parliamentarians.

I am also occasionally asked to write to them letters and speak through words on the page. At times, that means disagreeing with their policy and direction.

It is a challenging responsibility, and one that I receive great support in. I know I have failed to speak at times when I should have and, on other occasions, have spoken in a way that failed to demonstrate the way of Christ.

On my return from the peace of Tiree, I have become increasingly disturbed by the vitriolic language and ungracious comments being used by Christians, Christian leaders and Christian organizations, particularly on social media in the way they speak of and into our public life.

There are many Christians and some Christian organizations that are quietly speaking to governments and policymakers, affirming them, praying for them, suggesting amendments to policy; their lives are made significantly harder by Christians and Christian organizations who fail to speak knowledgeably, peaceably, gently, graciously, conciliatorily, humbly and courteously (Titus 3).

I personally would rather we be ignored completely in the public sphere and retain our godly character when we speak than speak, verbally or in written form, in a style that is arrogant, offensive, laced with anger, defensiveness or vitriol.

The church’s fear of loss of identity in society must not lead us to gossip, slander, spin, half-truths or argumentative speech in relation to public life.

Titus 3 is a key to understanding how we should speak. The context of the chapter, according to the late John Stott, is that of our doctrine and duty in the world.

In speaking of those in authority and engaging with their policies, we are commanded, in verse 2, “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate and to show true humility to everyone, because, at one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passion and pleasures.”

In the public sphere, can I encourage you to look with care at what you are saying, sharing, liking or retweeting and the tone in which it is being said?

Can I even ask you to pause and think about the behavior of the organizations that you support and say they represent us and look at how they speak on our behalf asking if it is Christ-like?

Maybe together we can learn to speak more graciously, maybe we can correct one another in love when we get it wrong.

As supporters of organizations, maybe we can in the future write and say how saddened we were at the poor manner in which good points were presented, until together we learn how to speak well in public life.

Titus 3 reminds us that our identity is in Christ. Our value and our worth, both individually and as a community, are secure in him.

No matter what is happening around us, or what others say about us, nothing in this world can withhold the love of our heavenly Father for his church.

Secure in him, we can engage in public life and “live peaceably, considerately showing true humility to everyone.”

Alan Donaldson is the general director of the Baptist Union of Scotland. A version of this article first appeared on the BUS blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanDBUS.