By Scott Slayton
Political discussions have dominated social media for several years now and only seem to be getting more heated. With every executive order issued by President Trump or protest aimed at changing a current practice, social media will generate a plethora of links and opinions. These opinions often lead to debates in comment sections that generate way more heat than light.
For the Christian, how we engage in political discussions on social media can be especially tricky. On the one hand, our faith touches every arena of life, so politics is important. On the other hand, we know that every person in the world must stand before Jesus one day and the ultimate issue will not be whether they had the correct position on national security issues.
When you consider how divisive politics can be and how often we say things in the heat of a moment that can influence the way people view Jesus and the Gospel, Christians must spend time in careful thought before they post about politics on social media.
In fact, I would suggest that there are seven questions you should ask yourself before you post about politics or share a link to an article about a political issue.
1. Do I have the correct facts?
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” While King Solomon couldn’t foresee the advent of social media, he knew the human heart. Proverbs 18:2 reminds us of the importance of hearing and understanding a matter before we start talking about it. The more divisive the issue, the more time we need to spend understanding it.
Does the Bible speak to this issue? If I think it does, am I sure that I understand the biblical passage in its proper context and that I am applying it correctly to the situation? Are there other texts that speak to this that I have not considered?
I would suggest that you read a wide range of resources on an issue before opining about it on social media. Read the most fact-based article that you can find on it. For example, Joe Carter posted a roundup of frequently asked questions about President Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees.Reading this type of article can help you get a grasp of the basic facts. Then, read several articles from more liberal publications and several that come from more conservative publications. Read The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The National Review. Look at the points each side makes and see how the other side answers them. Through this type of careful reading, you can gain a better grasp of the issue before you speak about it.
2. Does this need to be said?
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Most of the times that I heard Ephesians 4:29 when I was growing up, it was the verse that was used to tell us not to cuss. While it may speak to that, it also has something to say about our interactions on social media.
“That it may give grace to those who hear.” Is what you have to say going to bring grace to those who hear it? Will they increase in understanding and gain a greater insight into the Bible’s perspective on this issue? Will your words point them to Christ? Or, is what you are going to say be mere venting? Are you going to bring light, or are you going to bring heat only?
What you have to say may be correct, but it may not need to be said.
3. Why do I need to be the person to say this?
Let’s pretend that what you want to say about politics on social media should be said. Now you need to consider if you are the right person to say it. Do you have an insight into this issue that you haven’t seen somewhere else, or are you merely repeating an argument you read in another place? Do you have a role or responsibility where people are looking to you for guidance? Why should you be the person to say what you are about to say?
4. Am I saying this in a way that represents Christ?
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” People who have experienced grace should speak in a way that exhibits grace. Often, we post the first thing that comes to our minds about an issue, don’t read it to see how it sounds, and end up bringing shame upon Christ and his church through our hasty speech. Venting opinions that are not thought out and that insult others is a sign of tremendous foolishness, demonstrates a lack of love for our neighbors, and does not bring honor to Jesus.
Before you post something, read it three or four times. Take a screenshot of it and send it to a friend. Is it kind? Is it accurate? Is it designed for the good of others? Will it negatively impact how other people think of Jesus?
On a closely related side note, if you need to think twice before posting about American politics, then you need to think ten times before posting about denominational politics. In fact, I can think of no good reason for denominational squabbles to be shared before the watching world on our social media feeds. Discuss them in groups or the comment sections of blogs, but do not drag them out into public and bring dishonor to the cause of Christ.
5. How could I be misunderstood?
I learned my lesson this past August on Facebook. I posted about what I believed to be Donald Trump’s lack of commitment to pro-life issues and said that it was a terrible mistake to nominate him. Almost immediately, my friends and family perceived that my concerns about Trump were an endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
The lesson I learned from this was that there was nothing to be gained by questioning the decision to nominate Trump, which at this point was in the past. The Presidential contest was primarily between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I failed to think through how people would interpret my concerns about one candidate as an endorsement of the other. My post brought no light or grace to the situation and only brought confusion.
Stop and think before you post. Are you communicating clearly and is there a possible way for a significant number of people to misunderstand you?
6. What are my motives for saying this?
“Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” While the question of our motives has been underlying several other questions, we should ask it on its own. Can you honestly say that you are saying what you are saying for the glory of God and the good of others?
We must be aware of our motives because they will determine what we say, how we say it, when we say it, and how we will respond to people who disagree with us. If our motive is to vent because we are angry, we will speak harshly, rashly, immediately, and eviscerate those who disagree with us. On the other hand, if our motives mirror Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32, then we will speak graciously, kindly, thoughtfully, and respond patiently to those who disagree.
7. Can I wait until tomorrow to say this?
When Abraham Lincoln got angry with someone, he would fire off what he called a “hot letter.” He would set aside the letter until his emotions cooled off. Then, he would read the letter with a cool head. He left many letters unsigned and unsent.
While Abraham Lincoln wrote letters instead of posts on social media, his practice provides a worthy example for us today. If your post deals with a particularly sensitive topic, can it wait until tomorrow? If it can wait a day, save it as a draft and revisit it tomorrow. You may find that you read it with fresh eyes and see that you shouldn’t post it. Or you may see that it would be helpful to people and click “post.” Either way, the longer you can wait before inserting yourself into a conversation, the better.
Christians, we need to remember that we are Christians first. We represent King Jesus and his church. When we speak, it should reflect the priorities and character of our King and his kingdom. This concern means that we need to take extra care to consider the words we speak online.
**This article originally appeared on ScottSlayton.net.
About the Author: Scott Slayton serves as Lead Pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church in Chelsea, AL and writes at his personal blog One Degree to Another. He and his wife Beth have been married since 2003 and have four children. You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.