I wasn’t overly active on social media until leaving my position as academic dean at Moody Bible Institute in 2018. My initial goal in starting a blog was to “vent” some of the frustrations I had from an eleven year career in higher education which hadn’t exactly ended on the highest note. Some of my first drafts of posts were rough. I was ready and willing to submit to my baser instincts…to get mean, be provocative, and call out the establishment (whatever that is).
I was ready to be as polarizing as possible not because I wanted to build an audience, but because I was hurt. After my last year as a dean, I felt vulnerable and scared. I had a new job outside of higher ed, but, at 41, changing industries wasn’t exactly what I’d planned. I needed a way to feel better…to protect myself. And I was prepared to go on the offensive to do it.
Thankfully, I have a wife and few trusted friends read my posts before letting them loose on the internet. They talked me down and helped me develop some guidelines that I continue to follow when I post. I’ve decided to articulate some of my guidelines now in the hopes that others will read them and think deeply about the manner in which they speak about other members the body of Christ (or any topic) online.
My concern is that social media is becoming the new locker room so to speak. In other words, it sometimes feels that, like a locker room (at least a men’s locker room), social media platforms are becoming spaces where undisciplined speech is acceptable and applauded. By undisciplined, I mean the sort of speech that lacks real substance, but is highly emotive and, thus, draws in those with similar feelings.
Christian speech isn’t simply a matter of truth telling because we all have to select which truth to tell and how to tell it. O’Connor and Weatherall make a similar point in The Misinformation Age with regard to journalism noting, “When journalists share what they take to be most interesting—or of greatest interest to their readers—they can bias what the public sees in ways that ultimately mislead, even if they report only on real events.” It is not that we should stop telling the truth because anything we write (including this post) could be misleading. Rather, it is that we have to be more cautious in our speech and in our interactions with the thoughts of other (readers aren’t off the hook).
With all that said, here are four guidelines I’ve adopted in an attempt to write well for God and the gospel.
- No call-outs– Stay away from ad hominem arguments (arguments that attack an institution, person or group) and choose instead to deal with positions and decisions critically, respectfully, and graciously
- Don’t say more than you can– Keep speculation about the motivations or hidden causes of events to a minimum particularly when addressing events or actions perceived as negative.
- Offer a unique perspective (or at least try to)– Piling on top of the heap after the tackle has been made isn’t exactly a contribution…find a new angle on the situation and think through it. If you don’t think you can contribute, don’t comment.
- No “Sizzle” without “Steak”– “Man bites dog” is always a more interesting story than “Dog bites Man,” but sometimes the more mundane stories of God’s work in and through His people (the things we hear less about in the news) are the most profound. Try to offer substance without writing another dissertation:).
There are other guidelines I have developed over time, but these four came first. I’d presume that I’ve followed them with varying degrees of success throughout my time as a blogger, but I will say that they have certainly led me to delete more than a few drafts over the past couple of years.
I don’t think I have this mastered by any means. I’m still figuring out what it looks like to offer faithful testimony online. More and more, I do try to keep one thought in the forefront of my mind: when I post, I am conveying something about God to the world. Social media, whatever else it may be, is theological. We aren’t just sharing our own personal thoughts or feelings…we are telling a theological story as a member of the church.