Commenting and Christian Conduct

One of the big takeaways I had from April’s Band of Bloggers event was this common thread throughout the discussion that Christians need to be consistent in their online conduct. One example given was Tim Challies sharing how a reader emailed him in a rather indignant fashion, telling him to stop writing about some topic or he’d quit reading, but his tone immediately changed once Tim responded. He’d forgotten that (as Nathan Bingham put is so well) there are people behind the pixels.

This is one of the great temptations that the internet presents to us. Because we’re looking at (usually) text on a screen, it’s easy to forget that there’s a person behind it. And when what we read becomes mere information, it becomes easy to fire off critical statements that you’d never imagine saying to a person sitting across the table. Since coming home from T4G, I’ve been feeling increasingly challenged about how I can be more mindful of this, as well as encourage you to do likewise.

Do Not Offer Immediate Response (cf. Prov 12:18, James 1:19)

When I read an article that I strenuously disagree with, the worst thing I can do is be rash with my words and respond quickly. James tells us to be slow to speak for a reason. I may either say something that is unwise myself or potentially add fuel to a fire of foolishness (this is particularly important when dealing with commenters on blogs).

Usually the Best Response is No Response (cf. Prov 26:4-5)

Potentially a subpoint of the previous, Solomon tells us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” While apparently contradictory, his general principle is clear:

If someone is speaking utter nonsense, just ignore it. 99.9% of inflammatory blog posts and comments aren’t worth our time. Don’t respond. I’ve made this mistake dozens of times (you’d think I’d learn), but responding to an unhelpful negative comment is bad news. Don’t respond.

There are times when it’s necessary to call out foolish talk for what it is, but we’ve got to be careful to avoid getting sucked into an endless back-and-forth. If we must respond, do so carefully, clearly and biblically.

On this point, a practice I’m beginning to implement here is best described as follows: Respond carefully and if necessary, use the delete button. If a comment is full of foolish talk, it’s best for everyone if it’s deleted.

Focus on What is Praiseworthy (cf. Phil. 4:8)

The most helpful thing we can do is focus on what is excellent, true, praiseworthy, pure and commendable. If a comment is flat-out ignorant, ignore it (or if we’re the moderator, delete it)—and if a blog consistently provokes us to anger or frustration, perhaps we shouldn’t be reading it?

Remember the Point (cf. 1 Thess 5:11)

“Encourage one another and build one another up,” Paul wrote. All our communication between fellow believers should have this goal in mind. This doesn’t mean play the part of a sycophant; that sort of behavior demeans everyone (including the person on the receiving end of such behavior). Rather, it means even our negative statements should be offered in a spirit of familial love for a brother or sister in Christ. Our goal is never to be the rightest person in the room, but to build one another up and encourage.

In the past, I’ve been reticent to implement a formal comment policy beyond, “don’t act like a jerk.” So, while there are certainly elements of a comment policy here, these points are really meant to be guiding principles to help me maintain the consistency between my blog comments and Christian conduct. If they’re helpful, I’d encourage you all to use them as well.

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  • http://philippians314.squarespace.com/ Kim Shay

    Very good reminder.  I’m learning, albeit slowly, the value in just saying nothing at all.

  • http://www.desiringvirtue.com/ Jessalyn @DesiringVirtue.com

    Great thoughts! I really think that we as Christians need to be challenged more often to apply Biblical principles of speech to our “online lives.” Far too often conversation or statements on FB, Twitter, blog comments, etc.. portray a different tone and less prudence than we would use in the “real world.” We must hold our digital words to the same standards we would hold our verbal words.

  • http://blog.hillsbiblechurch.org/ Don

    Aaron, I really appreciate this post. 

    I suspect there are two other aspects at play here that you have not mentioned. 

    First, many bloggers have very big egos – that’s why they write. They like the ‘sound’ of their own words.  Consequently, they attract readers of a similar ilk. The meeting of the two creates a perfect storm – lots of thunder and lightning and a great deal of wind – but when it’s over, it’s over – and little of lasting value remains. 

    Secondly, I suspect many bloggers, even Christian bloggers, write with SEO in mind. They are intentionally creating controversy. They choose subjects that are inflammatory, they use titles that are intentionally controversial (even if the content is not), they use rhetoric chosen to rank highly in search engines and they write knowing that if they can create a piece that attracts a lot of comment, they will get noticed by Mr Google. 

    In many ways, I think the hallmark of a good blogger is one where quality content is produced consistently,where the number of comments these posts generate is erelevant to the writer,  and where it is obvious that the writer is gospel-focused and the content is Scripturally based. Most readers of these kinds of blogs respond by thinking more deeply on the subject, not by writing knee-jerk comments. 

  • Mike Erich

    I have found that when I am not quite sure how to respond to a comment or a blog post it is always better to wait a while and think about it. It keeps me from putting my foot in my mouth too often.

  • http://blog.tejaskumar.com/ Tejas

    Haha! Great post, Aaron! This needs to be heard by many, many “Christian” commenters out there. Including myself! Thanks a lot for sharing!

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