[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]
Most of my interactions with people about religious matters is on Facebook. For one, they are in groups that are focused on religion, so they are willing participants; for another, I’m rather introverted so don’t like striking up conversations in person with people in real life and find it much easier to communicate via the written word. But the danger is that you are talking to disembodied comments, rather than real, flesh-and-blood people. Oh, sure, we know on some level that they are real people making the comments, but it is so easy not to see them as that, because we aren’t speaking face to face, voice to voice.
On a deeper level
When we’re talking to people in real life, we can communicate with them on a different and a deeper level than what we can online. For example, if we find out that our friend is sick, we can bring him some soup; if his car breaks down, we can give him a ride; etc. We can’t do that for people online who may be half a world away. That makes it easier for us all (both us and them) to view each other as enemies, rather than being able to show love and friendship for them.
I’m reminded of the conversion of the late Nabeel Qureshi from Islam to Christianity, via the evangelistic efforts of his best friend, David Wood. One thing that stuck with me is that throughout that four-year process, David said that one of the things that kept them discussing religion, is that they were friends and loved each other, and both knew that the other would take a bullet for him.
We simply can’t do that online. But we can try to get as close as possible. That is, we can be friendly to others even while arguing with them. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and to think that your opponent is wrong about everything; it’s easy to want to disagree with your opponent just for the sake of disagreeing, “because he’s wrong about X, that must mean he’s wrong about everything”. Don’t. Try to find common ground – without compromising truth, of course. Try to find areas of agreement, and to find places where you can praise the person for something he said. In Facebook, don’t be hesitant to “like” comments you agree with.
Depending on the forum, the length of interaction will vary. If you’re both long-term members of the same Facebook group, you may have much more interaction than if you post a random comment once or twice on some blog or website. Obviously, short interactions don’t lend themselves well to this sort of “showing friendship” (though, of course, you should be as nice and friendly to everyone as you can, even in a single comment), but the longer the interaction, the more chance you’ll have to show this type of friendship, and the more important it becomes to do so. You may even be able to develop a deeper off-group friendship, by becoming Facebook friends with them, having private-message conversations, and even exchanging phone calls.
Truth in love
Jesus once asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his own soul?” Similarly, what does it profit a Christian apologist if he wins every argument, but loses his opponent? – that is, if the person he’s arguing with is turned away from Christianity because of the way the Christian is arguing? As Paul said, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”
Indeed, without love, it doesn’t matter how right our arguments are, nor how gifted our speech or writing, we are nothing and our words are just useless noise. Let us “speak the truth in love”.