We’ve got a problem, folks. You and me both.
I hate to have to say it so bluntly, and maybe you’re the exception to the rule, but honestly, I’ve hardly ever seen anyone on Facebook following Christ’s example in the way they debate unbelievers. Our debate approach just isn’t Christlike.
And I’d like to mount a campaign to put an end to it. Because we’re doing it wrong everywhere, and it’s not doing the cause of Christ any good.
I realize that’s a strong statement, but I think it holds up to examination.
Defining the Problem
I’m not saying we’re always unkind or unloving. That’s not the problem I’m talking about.
I’ve seen fellow believers treating adversaries with great patience. I’ve seen Christians using sound, rational arguments. I’ve even seen something that looks a lot like love, as well as it could be expressed via social media. That’s partly Christlike, and it’s commendable, but it’s still not the way Christ modeled for us.
I’ve done a very careful study of how Jesus engaged with his adversaries. I wrote it up in a short book titled How Would Jesus Blog? Answering Online Adversaries Jesus’ Way (Kindle; Nook; Paperback). I just lowered the Kindle price to just $.99, and I dropped the paperback price by $2.00, too, because I want the word to spread: We’re going about this online debate thing the wrong way.
How It Goes Wrong
I think everyone who tries online debate knows it usually goes wrong. Quick answers get quick retorts, it turns snarky, no one budges an inch, much time is wasted, and it all just ends up looking like nasty.
It’s easy to blame the other side: They won’t listen, they won’t see how uninformed their arguments are, they parrot one another’s talking points without understanding. All of this is generally true. But we’re as involved in the mess as they are, and we can’t shrug off our own responsibility for it.
So how do we avoid it? Do we retreat and yield them the field? No, not at all! Jesus never retreated. But he never took part in any long, drawn-out arguments with adversaries, either.
Here’s one example of us getting it wrong. Over at the Apologetics Academy Facebook page, which is open to both Christians and non-Christians, a member named Ragnar posted a question: “Why do many christians [sic] seem to hate the idea of gay marriage? Surely two consenting adults in a loving relationship can’t be that bad.”
Within an hour there were 200 comments in reply, all of them seeking to answer his question or to answer the answers. All of them missed the one point that Jesus always started with: Who is asking? Why? What do they want out of this interaction?
I watched that debate, looking for some sign that Ragnar really wanted to know the reasons Christians oppose gay marriage. I didn’t see any. Instead I saw him loading the question from the start with the word “hate.” I noticed he had asked the question on Facebook, where no one can honestly expect to hear a fully reasoned and thoughtful answer.
I saw him delivering pokes like, “So everyone who has ever been drunk won’t get into heaven? Why are Christians not out trying protecting bars and liquor stores?” The main problem with that, by the way, isn’t that it’s uninformed (which it is), but that it masquerades as a knowing rebuttal, thus preventing Ragnar himself from catching on to how little he understands so far.
We Don’t Have To Accept Their Ground Rules
What I saw most of all was what was missing, not just from Ragnar’s participation but everyone’s. I never saw anything like this: “I want to know why Christians feel about gay marriage as they do, so please help me understand.” There was no evidence of his interest in true understanding. To be specific, I saw no sign that the person who asked the question really wanted an answer. Even though he sort of pretended he did.
What there was instead was his quick easy question, provoking a prolonged fight. I can’t prove it, but I suspect that’s what he wanted. If that’s not true of Ragnar this time, it’s certainly true of a lot of skeptics and atheists a lot of the time.
So the question set the stage and virtually defined the ground rules: “Hey, y’all, lets pretend I want to know something while I start another Facebook fight. Ready? Go!”
Discovering Jesus’ Way
And we Christians accept the ground rules, and we fight. Maybe we fight cleaner than they do, but we still fight. Jesus didn’t fight that way. Again I remind you, he didn’t retreat. He engaged, but not according to the ground rules his adversaries tried to set for the debate.
And we can do the same. We can engage without accepting un-Christlike conditions for the interaction. We can do it Jesus’ way.
Let’s Put An End To Un-Christlike Debate!
How do we do that? Several weeks ago I started out trying to write the answer to that question on the form of a blog post. I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t compress it into that short a format. So I made it into a book. I still can’t write it in short form. Here’s the shortest possible preview, though: For Jesus, when the questioner wasn’t serious about the question, the questioner became the question.
I’ve made the book extremely affordable. I urge you to read it, heed it, and spread the word. Because the way we’re doing online debate isn’t Christlike, and it’s hurting his cause on earth. Let’s get that stopped. Let’s start doing it his way instead.
Image Credit(s): Pixabay.com.