When I was growing up, I learned an old adage about conversation etiquette: “Never discuss religion or politics in polite company.” For the most part, people lived by that creed. Everyone recognized that those topics were conversational grenades which could explode if not handled with care.
In today’s era of social media, that tried and true approach to public discourse has been flipped upside down. Because communication online is more impersonal, people say things online they would never say in a face-to-face conversation. It reminds me of what comedian Ron White says about the time he got arrested for being drunk in public. “I had the right to remain silent… but I did not have the ability.” It seems as if some people do not have the ability to remain silent about any political issue and feel compelled to express their opinion on every controversial topic.
While much could be said about the potentially toxic environment we’ve created online, I want to encourage Christians to recognize social media for the unique opportunity it is. Light shines brightest when the environment is the darkest, so let’s remember these eight biblical principles when posting (or responding to posts) about political and/or controversial issues.
- What is my primary goal? Jesus gave us marching orders regarding our fundamental purpose: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). We each have lots of competing priorities, so let’s make sure we keep the main thing as the main thing.
- Does posting this opinion move me closer to my primary goal? While we certainly have a right to our opinions, Paul teaches us to be willing to give up our rights when doing so might allow us to reach someone. He wrote: Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19). So if our silence on a controversial issue makes it more likely we’ll reach someone, then let’s demonstrate God’s love by choosing to remain silent.
- Does expressing this opinion create a barrier to reaching anyone? Sometimes we seem to think people who love God should agree on political issues. When the 1st-century Jews wrestled through what it meant to follow Jesus, James concluded: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). Let’s not make it unnecessarily difficult for people to turn to God’s love by requiring them to also convert to our political views.
- Am I demonstrating love? Jesus said His followers would be known for how they demonstrate love. He said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Let’s consider every action through the filter of whether it is the loving thing to do.
- Is this specifically showing love for those I disagree with? Jesus taught: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Don’t make the lazy excuse that you’re loving people by telling them the truth. You have more potential for demonstrating God’s love to your enemies than anyone else on the planet.
- Am I being constructive? We should consider what our post will accomplish and the likelihood of changing anyone’s mind. As Paul mentored Timothy, he wrote: Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels (2 Tim. 2:23). I have yet to see anyone reverse their political view because they read an awesomely worded Facebook post. If changing minds is my aim, then I need to recognize my political post as a foolish argument that will only produce quarrels. But I see lives changed by God’s love all the time, so let’s focus on changing people’s lives, rather than their political views.
- Am I being gracious? Even if most of our friends online are Christians, we need to consider how non-believers will read and receive our post. Paul wrote: Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Col. 4:5-6). When food is seasoned with salt, it tastes better. So let’s make our message attractive. As Bob Goff recently said, “Don’t shoot Jesus at people.”
- Which kingdom am I trusting in? Paul reminded the church in Corinth: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does (2 Cor. 10:3). The government has an important function, but it doesn’t offer the salvation that matters most.
So before you post your next political opinion, think through this biblical grid and examine your motives and goals. I’m not suggesting you should never express your views. There is certainly a time to stand up for justice and against oppression. Most political opinions I see posted don’t fall into those categories, though. Let’s value winning people over winning arguments.