“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther is extraordinarily clear about the meaning of this commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” As with so many other things, social media gives us the opportunity to see this particular sin flaunted daily in flashing neon lights.
We are all familiar with the people out there who hide behind screens, utilizing the relative anonymity of the internet to bolster their nerve and say things they would never dare to in person, with plenty of slander and reputation bashing. But we also see the second half of that explanation being played out. The responses these people receive are either equally explosive reactions or people just scrolling by without like or comment, shaking their heads sadly at the screen, but choosing not to engage. “I’m pretty sure the Eighth Commandment calls for me to at least put the best construction on what you’re doing and protect your reputation in that format,” says Rev. Paul Koch, discussing Facebook posts attacking congregations and their members on this week’s episode of Ringside. “Why do we just let this go? If you’re in that format, you should be defending your brothers and sisters in Christ. You should at least be speaking well of them. Don’t just be silent!”
Here we have once again found the fine line in the world of social media engagement – standing up for the truth and what is right on one side, and being sucked into a pointless whirlwind of back and forth commenting, high on emotion and devoid of reason, on the other. The easy, yet very difficult, answer is to leave social media to the cat videos and photos of the grandchildren, and shift the important conversations into a better medium. “[The conversation] doesn’t have to be productive, we’re not trying to convince. The point is to have another voice saying, ‘Hey! Stop talking about this on Facebook!’” says Rev. Joel Hess, “I think that says a lot. We’re not talking about arguing a point. I think what we really need to do more of is call out that this is the wrong format.”
About halfway through my college career, I got into a bit of an argument with a family member. Despite a lifetime of living mere miles apart and attending the same school, she chose to air her grievances in an excruciatingly long Facebook message. Now, I was 19 years old, and while I didn’t devolve into emotional outbursts and angry rants, my response (nearly double the length of here original message) was devoid of the wisdom I’ve since gained. The one thing I do not regret is how I ended my message back to her, “How dare you put something like this in a Facebook message…the next time you have something to say, pick up the phone like an adult.” I wish this would have been the entirety of my response. Even better would have been to ignore the post altogether and call her myself.
As a society, we have confused the virtual with the tangible, “likes” for friends, and a post for actual conversation. We act as though what happens on our feed is reality, and all that we encounter offline are merely shadows and impressions, there to sustain us between logins. We need to go back to relegating social media into the entertainment corner, and pulling important debates and arguments into better formats for conversation. In the meantime, regardless of which medium we are engaging with at the moment, God’s commandments still apply, and we are instructed to speak well of one another, and defend them when others attack. We are not called to be silent and passive as the reputations of others are unjustly destroyed. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” Prov. 31:8-9
This article is a brief examination of the “metaphorical and theological rugby match” that was this week’s episode of Ringside Preachers. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Ross Engel, Tyler the Intern, and special guest Cindy Koch as they duke it out over the post-pandemic fracturing of the church, what to look for when you are calling a pastor, the foolishness of the cross and more on the full Ringside Preachers episode, “Will People Come Back?”
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