I bailed on social media a few years ago. My capacity for shredding the ill-formed viewpoints of others had been honed into a gleaming weapon of war. Tragically, I was proud of this fact. My son’s friends, mostly college students, even told him I was a social media “legend.” Yikes! Hardly.

Let me clearly state that I repent of this “skill.” I became disgusted with my glaring character flaw and, at the wise counsel of another, pulled the plug. Good move.

I promise you this isn’t a rant against social media. It’s a candid admission of my own struggles. I believe my choice to go off the social-media grid was the wise, sanity-restoring course of action for me. There is no dearth of online foolishness, no shortage of trolls who are all too happy to grapple in the sewer with anyone naïve enough (or in my case, arrogant enough) to jump off the bridge and join them. Such a course of action is wildly unhelpful. Anger breeds more anger, and seldom is it of the righteous variety.

My struggle with hastily answering fools according to their folly points to a widespread problem. We’re angrily, stridently divided—even Christians. Why is that? And what should we do about it? Permit me the following modest contribution to the dialogue.

Usually, we get angry because we perceive a particular injustice. Problems arise because all of us tend to see one side of any given issue more clearly than other possible sides. That’s why it’s called a point of view. Yet every issue has multiple angles from which to be viewed.

Take racial tensions, for example. I don’t even have to cite a specific incident before you’ve already formed a conclusion in your head. This is good, because we should have strong opinions against racism. It’s also bad, because good people have substantially differing opinions about how to address it. How are we to find justice?

We tend to sprint to our own particular conclusions because we really do want justice. After all, who supports racism? Well, the other side supports racism, of course!!! Everyone can see that!!!!!! (This is the part where we resort to ALL CAPS. It doesn’t help.)

When Jesus chose his twelve disciples, they were all Jewish men. Not much diversity there, right? Not so fast. Among them were Simon the zealot and Matthew the tax collector. These two would have been mortal enemies. Zealots (excessively patriotic Jews) occasionally assassinated collaborators like Matthew. And the people Matthew worked for (the oppressive Roman government) routinely killed people like Simon. So naturally, Jesus brought these two together. That’s how he rolls.

Jesus also told stories that defied the deeply engrained but seldom acknowledged racism of his culture. The story of the Good Samaritan made two distinct points, and both were obvious to his hearers. Not only are we to show mercy to victims, we’re to check our racist attitudes at the door. Israelites had a deep, abiding hatred for Samaritans. They clung to this hatred for moral reasons. After all, Samaritans distorted God’s laws and had a long and proven history of heretical behavior. Jesus pointedly attacked this racially-based bias by making the protagonist of his story a Samaritan. In doing so, he shattered an unhelpful stereotype and held his audience accountable. And he accomplished this by simply telling a story that revealed an uncomfortable truth.

But what are we to do when we see situations in a starkly different way from someone else? What if someone thinks racism is justified? Admittedly, there are those who will attempt to gaslight us by making claims about things that simply are not true. Beware of such trolls. Get out of the sewer and back up on the bridge you’re trying to build to the other side.

Instead of expending all your energy on the trolls, focus on those willing to engage you in meaningful dialogue. You might start the discussion by agreeing not to try to win each other over, but by committing to listening to each other. Or perhaps we could do all the listening. Radical concept, that!

A classic verse from the Bible says:

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 niv)

The prophet Micah is telling his hearers three distinct messages here.

Act justly—on a personal level. Whenever you are in a position to do something about it, don’t permit evil to triumph. Courageously do the right thing.

Love mercy. Think for a brief moment of the worst thing you’ve done. Then consider how you want God to be merciful to you (and he will be if you ask him). Now show that kind of mercy to others. We can get our heads and hearts around extending mercy to victims. But what about to perpetrators? What does that look like? And how do we match that with justice? The answer won’t fit neatly into a meme.

Walk humbly with your God. What seems most absent from our culture’s relentlessly hostile discourse? Humility! And that is the last thing that comes naturally to us. It’s something that can only come from walking with God.

Christians who want to live out their faith in genuine love have a difficult path to follow. (I aspire to walk this path, even though I frequently lose my way.) We are called to carry out all three parts of Micah’s directive. Yet they seem in constant tension with each other. We need more wisdom. We need—I need—more humility. How else are we to talk with each other?

Perhaps you can weigh in on social media with calm and loving reason. If so, may your kind prosper!

I have less natural restraint, so I’ll avoid that bloody front of the justice and mercy battle. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to contribute to the discussion in forums such as this and in real conversations with actual acquaintances, face to face. But words alone can never accomplish justice and mercy. If we’re not actively seeking God, we’re likely making matters worse.

I want to look at another topic that aches for more justice and mercy than it’s getting—poverty. But that’s fodder for another blog. Until then, let’s commit to acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God, wherever he may take us.

—Tim Gustafson

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  • 11/13/21