I have friends of many persuasions – religions, politics, races, genders, sexual orientations (probably more)- who have been in my life at different times and in different places. They often disagree with one another on Facebook, and these disagreements can be healthy – or not. There are a couple of people who, if they met at my house for dinner, would be best of friends. In some cases, these folks are the same religion. They have the same views on social justice issues. If they knew each other, rather than having encountered each other on social media, they would probably be pen pals. But they aren’t.
In some cases, these folks have blocked each other. They ask me why in God’s name I am friends with the other person. They realize that they have probably lost their cool in exchanges with the other person, and they feel badly about it, but they still believe that they are right and the other is a dumb jerk. So while I see the value of social media, and use it often to get information out and to learn and to exchange ideas, I also see the dark side. It keeps us from getting along with each other.
Take tweeting. I know some people who are very supportive of President Trump, for example, but they really hate his tweets. I know people who think their own tweeting is great for quick statements and responses, but do not see how offensive these bursts can be. I know people who are kind, caring, loving, compassionate people, and yet, when they get on social media, they come across as monsters. This is why we can’t get along.
One 2013 study found that it is easier to tell the truth by text than in person (http://observer.com/2013/12/study-its-easier-to-tell-the-truth-over-text-so-why-bother-speaking-anymore/), while another that year found that people are more willing to be honest about religious practices via the internet rather than by phone or in person. This led to the 2015 Pew study about religion that shocked the church into reality about how many people actually go to church regularly. Things had not changed that much, but we were willing to be honest when we aren’t face to face. I am all for honesty, but I prefer to take a St. Paul approach and speak the truth with love. Most truth I hear in public and on social media has little or no love in it. This is why we can’t get along.
There have been times when I have posted a meme or article that a friend (or friends) have disagreed with. There were times when these friends called me names. And while I have messed up – for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s desires – I try really hard to take the high road. I have opinions and I am passionate about many things, but I think that we still need to listen and understand and try to get along. There are caveats – if you are a Nazi, White Supremacist, or member of any kind of hate group, I can’t be your friend until you repent and live differently. I will not consort with evil. If you think caging children at the border is just fine, you need to check your soul and get to Sunday School and Religious Services. But if we disagree about politics, religion, or sauerkraut, then I think we can have a healthy discussion and try to understand each other (no, actually, liking sauerkraut is not up for discussion). As a nation, we are devolving, and we need to fight that process. If we don’t, we will all regret what we have become. Let’s get along. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary UCC in Reading, PA since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).