By Elizabeth Prata
I grew up without the internet and social media. I roamed the neighborhood at will. I explored ponds, creeks, and woods. I built forts out of sticks and branches, I read books under trees. I biked without a helmet, swam after eating, bought ice cream from the tinkling song ice cream truck, went barefoot.
I watched TV as it was broadcast, no TiVo, streaming, or playback. I talked on the phone with friends or even went to their house and talked face to face.
Social media hadn’t been invented yet. The intenet was just a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. The closest we came to social media was the Slam Book. This was popular when I was in Junior High school, renamed Middle School nowadays. It was usually a spiral notebook with the title written big across the front. Inside the first page was numbered down the left column, where you ‘signed in’, and inside on some pages were questions of the day. Favorite Teacher? Best Sport? Boy you like? Girl you hate? Etc. It may have started as a friendly chain letter-in-a-notebook, but it always ended up as mean. The notebook was a testament and a memorial to the power of negative written words.
Today we have Twitter and Facebook for that. If you received an insulting or biting comment about you in your own Slam Book you could erase it if it was in pencil or blot it out if it was in pen. That’s about all you could do. But you’ll have read it, seen it. The insult goes to your heart, and you don’t forget. If the comment made about you was in someone else’s slam book, you couldn’t erase hers, and you’d know the comment was there for everyone else to read.
Today we have Twitter and Facebook for slamming. Its effect is more damning because the internet is world wide. Slander, slams, insults made about you or me go anywhere or everywhere. There is no pencil to erase it or pen to blot it out. While we have the Spirit’s power to rejoice in reviling if it was for Christ’s name, it’s still difficult personally to endure.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12).
There is, though, the Block button. On Twitter there’s the Mute button, and on Facebook, unfollow.
Some Christians feel queasy about blocking or even muting. On the one hand, I understand. The reason I’m active on social media is to proclaim Jesus in various ways, through picture scriptures, verses, my writing, links to good resources and sermons, and through my behavior. I want the falsely saved and the truly lost to see Christ in what I say and do. I want to be open to questions about Him so that I can share the Gospel with them.
But I have limits. One limit is behavior from others that I would not tolerate in my home, and my social media is my extended ‘home’. Name calling, true bullying, profanity, persistent niggling if I’d asked them to stop, blasphemy, dismissing the Bible as an authoritative, sufficient word of God, all things that are no-go for me.
So on the other hand, profanity and bullying will get you blocked or unfollowed. I have no compunction about that. I would not tolerate a woman or a man pushing me around in my house or swearing at me, and I don’t tolerate it online. If having engaged with a person and they are starting to show their colors, that they believe the Bible is suspect, and I’ve gently shown them that it is true, but they come back harder, I mute. The Bible is the only basis for biblical conversation. There is no sense having a biblical conversation with someone who disbelieves the Bible.
My other limit is my behavior. If I continue to engage with a belligerent person, the only trajectory for me is down. At some point I’ll lose my patience and then I’ll destroy my witness. I have to know when to pull back and to say good night to a person.
I don’t feel guilty about muting or blocking. Everyone has their own limits, but the Bible does tell us there are times to engage and there are times to walk away.
Here are some resources about attacks & insults:
John MacArthur: Casting pearls before swine
Alistair Begg: Video “Be Strong, Stand Firm”