Have you ever noticed how theological conversations on Facebook tend to disintegrate quickly? Anger, accusations, and off-the-cuff rhetoric now seem to be standard procedure. I know a lot of Christian leaders that choose to simply not ever engage on Facebook, because it tends to go downhill so quickly.
I’m convinced it doesn’t have to be this way. You can choose to join or start a conversation in a Christ-honoring way and make a positive impact in the social media space.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you venture out into the waters of online theological controversy.
1) Write with grace
Remember that you are an ambassador for Christ in this moment. You are not primarily representing your church, your employer, or even yourself. You are representing Jesus himself. Find points of agreement with the person you are conversing with, and make the effort to genuinely understand their ideas.
Keeping the the tone light and respectful will go a long way toward keep the conversation civil. And speaking of tone, remember that things don’t always come across the way you intend in the written medium. If in doubt, rephrase or explicitly state how you want your idea to come across (for instance: “This is a sincere, not sarcastic question…")
Never respond when frustrated, angry, or flustered. Take time to cool off. It can always wait until tomorrow. Avoid deliberately inflammatory rhetoric like the plague. Don’t call people names and don’t throw accusations of heresy around lightly.
2) Know the limits of the medium
Facebook threads get pretty unwieldy when the comments get too long. Honestly, it’s just may not the best place to lay out your thoughtful, logical argument for whatever theological truth is under discussion. It seems unlikely to me that a very long response is even very likely to be read. Be concise, articulate, and accurate.
3) Don't aim to convince
Don’t always try to fully persuade the other person of your point of view, especially if you can’t lay out your whole argument in a thorough yet brief way. Instead, provide a compelling thought that could spur further discussion or exploration, and offer to discuss the issue in more detail via private message or email.
4) Know when to bow out
If the conversation starts to get repetitive (“As I said in my previous comment,” “Let me restate what I’m actually saying…") the discussion may be over. If it’s clear you each understand the other’s position, yet neither of you is ready to change their mind, then gracefully bring the thread to a close. If it’s obvious your conversation partner isn’t going treat your arguments seriously or if the other person starts making personal attacks and assumptions, it’s time to stop. Don’t be afraid to write something like this when the time is right:
“I totally understand your point of view, and I hope I’ve been able to communicate mine accurately. Although we disagree, I’m grateful for what we have common. Grace and peace!”
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Don’t waste the opportunity to engage in theological conversation on Facebook. Just choose your battles wisely and remember it takes effort, forethought, and often extraordinary amounts of patience.