In January, I began working for a ministry devoted to starting conversations about Jesus via phone, online chatting, email, and text. You may have seen one of our ads on TV or heard a radio spot at some point. My primary responsibility is to talk with people through the online chatting platform. So far it has been a great experience, but as with all things internet it has made for some interesting encounters.
Since the conversation doesn’t play out face-to-face, it provides an environment of safety in which individuals tend to share a lot of heavy issues they are dealing with, many of which are thought to be too shameful to speak of in person. On the other hand, it also provides an anonymous arena for people to say anything they want without consequences. Plenty of individuals log on with the sole intention of mocking the faith and degrading whoever exists on the other end of the conversation.
Surely you’ve seen this played out as well. When I think through some of my Facebook/Twitter friends, I know for certain there are statements they make online that they would never have the boldness to make in person because of how they castigate others. The internet is a lawless environment where we can say whatever we feel with little to no immediate accountability for the effects of our words. None of us are above this. Too often, we forget that a real person sits behind those words.
About a month ago, Jimmy Fallon ran a bit on his show involving the former New York Yankee, Robinson Cano. This past offseason, Cano was the most sought-after free agent and the league-wide bidding war finally sent him to the Seattle Mariners. Needless to say, Yankee fans weren’t too happy about that. So Fallon provided them the opportunity to express their distaste for the athlete prior to his first appearance in New York as a Mariner.
His crew set up a cardboard cutout of Cano and offered unsuspecting passersby the chance to boo him all the while oblivious to the fact that Cano was hiding in person behind the cutout.
The joke is hilarious, but I recently happened across another blog that perfectly tied the bit to the way we often treat others online. When those interviewed think that Cano is only present in the form of a cardboard cutout, they yell, boo, and call him names for going to another team. Yet, as soon as Cano emerges from behind the cutout, their whole demeanor changes. Immediately, the disrespect dissolves and is replaced by the honor of meeting the man.
It is much easier to criticize, cut down, and belittle others when we can sit behind the anonymity of a screen without facing the full human dignity of their person. Our words seem less heavy and consequential when we do not have to make them face-to-face.
I am astounded by some of the things said to me in my job for believing in Christ. The accusations are unfounded and many times scathing, but I often wonder if those typing them would be bold enough to verbalize the same statements were I standing in front of them, face-to-face.
How do you treat others online? Do you exhibit hospitality and consideration when you disagree with someone’s views? Jesus once said that the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith is love for one another because within that attitude is the clearest resemblance of Christ’s sacrificial love for the world in voluntarily dying for us while we were still sinners.
How does your online presence treat others? What does it say to those who see it? Does it project a respect for the dignity of human beings who are all made in the image of God?
There is a profound truth to be found in this late night TV prank. Everyone deserves to be honored for the simple fact that they are image bearers of the God of the universe, regardless of personal background, political preference, religious conviction, or lifestyle commitment. Our treatment of others, whether in person or online, reveals something of our love (or lack thereof) for Christ.