A few years ago, I read a post by a popular Christian blogger that seemed to be a negative response to something I had written shortly before that (which I’ll call issue A). I wrote up my response to his post, refuting his points. But before I posted it, I sent it to him, because I knew him. We had corresponded about other issues, and though we disagreed on some things, we agreed on others. I couldn’t post something publicly when I knew good and well I had the opportunity to say it privately to him first.
So I sent him my response post, and he replied. He actually wasn’t familiar with Issue A. He was writing about Issue G, of which I was unfamiliar in part because he ministered in a different denomination and region than I did. Once he told me the context, his words in his post took on an entirely different meaning to me.
And so is the tangled way of Christian social media. Sometimes, we write specific criticism. Sometimes we write general praise. These types of posts or tweets, specific bad news or general good news, tend to work OK in social media settings. Donald Trump’s sexual sins. Jen Hatmaker’s change of views on homosexuality. Mark Driscoll’s misogynist language. If you read a post or tweet with specific criticism of those, at least you know exactly what they are talking about. But there is a type of general negative post or tweet that can unleash can after can of worms, and I am learning if you have a negative thing to criticize (that is truly worth criticizing publicly), then be very careful how you do it. Also, if you read a general negative thing, don’t be so sure that you know exactly what the author is trying to criticize.
Here are a few practical suggestions:
1. If you are going to criticize, first make sure that it is needed. Are you just jumping onto a bandwagon? Will your post or tweet add to the edification of the Church? (I’m not so good at this.)
2. Are you sure the thing you think is at play is actually the issue at hand? It is ALWAYS a good idea to do a little research before you speak into something (see point 1). I feel pressured a good bit to speak up on things I don’t yet understand. And, at times, I’ve conceded to that pressure, which I have always regretted after the fact. Stop. Observe. Listen. Research. Be swift to listen and slow to speak. (I’m getting better at this one.)
3. If you’ve satisfied numbers 1 and 2, then check to see if you have avenues to reach out privately with criticism first. I’ve never regretted when I’ve done that, and as the opening story illustrates, sometimes it is enormously helpful.
4. Once you’ve satisfied 1, 2, and 3, make sure your criticism is written carefully and specifically. If you are writing about Issue A, spell out Issue A so that others don’t mistake you as talking about Issue G. If you are writing about a general principle that can be applied in a number of settings, state that clearly too so that others don’t misread what you are or are not trying to say.
I can’t say dogmatically that the greater onus is on the author to write well rather than the reader to read carefully. Probably more is on the author, but the reader needs to take note as well (ever ready to believe the best of the author). Social media is like open mike night in a very large religious establishment with a lot of unbelievers or others on the fringe mulling about within hearing distance. It is a great tool if you are thoughtful and measured. And it is a great trap if you are not. May writers and readers use it well.