The Internet and the rise of Christian mobs
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke

Religious mobs have been around for thousands of years. After all, it was a religious mob that called for Barabbas to be freed and Jesus to be executed. It was a similar motivation for the mobs that called for the arrest of the disciples. And throughout history, Christian mobs have done plenty of damage in the name of Jesus. From the days of the Early Church, to the Crusades, to burning heretics, to racists and beyond, there’s always been a fringe of Christians who succumb to a mob mentality.

Today, I’m afraid it’s coming back in spades on the Internet – particularly when it comes to accusing other believers – especially when it comes to theology. There are an incredible number of blogs, social media feeds, and others – who may be well meaning – but who feel like it’s their “calling” to expose heresy or sin in the lives of other people.

The problem is, they don’t seem to be hindered by not knowing the facts.

I’ve worked behind the scenes consulting churches and ministries for four decades, and while I’ve had the opportunity to partner with amazing pastors, leaders, and causes during in that time, I’ve also seen plenty of shameful things. As a result, I’ve had to help more than a few churches and ministries recover from the revelation of leaders who were adulterers, alcoholics, liars, and even pedophiles.

Any leader exposed in sin should be dealt with Biblically and legally, but what’s disconcerting in the age of the Internet is the number of Christians who pile on – without much knowledge of the facts. During one crisis, I read a blogger who ripped into a leader but got most of the facts wrong. Then 20 other people commented, and most of them had the facts wrong as well.

I’ve recently seen a social media feed from a Christian who positions himself as a modern-day Martin Luther, another convinced he’s called to be a theology cop, and another who writes “open letters” that he publishes about leaders he thinks are wrong. But who are these self-proclaimed critics accountable to?

Jesus didn’t encourage mob behavior. In fact, he went out of His way to shut them down (remember that “He who is without sin cast the first stone” incident?)

That’s not to say leaders should not be held accountable, and I’ve called for that many times. However, a pile on by an angry online mob isn’t Biblical accountability, and it doesn’t help anyone.

While co-writing my new book: “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back” I’ve been thinking more and more about how much the ease of technology has damaged our unity. The truth is, social media has made it so easy to simply click and comment, that it’s almost difficult not to jump in.

But no matter what the issue, or how much it may anger us, it doesn’t help to get whipped into a frenzy and accuse anyone without knowing the real story. To that end, here’s a few questions to consider the next time you feel the need to respond online:

1) What will be gained from my comment? Will this help either side heal, or am I just venting?

2) Do I know the truth here? Have I met anyone involved and discussed it with them?

3) Is my information based on 2nd hand knowledge, or a post from someone who only has 2nd (or 3rd) hand knowledge?

4) Am I sure there’s not a log in my eye before I comment on the speck in someone else’s eye?

5) Does my comment express the attitude of Jesus and the perspective of scripture?

When it comes to our witness before the world, it’s important that we take sin seriously. But taking it seriously also means that we consider whether or not our comments, blogs, and posts are helping or hurting.

 

Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.

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