June 29th, 2010
08:20 AM ET

My Take: Why Christians are jerks online

Editor's Note: Jonathan Acuff writes the blog www.stuffchristianslike.net and recently released the book "Stuff Christians Like." In addition to commenting on Christian culture, he’s also written branding for clients such as The Home Depot, Bose, Chick-fil-A and AutoTrader.com. He lives outside of Atlanta with his wife and two young daughters. Follow him on Twitter @prodigaljohn.

By Jonathan Acuff, Special to CNN

Bono is a born again Christian.

Or he’s not.

It’s one of those two. I’m just not sure which, but I am certain that the faith of U2 is something we Christians like to argue about. That and beer. You never know if your small group is populated with prohibitionists. You have to say things like, "Is there anything you need me to bring to the dinner party, anything at all?" Then if they say, "Sure, how about a bottle of wine?" you’re good.

U2, beer, our favorite pastor’s kid-gone-wild Katy Perry: these are usually the topics I write about on www.stuffchristianslike.net. (Which is indeed a direct rip off of the site www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com.) But today I thought I might deal with something with a little sharper teeth. Something you don’t see addressed often, but you might have experienced.

Put simply, I want to talk about why sometimes we Christians are jerks online.

Much like "Christian hate mail," being a "Jerk Christian" defies logic. We serve a loving God. We follow a Christ who very plainly told us what to do. In Matthew 22 someone asks Jesus, "What is the most important commandment?" The answer is simple:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

There’s no confusion about that. No smoke monster. No mystical wisdom that must be found on a mountain peak after growing a ZZ Top-worthy beard. Someone asks Christ what matters and the second thing is "Loving your neighbor as yourself."

So then why are there so many hateful Christian blogs? Why do Christians write bitter messages on Twitter? Why do we send hate mail?

I think there are two reasons Christians are jerks online.

  1. The business traveler approach.
  2. It’s unfortunately not that uncommon for business travelers to get in trouble when they’re on the road. With a "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" approach they tend to do things they would never do at home. "The rules don’t apply here. I’m a different person. This is 'road me,' not 'home me.'" I believe sometimes Christians approach the Internet the same way. The rules of "real life" don’t count. Sure, I have to love my neighbor, but are people on Facebook my neighbor? The Internet doesn’t "count." These are just words. Surely I can throw a missile of hate at someone on Twitter. And when we buy into this logic, we develop an unloving, anything goes, whatever happens online stays online mentality. We become two different people, "Offline Christian" and "Online Christian." And we become jerks.

  3. Room Cleaning Christianity

Why do Christians argue about drinking beer or why the tankini is the least slutty of all bathing garments? I think it’s because we sometimes practice "Room Cleaning Christianity." Think of it like college. When you’ve got a final paper due Monday, you will be amazed at how energetic your desire is to clean your room. You will scrub tile with a slow toothbrush if it means avoiding the bigger, more difficult work of writing your paper. The same thing happens with Christianity. Loving your neighbor might be simple, but it’s not easy. Maybe my neighbor is a jerk too. Maybe they hate God. Maybe they are actively and violently opposed to everything I believe. And showing them grace feels impossible. So instead of dealing with that, we get online and police people. We find small things to focus on that will distract us. I think God wants us to discuss the little stuff, but we make it an idol when we practice room cleaning Christianity at the exclusion of love. And we tend to become jerks.

Hopefully you’ve never experienced either of these things. Hopefully this article feels like Amish Romance Fiction, currently a hit amongst Christians. But if it doesn’t, if you’ve been an online jerk, if you’ve acted like I have, there’s hope.

Jesus came for the mess-ups like us. Jesus came for the failures. Jesus came for the jerks. (That’s not in the King James version of the Bible, I remixed it like Timbaland.) And the truth is, grace is the antidote to being a jerk online.

So my hope is that you won’t prove my point in the comments section. My hope is you’ll accept my apology for the times I’ve been a jerk to you online.

My hope is that I’ll see Bono in heaven, or at the bare minimum "the Edge."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Acuff.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Jesus • Opinion

soundoff (1,722 Responses)
  1. otherworld

    ive read your texts....

    jesus said much about love and hate. But nothing about anger.

    Anger and spite are sometimes warranted to be worthy of respect. You can be angry, but never hate. So, your logic is flawed. Your narrative did make me angry, and im not even a christian, yet I do not hate you, I am really not emotionally invested in whatr you have to say. But I did find it begging of attention and obnoxiousness to warrant a comment. I never like to make people feel bad. 🙂

    may god be with you. 😉

    June 29, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  2. Mister Obvious

    Anyone can be a jerk online, regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof. Why just point out that Christians can be jerks? It seems the assumption is made that just because someone claims that they are christian that they are suddenly expected to be perfect? Only God is perfect, Christians are still humans.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
    • John

      Yah. I hear some variant of that refrain frequently: Christians aren't perfect, only God is. What dismays me is this: Too many Christians seem to regard their own human flaws as blanket exemptions from attempting to live up to the fine examples Christ set.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  3. Perspective B

    Not just online but in foreign countries as well. For the most part I don't have anything against people who are religious despite not being religious myself. However, my wife being from another country (China) has told me how people who are christian have pushed their weight around over there. Their highschool hired someone from the States to teach English. The person who came in was Christian. She only taught English out of the Bible (which would be illegal here) and forced the class to learn the "teachings of god". Not only unethical with most people being Buddhist but quite impractical as well considering the kind of english that is in the bible, isn't the type that you would speak to each other.

    I gather she was quite nasty. So a lot of people go out of country to bring new disgrace to their way of life.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
  4. LaJollaRich

    There is no concept of 'good' without 'evil'. There is no concept of 'darkness' without 'light'. There is no concept of 'up' without 'down'.

    Our planet / universe / galaxy is a mix of contrasts and opposition. That's our world.

    You are not better than anyone.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  5. c. j.

    Christian Children are no better than their parents. Many of them go wild on the Internet. I guess it is the only place they can be wild at, and get away with it.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  6. earthgirl

    Almost without exception, every devout Christian I know is an egotistical, hypocritical jerk

    June 29, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
    • Gary

      earthgirl as a 46 year old hardworking highly educated agnostic. I think you prejudge them

      June 29, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  7. nels d

    Wonderful we can disagree about the path and no one is being a jerk.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
    • Gary

      nels d.....LOL LOL !

      June 29, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
  8. jlc

    Seems the ones who label themselves Christian are usually evangelicals who are just as fake as the southern-hospitality-south they come from. The even have the audacity to call Catholics and many of the traditional Christian Religions as Non-Christians. Hypocrites, Zealots....they are everything they profess not too be.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  9. LaJollaRich

    The Ancients understood that their belief systems were mere mythology and that the symbology of peoples were not real - never existed. Somehow, Jesus turned into a real person and a god and Christianity was formed. Mohammand became a real person and there's a garden of paradise with virgins for killers.


    June 29, 2010 at 11:36 pm |
    • MamaKas

      So completely insane. The same people who believe in God will tell you fairies, and elves don't exist. I see no difference between the three. All require faith as they have no proof. All are made up by the minds of men.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  10. Mark from Middle River

    I wish folks would stop apolgizing for the actions of others. This is stupid and counts for nothing. If another Christian did you or some one else wrong take that up with them. If you could not stand against them then you have my sympathies and prayers but I do not have control over them so I really owe you nothing. I do blame and wait for an apology from my white friends because of past acts against my ancestors and those expecting for a Christian who is standing before you to answer for the acts of another is not really fair. If a Christian is standing before you

    June 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm |
    • Gary

      Mark from Middle River , you are correct but you should blame the Africans who helped round up and capture the tribesman and sell them to the white Europeans. You should be upset with the white slave owners who used religion to guilt many slaves into being submissive

      June 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  11. Skuter

    If there was a god this might actually be of some value. "Blasphemy is a victimless crime." Richard Dawkins

    June 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  12. harley


    June 29, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
  13. lulz

    I'll tell you why... Because religions (all of them) are a sham. It's the same reason that divorce rates are just as high in the church as in the secular world. The same reason Jimmy Swaggart and others like him fell. The same reason priests molest little boys. Christians are no different than anyone else. They act just like the world and think it's okay because their faith has saved them. Well, James 2:14 has a little something to say about your faith. Faith without deeds is dead. James asks rhetorically, "Can faith save you?" Meaning, no it cannot. Not alone. Too many Christians don't even know their own bible.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • LaJollaRich

      Thank you. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all new religions and they are shams. Time to stop riding that high-horse to 'heaven' that doesn't exist.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
    • Gary

      Lulz, you hit the nail on the head. not just Swaggart.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  14. LaJollaRich

    There is a 50/50 chance G-D does not exist. We all have to be aware of that reality.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  15. Gary

    My dad is 81 a devout Methodist. He is a Geologist and understands earth is billions of years old. He studied and written about Pangia,Oceanic ridges,fossil fuels,animal fossils,plate techtonics,erosion and many other disciplines regarding an old earth. He fully understands natural selection and evolution of course. He isnt intimidated by science and earth facts. He believes God is in control of it all. He is great Christian and I am a great Agnostic.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • Eyes Wide Open

      I'm curious if he believes the world was created in a week.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • Andrew Messenger

      @Eyes Wide Open :

      This one is just my own take on it.

      My dog is seven human years' old. In dog years, she is 49. It has to do with how you choose to perceive it.
      To my dog, a human year is as though it were seven to her. To the Creator of the universe, the One who holds the entire universe in the palm of His hand, how long is one day? To the Creator of the universe, how long is seven days?
      One day, I will ask Him, and He will tell me.

      In the beginning, the writer of Genesis chose to say seven days. The writer did not explain on who's time clock. Granted, this was the beginning. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The writer didn't say, "In the beginning, God created human-defined time clocks so the scientists of the 21st century AD would know beyond doubt how many seconds, or billions of years, it actually took to create the earth."

      Is it impossible to think God couldn't create the heavens and the earth in seven days if He were in fact God of the universe? I don't think so. In today's modern world, we know how to make a brand new pair of jeans look as though they were worn out by someone long ago, and then we are willing to pay lots of money to accept them as they are. Do we question the fact that the jeans are brand new or do we accept them as brand new, even though they look like they've been around for billions of years?

      If there were no humans around (in the beginning) to experience how God sped up the clock and made things look like it was billions of years old (in the eyes of modern day human scientists) how could we theoretically know with any certainty what seven days to the Creator of everything might mean?

      I suppose it depends on whether you would decide to choose the opinion of a human-defined carbon-dating methodology over the Word of God.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:13 am |
  16. nels d

    Perhaps someday we'll behave like Christ. Christians are not better than the rest of you, but they are saved from eternal damnation.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • LaJollaRich

      If G-D created Satan - had to, right? If G-D created a tree in the middle of paradise that was not to be touched because it was 'evil'. Then G-D is supposedly good and evil. Then how can there be eternal damnation? Then how can there be a 'heaven'?

      This Is It and it is wonderful. Best to make the most of it. We don't know what's next. We only have hope which is 50/50. Odds aren't good.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
  17. palintheclown

    There is a huge chance that a god doesn't exist. And let's say a god does exist, there is just as big of a chance that this god is not the one from your religion. So get over it, you are most likely wrong on both counts.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
  18. Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

    A quick analogy to explain why atheists feel we need to be on the defensive, lest our rights be subjugated by this country’s laws and its Christian majority:

    Let’s say there’s a guy who lives upstairs in your building who LOVES really loud, really explicit rap music – loves it so much that he’s tricked out his home and his car stereo with several thousand dollars worth of subwoofers and glass-shattering speakers. But I mean he REALLY loves his music – he lives for it, it moves him like nothing else, speaks to him, makes him feel connected to something bigger and brighter and more important, like a sense he’s part of that channeling of what those lyrics are about. It’s real and cool and central to his enjoyment of life. So he plays his music day and night, you can hear him coming from half a mile away and he wants to share and share this amazing, life-altering real thing he’s found that takes him away from his troubles, his doubts, anything mundane in his life. You feel like he’s got it cranked up almost all the time.

    But you, his downstairs neighbor, you like different kinds of music and often times for it just to be quiet while you read or write, watch TV or concentrate on a crossword puzzle. You want to be able to have your friends and family over without obnoxious rap lyrics pounding nonstop. You don’t care what kind of music this guy likes, but you DO care that he foists in on you every time it suits him to crank it up – which is often. And if you politely ask him to turn it down a bit, or maybe even not crank it up until he’s a couple of blocks down the road, he takes great offense. “It’s a free country, man! What’s more American than some great tunes? You’re just trying to tell me how to live my life when all you do is boring stuff like sit around and read the paper…I love my music and if you don’t, then buy some earplugs or move away to somewhere quieter”

    You know it’s his right to like whatever kind of music he likes, and if he’d just respect your equal right to enjoy your life without his music imposed on it, all would be OK, but he can’t fathom that anyone would fail to see the power and beauty of his music and, what’s more, he genuinely believes that his music and its message is SO important that it’s something akin to a duty to ignore any objections to this belief as misguided and uninformed and thus to redouble his efforts to make you love it as he does…that, or take his suggestion and move away – he thus COMPLETELY ignores your rights to equal treatment and equal control over the choice and volume of the soundtrack of your existence…and this is fine with him, because, after all, he has things his way whenever he wants it and any protestations on your part are based on an imperfect understanding and appreciation of this self-evidently beautiful and meaningful experience of bone-jangling rap music…

    June 29, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
    • Andrew Messenger

      It probably depends on your perspective of it. You may have amazingly sensitive ears where you are constantly hearing his music. To you personally it sounds as though the music is blaring as loudly as it possibly could when in fact, he didn't have the music turned up very loudly at all.

      Perhaps it is denial on your part, or ego, that you don't want to admit to your neighbor that you in fact do like to listen to same kind of music, but you are just too proud to admit that you secretly like to listen to that same kind of music. For you to actually admit that the kind of music he is listening to is actually kind of cool might make you look weak. Inasmuch, you don't want to be caught up with the weak crowd. So instead you might rather just pretend that you hate the kind of music he plays, even though, secretly in your heart of hearts, the music he is playing has a beat to it that you actually like.

      Oftentimes, more often than not, it just so happens that it is when someone feels as though they are being agitated by a certain type of music to such a degree that it feels as though they might be losing their minds. It is in those very instances that SOME people, not all, but SOME, are actually beginning to wake up to the fact that there is in fact a reason why that music has been following you around for all your life. Perhaps it is a coincidence that you take your own advice and move far away, and when you do, you move into another apartment, and guess what, you hear the same type of music as you heard before, a completely different neighbor, but the exact same music. It is as though it doesn't matter how hard you try to get away from that music, it is still attempting to find a home in your head ... and in you heart.

      I like the idea that you chose to use a parable to explain the way you feel. I do believe however that sometimes the best solution is to look in the mirror and see how I personally relate to the parable in which I write. In doing so, I will find what has been looking for me all the while. Even when I didn't realize it, that music was not actually coming from my next door neighbor. The music was coming from a record player that was playing inside my own heart. I just had to figure out where the music was coming from.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:07 am |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      Andrew - you really, beautifully illustrate the difference between believers and non-believers in your response. I sincerely mean that as a compliment - therein is the seed of how those of you who believe so ardently wish to turn other's minds and hearts to your way of thinking, even, in this case, in direct denial of the reality of others' experiences. My parable/analogy is NOT about some private music, some misunderstanding of someone else's viewpoint or "truth" - I want you to understand how arrogant your response reads (I am NOT accusing you of being arrogant, but perhaps ignorant of how important non-believers view their right to their beliefs and opinions - we ARE your equals, please try to accept that)...this is vital, because your response, while coming from a genuine place of personal belief, directly denies my right to find the music, the belief system of others when foisted on me, the laws of my country, the schoolrooms of my children, to be contrary to my own enjoyment of life and spirituality free of another's dogma. Your response is tantamount to a Muslim (or Mormon, Jew, Hindu, etc. etc.) telling you that yes, you may be feeling close to some spiritual truth in your relationship with Jesus, but only because you're actually starting to hear the still small voice of Muhammad, Joseph Smith, etc...

      June 30, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  19. elevatelove.com

    I think it should be noted Christians do not corner the market on jerkiness. There are jerks across the board regardless of race creed, religion, etc. Also I think the point of the article was not to say Christians are online jerks but to hopefully strike a chord in the hearts of online jerky Christians in hopes of change.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  20. Sue

    My sister & brother-in-law consider themselves to be "christians" and see nothing wrong with him beating their 5-year old nephew with a belt on a daily basis, filing false insurance claims (and reaping $50,000+), him hitting a blind/deaf woman on the head and then making her apologize for making him mad.
    Oh, and yes, telling everyone they are christians. They have to, no one would know it by their actions.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • LaJollaRich

      Like in Ancient Egypt, anyone that beats a child should be killed by everyone the witnesses it.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.