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. Gary

    I miss watching That John Edward medium guy. He got me to believe in spirits and an after life....A friend of my wifes had a reading done by him in 2001. She has been religious ever since...He did charge her $300 for 5 minutes though

    June 30, 2010 at 12:10 am |
  2. Marie.

    It is written: "Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling." We cannot obtain salvation by works. It is the Gift of God, less any man should boast. By Grace we are saved by faith. Christianity is a religion. Jesus Christ was/is a Person. He is all man and all God. I was so hungry for THE Truth, growing up. My parents would not let me leave their spiritually dead church to seek for a living one. But, I found a very alive fellowship 34 years ago in Virginia, and now I have found another, almost 7 years ago. I used to want to see to believe. But, when I really believed, I saw. The reality of who Jesus is, and His burning Love in my heart causes me to want to communicate that reality to others. I have had a few real encounters with Him and He is very real. I went through a lot of New Age type stuff over 38 years ago, before it had a name. I would have been a real Oprah follower back then. But, I have loved Oprah since I saw her first show. She is very much in error now, and I believe with all my heart she is as sincere as I was in my search for the Real Thing. I pray for her, for she is leading many astray, and it will hurt her deeply when she realizes this. Some people will not listen to The Truth, no matter how I present Him, for their deeds are evil, and they do not want to come to The Light. Sometimes I may say things the wrong way, but it is never my desire to hurt anyone. I just want everyone to know and love our awesome Creator God. People get confused in The Word because they see it in their natural understanding. God says His Words are Spirit. When one learns and applies it in their natural understanding and then ask for the real spiritual understanding God wants us to see, and He reveals that, it is sheer joy. It is the real revelation of Jesus and is beautiful. It's like a treasure hunt that never ends, but always makes the seeking heart glad. It tears at my heart when "Christians" act like the world. They are here to make a difference. However most put aside the commandments and instruction of God to keep the traditions and teachings of man. There are some that really walk with Him and love Him with all their heart. It takes growth to reach that place where we become like HIm. It hurts that many speak ill of Him because of the things many do who are called by His Name. I pray that you who do not believe will seek Him for yourself, not through those who represent Him badly and in error. I promise He is very real. He wants us to repent of our own ways and seek Him with all our hearts. It is well worth the effort. It is really joy unspeakable and full of Glory.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:08 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Your 'belief' means your chances of them being 'real' are only 50/50. You do realize that, right? Odds are really low.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:15 am |
    • im president charley

      50-50 isnt really low. it's equal,

      June 30, 2010 at 12:20 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      @ im president – You're right. 50/50 is equal. Either way, belief in something is merely its real AND it isn't.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:37 am |
    • im president charley

      i love you man jolly rich, but seriously man, by adding merely- you're adding bias. youll sount more convincing if you sound more objective- or try to be

      June 30, 2010 at 12:39 am |
  3. Mister Obvious

    @ Trolleyfish. You may be right about some, or maybe even most self-proclaimed Christians, but not all. Do I believe that the way I think is right? Of course I do, if I thought I was wrong, I would think something else. Everyone thinks they are right, or at least want to believe they are right, that's why people crowd together with like-minded others. Those that are insecure in their belief, whatever it may be, find strength by surrounding themselves with other like minded people. If you get enough like minded people together all saying the same thing, then its easier to delude yourself into thinking its true, whether it is or not. No one wants to be wrong.

    No one knows the complete truth. The way I see it, death comes to everyone, so everyone should have the right to decide how they want to prepare for it and face it. I believe in Christ, I choose to live my life the way I choose based on my beliefs. I believe there will be a day of judgement when everyone will stand before God and give an account of their life. I also believe that in that day, I will not be the one on the throne with the gavel in my hand, I will be another defendant waiting for my case to be called. So if I'm not going to be the judge then, how could I possibly expect to be the judge now? Point is, A lot of people believe a lot of different things and the label Christian gets slapped on all of it. Generalizations usually prevent you from seeing anything beyond the illusion of truth you believe. For the time being, forget everything you have ever heard about God and Christ, every obnoxious person that has tried to cram beliefs down your throat. Just for a day, Give God a chance. Pick up a bible and read it for yourself, see if it says anything to you. Dont dis-believe in it just because you are surrounded by others who do. Don't let decisions that affect your life be made by the beliefs of others, pick up the book and read it for yourself.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  4. Chris

    I personally don't think there's any difference whether you're a Christian or not a Christian. Some people are jerks online, and it's probably about the same amount for believers and non-believers. It's kind of sad, but I also have a hard time believing that many of these people who are jerks online and not also jerks in real life. Maybe they just hide it better.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  5. A man after God's Heart

    Gary, if anything is left, sure...

    June 30, 2010 at 12:02 am |
    • Gary

      You can start now while we are both on earth. I can give you wire instructions to start sending me money. Remember A man after Gods Heart its easier for a camal to go through an eyes of a needle than a rich selffish man to enter the kindom of heaven.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:07 am |
    • harley

      haha what makes you think hes rich

      June 30, 2010 at 12:12 am |
  6. Jennifer

    I wish the tagline for this article wasn't "Why Christians Are Jerks Online." Such a negative statement to make on the CNN home page, and casual readers are likely to make assumptions about the content and the author that aren't warranted. To me, this publication approach just contributes to the atmosphere in which it's OK for the media to bash Christians and make remarks that would never pass for other religions (do you think "Why Muslims Are Jerks Online" would have been permitted?). Some of the author's points are well-taken, but I believe his message is overridden by the creation of yet another forum for people to lash out at Christian beliefs.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:02 am |
    • MamaKas

      Don't have a problem with Christian, or any beliefs, just wish you were more tolerant of others who don't agree with your point of view (not you personally). I'm not trying to turn you into an agnostic, please don't try to turn me into a Christian.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  7. Nigel

    It is my experience that whatever discussion I read on the Internet, no matter if it's about religion, sports, business, health, politics or even food, the comments seem to be 75% hateful and negative. It seems that the ability to post anonymous comments on the Internet lets people spew more vitriol than would ever be accepted in real life.

    Why doesn't this incredible medium of communication bring out thoughtful, positive discussion? What a waste. Even worse, it seems that about 95% of people commenting on stories have no ability to spell, use proper grammar, punctuate their writing or present cohesive arguments in their messages. It is painful stuff to read, to say the least.

    As my mother taught me, "if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything lest you prove you are a fool"

    June 30, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  8. WomanChild

    Live for truth!

    June 30, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  9. A man after God's Heart

    Frank, it is not easy to follow Christ examples. That's why Paul written: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."

    June 30, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  10. A man after God's Heart

    Christian's do not have all the answers. Our Lord has ALL the answers. He is seeking a relationship with everyone. That's why He created us to choose.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
    • Gary

      A man after Gods Heart. if the rapture occurs soon can I claim ownership to your earthly possessions?

      June 30, 2010 at 12:01 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Your 1200 year old deified 'lord' created us? Not true. There are facts to disprove that ignorant notion.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:22 am |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      All he has to do is appear in prime time and I'll sign right up. Seriously. Where are the burning bushes? The angelic annunciations? He used to show up all the time, like Charlie's voice mail missions for the Angels. Why the silly game of expecting faith in the unseen? If he *really* wants us to believe in him, it'd be pretty easy...oh, and why does an all knowing, all powerful deity want/need his creation to believe in him? That whole "all powerful" think kinda trumps the idea of battling with Satan....I mean, let's say all the really bizarre stuff from Revelations actually comes to pass, Jesus returns to reign for a thosand years, etc....then what? Game 2? Game over? God dusts his hands on His big cosmic Pants and goes out to work in the garden??

      June 30, 2010 at 12:54 am |
  11. Frank Stanton

    I think one of the biggest issues I find with American Christianity is a widespread intolerance for others, as well as a moral certainty which is so strong it automatically excludes anyone who is not in the flock. This country which is described as a Christian nation, is filled with politicians, athletes, generals and movie stars who praise God as if he/she is the only reason that they are successful. And yet, despite all this divine inspiration, despite all the so-called blessed individuals, America is one of the most violent and selfish countries on earth. The vast majority of politicians who blocked the unemployment insurance extension are self-avowed Christians. How is voting against unemployment extensions a Christian act? I think most Christians and most Americans, in general are really into protecting themselves and their immediate families than their fellow man. That to me seems very unChristian.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
    • W0lfman

      And didn't the Lord predict that this is the way the world would be in the future?

      Didn't He say, When the Son of Man comes again, will there still be faith or love in the world?

      The weeds have been left to grow with the wheat, to be separated at the end of time.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  12. Andrea M

    I think it's about moderation really. We can't all be smiley happy loving people all the time, everybody has light and dark sides. If you can mix the two you don't wind up with the devil and angel on your shoulders type scenario. The best, most loving, and accepting human being I have ever met who happens to be a christian, alias my best friend, is also the guy who introduced me to drinking, smoking, taking drugs, and exploring nightlife. He gets me smashed regularly without even thinking about the cost, will always offer a cigarette, introduced me to Ecstasy, and chucked me head-long into the club scene here but when it all went south one night and I was barely conscious, he's the one who probably saved my life. I would literally let him dangle me over a cliff by the ankle and have complete trust in him not to drop me. In the end despite the two of us "sinning" (seriously, I think Jesus would be down with a drug that makes you love everyone for the night and sometimes permanently) I think we come out the other side better for being able to blend our sketchy night lives with our normal person day lives.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  13. EChang

    Frankly, I'm embarrassed by the conduct of some of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I've never encountered a more hateful group of people, especially towards people who ostensibly share the same faith. I hope they see this article and have a care for the people whom they affect by their behavior.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  14. Trolleyfish

    Here's a reason: Christians are convinced they have the only answer. Thus, they have the moral high ground and are entirely justified to treat others however they wish.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  15. Ann

    I am a Christian, a political junky and a democrat. I have felt at my own church sometimes if I'm not wanted or if I need to present a republican ID before entering the doors. I do think there is a difference from having a relationship with Jesus and being "religous" and following the "law". In reality Christians and everyone else are all hypocrats. It's so much easier to point out someone elses faults/sins than look at your own. Some religous people seem to have this check list of major sins, and say well I'm not a drug addict, I don't cheat on my spouse and write off their minor sins. In God's eyes, sin is sin. Pride (I'm better than you) and name calling (baby killer) are just as bad as murder. When you have Jesus and God's grace in your your heart, you strive to be more loving and forgiving but being human you screw up along the way. Being Christian is not about being a "moral authority" , it's about not beating yourself down because of your sinful nature and knowing that Jesus loves you and died on the cross for your sins.
    We all make judgements about other people all the time. We choose who we are friends with, we choose who would employ or work well with based on judging the persons character. When we judge them to tear them down and build ourselves up is the problem. It's a natural human response to attack once you have been attacked. Just read the many post. Why call someone "stupid" ? Does that somehow make you smarter or have more insight?
    Being Christian is also not blindly following what some "authority" says but knowing God has a plan for all of us and will be by your side in the good times and the bad. It's about being able to sleep at night when life hits you in the head. It's about maturing and learning from the hurt and pain. It's about joy of giving and building others up instead of taking and tearing people down.
    I think so many religous people get so caught up in Bible knowledge and religous speak that they forget God's grace, love, forgiveness and guidence. I can't pretend to know if someone is a "true" christian, because I don't know what is in their heart. Judging their deeds only tells me that they are a sinner like me.
    It does seem that people tend to paint groups of people with broad strokes be it based on religion, gender or race. Also people feel more comfortable and bolden when they are in groups who think just like them.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
    • Gary

      Ann Christian? Democrat? oxymoron..just kidding great post .....I am a staunch conservative tea party Agnostic ....I know where you are coming from @ times

      June 29, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • XtnThinkr

      thank you Ann for a reasoned and thoughtful response.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:15 am |
  16. A man after God's Heart

    Christian's, Atheist, Jewish, and all.... May His everlasting love shine upon you, your family, and friends. Seek Him, and He will show you His Love.

    "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, " Romans 3:23

    "and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:24

    June 29, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  17. otherworld

    for example,. your picture makes me want to punch your face like a punching bag. Thasts not hate, thats jsut an inadvertent reaction to your pathetic attempt to get attention through such a pciture. I wouldn't want to deny you the attention you so desire.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
  18. John

    Why are some Christians jerks online? For the same reaons anyone else is a jerk online: Inner pain. Anonymity. Lack of direct accountability.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  19. LaJollaRich

    I thank The Great Architect, The Universe, The Great Powers that be whatever or whomever 'might' be for the opportunity to exist in this beautiful world of contrasts. Earth sure is a pretty place the thrive.

    Unfortunately, some of the people here think they're better and / or holier than I am - trying to ruin the whole experience. I won't let them.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
    • Gary

      LajollaRich very well said I thank the powers framers for nature,my parents wife and family, I like to inhale positive energy and breath out negativity. I dont allow religious enslaved minds ruin my blessed life

      June 29, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  20. Granny

    It is the real test of a genuine Christian. There are many pretenders.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
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