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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. BettyS

    I've noticed the same thing with driving. It's the cars with the Jesus stickers plastered all over them that will speed past or run you off the road. It's as if the rules of the road don't apply to them and to hell with everyone else.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:39 am |
    • Damiana

      Especially here in Texas. If I'm behind a "fishy car," I always slow down and expect anything to happen.

      I guess the theory is: "If I cause a wreck and die (and/or take out my passengers)-well, we're all saved, so that's cool. If I take out someone else on the road, I guess that's manslaughter--but it's God's Will if he lets me do that and anyhow my sins are washed away in the blood, so what the hey!" (What the other driver(s) and passengers may think about the matter isn't really relevant.)

      June 30, 2010 at 12:52 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Those 'fishy cars' scare me, too.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:59 am |
  2. KW

    I thought maybe this was a follow-up from the 'Should Gays Be Allowed to be Parents' article that was on CNN a few days ago... Feels like it was appropriate timing.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:37 am |
  3. Your typical Jerk

    There is one important truth Christians tend to forget. Just because Jesus was great and good, that doesn't make his followers the same.

    Another truth is that if you have faith you are bound to become a fundamentalist. This applies to all believers. Atheist, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists... If you believe, then you also believe those who do not believe the same as you are wrong.
    Some of these believers you call non judgmental are just being polite in respecting your freedom to be wrong, but deep inside they know you are wrong and you are going to hell, and if they're atheist they strongly believe you will be disappointed when you die.

    The only non judgmental people are those who do not care about any of these stuff, and you would probably never see them comment online or in real life. And yes... I am a judgmental person and i think all of you have got it wrong.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:35 am |
    • W0lfman

      Well. if Jesus had picked only persons that were good, then the rest of us would say, oh we can't do it because we're not good enough.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:43 am |
    • Your typical Jerk

      @W0lfman First, when you say the rest of us, that includes you, right? Second, just by looking at the nickname you picked, I am sure you are not the kind of person to turn his other cheek. Third, and your point is?

      June 30, 2010 at 12:54 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      He sure was 'good' the way he faked that resurrection from the dead with his brother-in-law Lazarus. Sham. The man was screaming to get out because he left in there too long - almost 4 days. That wasn't the plan. He 'tarried'. Pahleeze.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  4. AMH Carter

    With the above Tea Party madness out of the way...I too have been a Beotch online in a screaming crowd of Non Christians and shown my faded blue veins and if they or I mistook one another for representing the opposite views, I too could have used a little of God's Grace at the time. No apology required and none accepted.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:35 am |
  5. Jenn

    I agree with the author's points overall–sad but true–but I would also carry it one step further and venture to say that some Christians are often just as hypocritical & outlandish jerks face-to-face; this is unfortunately not merely an online issue. As a believer myself, this is disheartening to observe. I don't know how many people I've met who are turned off to even considering the faith due to the harsh, judgmental actions and words of Christians they've come across in their pasts.

    At the same time, we must remember we are all humans; all of us err. Yes, by all means, we all (regardless of personal beliefs) need to strive to share loving grace & respect to all those around us, easily lovable or otherwise. At the same time, others should look directly at the Source of the sustaining grace we hold onto as Christians, and not at the unfortunate misconduct of some within the faith alone.

    All of us need grace, truly, no matter what we believe. A fact that will never change...

    June 30, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  6. pick

    yes yes oh yes yes yes

    June 30, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  7. Nothnnew

    If I've been a jerk or have offended anyone online, I do apologize; moreover, I'd like to think that when I have such a moment, which many of us do, that as soon as it's brought to my attention, I'm more than willing to correct myself or humble myself when corrected and apologize.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:31 am |
  8. AMH Carter

    This far down a list I doubt this will even be read, let alone by the author. However, I find it interesting that with the current incarnation of 'Crisis' mentality that has been recurring virtually non stop economically and socially since BEFORE 911 and was swamped by Christian 'Patriotism' AFTER 911 that he's bothered to mention U2. Isn't that groups ideology a little too socialist given their Irish heritage and a little too progressive for the Palin set?

    June 30, 2010 at 12:31 am |
  9. TechDeck384

    jennyTX. romans Romans 2:5–11: There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. catholic bible. take it as you will

    June 30, 2010 at 12:30 am |
  10. LaJollaRich

    The founding father of this great nation never mentioned 'jesus the christ'. Ever. They referenced a concept known as G-D.

    The G-D concept existed long long before a man-made 'anointed' deity known as jesus the christ. Ancients called it The Sun / The Son. Stolen mythology. Christians confuse The Sun / The Son with G-D. G-D is much older a concept and fundamentally different.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:30 am |
  11. Travis

    I think it is just simple trolling. Most of these people don't represent the true face of christianity anymore than supposed atheists leaving hateful comments everywhere. They are people that probably don't have a belief either way just posting to stir things up. What the hell kind of fad is being super negative and obnoxious anyways? That has to be the dumbest, most irritating and played to death thing ever. It wore out it's welcome a long time ago.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  12. Vynn

    As a life long Atheist, I can tell you that Christians aren't always "full of grace" in real life either. But then, that's just the way some people are, believers and unbelievers alike.....it doesn't matter what reason or faith would have them do, they do it the wrong way. They're just bad people hiding behind a symbol of good.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:29 am |
    • W0lfman

      But then again, without Christians, atheists wouldn't exist: they are just a reaction.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:32 am |
    • im president charley

      because of that logic wolf man, this article guy is going to have to write an article called why people say dumb things on the internet. Christianity started 2000 years ago. there might have been an atheist before then.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:35 am |
    • W0lfman

      True. I must be getting tired. I think I'm addicted to this blog.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:38 am |
    • im president charley

      but i love you wolf man love that surpasses logic and knoweldge and stuff- ephesians 3

      June 30, 2010 at 12:41 am |
    • Kate

      Atheism – a – without, theism – belief in god or gods. Atheism is the default position, same as lack of belief in a giant floating turnip. Without religion we would still be atheists, just no one would know we were.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  13. TechDeck384

    to compare todays right wing christian movement with the pharisees is an inaccurate comparison. the right wing simply wants to maintain the american tradition of faith in the christian god in our government. its easy to get carried away. at least they arent publicly executing people

    June 30, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  14. JennyTX

    To everyone who thinks only people of THEIR religion will be "saved": I believe there is plenty of room in heaven for ALL good people and that god doesn't discriminate on the basis of religion.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:26 am |
    • Matt

      The Holy Bible teaches us that there is only one way to gain access to Heaven, and that is through belief in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). If that statement is correct, then the Gift of eternal life is only a "belief" away. So what do we have to lose by believing? If the statement is correct, we will have gained everything, or if the statement is wrong, we will have lost nothing. If however we choose not to believe, and the statement is correct, we will have lost everything.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:43 am |
    • Damiana

      Oh Judas Priest, another shill for Pascal's Wager. Don't you people ever get any smarter?

      June 30, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  15. TechDeck384

    i havnt read through this whole list, so i dont know if a catholic has weighed in on this yet. i am a strong catholic and i definelty agree with anyone who says that being christian dosnt automatically make you a good person. christianity, like it or not, is the largest religion in the world, so its impossible for every christian to be a good person. many christians dont care about religion and some that do use it as an excuse to do horrible things. look at hitler and mussolini and all the other "christians" who have done horrible things in the name of christianity. but to say that christianity is a sham simply because christians sin is incredibly narrowminded. dont get me wrong, i am saddened by what many "christians" say on the internet, and they should never allow their religion, which i and they believe is the truth, to serve as an excuse to say what they want. christians are no better than Muslims, Jews, athiests, or Hindus; they are simply supposed to live by a higher standard (not to say that the those religions dont) and it is so easy for us to fail. trust me, i have plenty of times, especially on the internet. in conclusion, dont assume that because indidvidual christians sin on the internet is representative of the religion as a whole.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  16. Thomas

    I would much appreciate it if Christians simply kept their religious views and practices to themselves. They have a tendency to unintentional and intentionally promote hatred, violence and division among humanity. The common rightwing Christian uses god as an excuse to discriminate and persecute people that have differing views, opinions and lifestyles. If they truly believe in a god then they should respect him/her/it enough to let his/her/its creations live and let live in a peaceful, accepting and loving world.

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

      yeah the rite wing is pretty much the old pharisee movement that killed Jesus. and i agree they need to be smarter about how they present their views, no doubt. the reason they try to get more people to be Christn though is because they respect their God because He told them to. but yeah, most aren't very wise about it.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:24 am |
    • W0lfman

      Without Christ, we would all quickly degenerate into fundamentalism.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:25 am |
    • Matt

      It is the duty of every Christian to help spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If some people do not like that, then they should simply ignore what they see or hear, just as they would change the channel on their TV or Radio if they did not wish to see or listen to a particular commercial.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:28 am |
    • Travis

      Easier said than done. Atheists don't exactly keep their views to themselves either. So it goes both ways.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:32 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Because throught-out history of Christianity, they'd kill you if you didn't believe. They believe they're stronger than everyone else. Christians believe they have the right on their side. They forget early Christians were murderers.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • Kate

      You can advertise your god all you want, as long as you don't force me to pay for it with my taxes. Do it on your own dime and on your own property. Fools and their money and all that, at least it helps the economy.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  17. vuducat

    You folks are all very, very confused. Using such ridiculous, high brow labels to try to explain something so very, very simple. PEOPLE are jerks. There's a lot of different ways to tune a fiddle, but when they play they all sound the same.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:13 am |
  18. RobertAllen

    As Mahatma Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ."

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

      Christians lost their Christ's message a long time ago. And like someone else said, they don't even bother to read or understand it. Its the ignorance that annoys everyone.

      They believe they've heard and understood Jesus' message after hearing a preacher in the pulpit without actually reading and studying.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  19. LaJollaRich

    Thank you, Gary.

    The USA is a great nation where we can share our opposing ideas without threat of harm. Glad the Christian Inquisitions are over. Glad I don't live in an insanely religious suppressive nation where my ideals and myself are killed.

    Everyone should live and let live without judgment.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:10 am |
  20. Barrett

    Honestly, I think we would all never even have to discuss this if everyone on earth was Christian. How perfect. But, how unrealistic.

    A lot of Christians put up a bad rap about us. We're suppose to be loving, giving, people. Not critical, opinionated, people.
    Then again, I could go ahead and spout my true feelings about many Christians, haha. And that is the mindset that many Church goers believe that have the bible figured out, and that they've already learned it all. Boooooring. How are you ever going to grow?

    June 30, 2010 at 12:10 am |
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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.