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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. Margaret

    One of my sisters did some really hateful, hurtful things to a lot of people and then converted to a church that convinced her Jesus would make it all better. I think Jesus would want her to at least admit that she messed up and apologize. But I'm not SAVED so what do I know?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  2. eggs

    we love you mark

    June 30, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  3. a

    B- The ignorance promoting and science ignoring religious could very well be our downfall... it's religion thats flying planes into buildings and some day it will be a bomb.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:29 am |
    • b

      i what im saying is that religion is not all bad. mother teresa picked up the people the locals considered untouchable.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:33 am |
  4. Aede

    I figure that regardless of what anyone says, it will not change them. For some reason you can not talk reason to people when it comes to religion. I used to believe that I could with reasoned arguments discuss such matters. But really you can't. The religo's stick to their stick and the Atheists have their sanity. Don't argue with these people. Le them pray to their figureheads and let the rest of us get on with OUR lives. You can't convert them as much as they could convert us.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:28 am |
  5. el

    There is a reason the first commandment is the first commandment, because Jesus knew that we would fail to love our neighbor as He would have us to love our neighbor unless we FIRST learned to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. Hmmm... If we get that part down as commanded then the latter of the two commandments will come quite easily, because it's in our surrendering, in our fully loving God that God is able to move us to love our neighbors with a heavenly love. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." –James 1:17

    The trick is to get the first part of the commandment down and then the rest follows on its own.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:28 am |
    • Your typical Jerk

      Are you sure you are not Muslim? Because the word Islam means surrender.
      If you surrender your free will and thought, then you can believe any mumbo jumbo.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  6. John

    As a former christian, I think I have some right to post here.

    I think the worst thing I"ve done online is pretend (and continue) to be a conservative rebublican when I'm actually not. I actually voted for the green party candidate because I'm tired of the left and right division in politics. I could have voted for Ron Paul or Ralph Nader or any of the other independents and it wouldn't matter much. America is too split down the middle. We need to understand each other better. We're looking at eachother in only 2 colors, liberal/conservative, and we're unable to see the true expanse of information available to us. I'd love to see an independent become president to help break down this psychosis.

    Sorry for making this post about politics. Yes, I have lied online about who I really am. But i've done it to learn more about myself and about other people. When I roleplay a republican I find I agree with some of the things they think. So it's not in vain or purposeless. I have tried to become a more complete person, but I have a long, long ways to go. And I know that when I die, I'll never reach my goal. I am far from perfect and will always remain that way. Even though I am not a christian, I am well aware of that!!

    June 30, 2010 at 1:27 am |
  7. albie

    I have never liked devout christians, quite simply they creep me out. Come to think of it, I don't like any type of christian - they are smug and waste resources. The world would be a better place without them.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:24 am |
    • Mark

      You have to be smaller than what we hide behind

      June 30, 2010 at 1:27 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Albie, How about just coming out with the term "final solution". How many folks throughout history have said the world would be a better place without ....

      In the end your statement sounds very devout and your place with the intolerant of others is well established.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • Dan Lilledahl

      Albie, so the world would be better off without Muslims based on the actions of a few? Would the world be better off without blacks because of the actions of a few? Would the world be better off without politicians because of the actions of a few? Would the world be better off without Americans because of the actions of a few? Would the world be better off without mother's because of the actions of a few? Would the world be better off without gays and lesbians because of the actions of a few? Woudl the world be better off without atheists because of the actions of a few?

      June 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  8. Mark

    I like your Christ- I dislike your christains, they are so unlike your Christ!

    Why?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:20 am |
  9. Dragonwind

    Ok well... basically my experience has been that many are lip service Christians. They call themselves Christians because that is what is expected of them. Often they even think of themselves as Christians, but put nothing into it. Maybe go to Church on Sunday or Easter, or Christmas. And that is all the effort they put into it.

    Jesus once said "In that day many will say 'but lord, didn't we heal the sick, feed the poor and cast out demons in your name?' but I say 'I knew you not'.

    More Christians are Lip Service Christians (LSC's), than actual Christians in my opinion, and that is why we have the type of behavior we often see from them.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:18 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Dragonwind- I have heard this arguement before with many other groups. Sorta, the all the white people I know are this or that...or all the black people I know are this or that. Good grief I have two new co-workers, one is Iranian and the other Kurdish ....geez do they snap at each other. I can easily say that most of the Christians I know go to church and just try to get through the week as best they can. Now I am sure I can find some folks who call themselves Christians but are not doing what I feel they should be but that's between them and the Lord. I gotta worry about me and my own. If most Christians you know only go to church on holidays then find out the church they go too. As most folks of faith know the churches are normally open on a weekly basis and chances are there will be a pretty good size group that will be there almost every sunday.

      Try to engage that group Dragon and not the others. It is like me only atempting to engage the klan member down the street to judge the entire white community. That's Rev Wright and others type of logic, not mine and should not be yours as well.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:32 am |
    • Dragonwind

      @Mark

      The problem with that is, you totally ignored what I said, and came out of left field with something that wasn't directly relevant to the intent of my statement. Jesus himself stated that many will claim to be his, when the reality is they are not. They will even believe within themselves that they are his. But their actions show and give the lie to their own claims. Lip Service Christians -vs- Actual Christians.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  10. GrizzleBear

    When asked what the commandment referred to, and who was a "neighbor", Christ gave us the parable of the "Good Samaritan". It ended with him asking, "Who was a neighbor to this man?", after which the people replied *in amazement* that it was the Samaritan.

    To me this says many things. First, that not everyone you know or meet is your neighbor. Neither the merchant nor the Pharisee were, according to the tale. The person who lives next door may or may not be a neighbor. A neighbor is anyone who acts like a neighbor. You treat everyone like a neighbor, see who responds in kind, and that tells you who they are.

    Second, it's important to remember something: Samaritans were neither liked nor respected among the Jews. Specifically, they weren't Jews. They dressed differently, spoke differently, ate, drank and worshiped differently. So the next thing the parable tells us (and it may be the most important part) is that our neighbor may be someone vastly different from ourselves. They may be from another country, a different race, color, culture or age group. They may dress differently, speak differently, eat, drink and worship differently. In our modern times it's probably proper to add that they may have different politics than we do, different opinions on abortion, patriotism, the war, Israel, or what they like with their pizza.

    So we should not let these differences stand in the way of treating others like neighbors, on line or off. Try it, and you may find a neighbor where you least expected to find one.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:15 am |
  11. LaJollaRich

    Billions of women have babies on this planet before and after the 'traditional' Julius Caesar marriage certificate from the early Roman Empire - which is rather recent compared to how long men and women have been on this planet. Billions of 'traditional' unwed mothers, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Billions.

    She was an unwed mother. Ooooh, horrible. Right? Don't think so.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:12 am |
    • Your typical Jerk

      If Moses parted the see, then Mary was a virgin.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:14 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Moses was an Egyptian and they killed him. They (you know who) are very sad about that but won't talk about him. Its no joke about Moses with those people. The Red Sea is red because its dirty and shallow. They crossed on dry land. No miracle there.

      Moses claimed the throne after Ahkenton mysterious disappear and Tut (kid from out of nowhere) appeared to claim the throne. After Tut died/killed, Moses returned. Long story.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:24 am |
  12. Your typical Jerk

    * smile * apprently 🙂 alone is not considered a valid comment.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:06 am |
    • Your typical Jerk

      That comment was supposed to be a reply for nels d

      June 30, 2010 at 1:07 am |
  13. nels d

    Wow, after a long period of prayer and contemplation to return and find so many of you still here. What dedication to your faith and love.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:00 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      If I were you (and I was there 20 years ago), I'd look for answers deep in The Universe, somewhere. The true answers aren't in one source.

      Got to go deeper and study hard. There are books at Central Library you can have delivered, locally. Research. Hard. There are books in Europe that tell the truth. Travel a bit, also.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:19 am |
  14. a

    Education and knowledge are the enemies of the religious, their lashing out on the internet is a reflection of the fear that discussion and debates causes by bringing light to the hypocrisy and fallacy of religion. The truth is that they have built their lives on a lie, and the truth of that is unbearable.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:56 am |
    • W0lfman

      Sorry man, atheists are just another minority.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:01 am |
    • a

      W0lfman thank you for proving my point.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:03 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      They can't get around a pregnant virgin. If the premise is a lie, everything built on it is a lie.

      G-D didn't impregnant anyone. There's only one way to get pregnant on this planet. Only one.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:03 am |
    • Mr. Owl

      A growing minority at that. Perhaps the fastest growing in history because people just seem to love free-thinking.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:04 am |
    • W0lfman

      Man cannot live by thought alone – it must be integrated within the physical man.
      For example, thinking you love someone is much different than actually loving them.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:07 am |
    • W0lfman

      Mr. Owl: 'free-thinking' is the euphemism now for ignoring the lessons of the past?

      June 30, 2010 at 1:12 am |
    • a

      Mr. Owl, as we get smarter and share more information, religion will fade away. Historically, the religious groups have always been afraid of anything new: technology, the end of slavery, women's rights, etc. The word conservative means "resistant to change " Religion is fighting a losing battle, but they will fight till the bitter end.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:13 am |
    • a

      I should add: they will fight to the bitter end if they don't cause the death of us all first.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:16 am |
    • b

      if they don't cause the death of us first? way to sound insane.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:18 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wolf, don't let them get yah down. Their fear and hatred will be their undoing and downfall. Just like all the hate groups out there. The klan, the black panthers, neo-naz.... they just want folks to believe as they do and with them are some of our brothers and sisters of faith. Folks like A and Owl are not that much different from Bin Laden. If what they say is true then they would not be fighting to the death to stomp our folks of faith.

      Classic story, the oppressed are destined to one oppress others.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:22 am |
    • W0lfman

      Yes, their agenda has been tried already, and failed. The French Revolution, Soviet Union... God will let it go only so far.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:28 am |
    • a

      B- The ignorance promoting and science ignoring religious could very well be our downfall... it's religion thats flying planes into buildings and some day it will be a bomb.

      wlofman and Mark from Middle River, fear fear fear....

      June 30, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • W0lfman

      I am just not believing you... I don't believe your posts are sincere.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:39 am |
    • W0lfman

      I get the feeling that you are play acting.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:42 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      But A, it was a Church at Ground Zero that opened its doors that day to comfort survivors and first responders. It was a fire department Chaplin that rushed into the building, days before retirement to do what he could.

      You can do like the rest of the neo-n sites and blame all the Muslims for 9-11. I am more enlightened than that and my beliefs do not allow me to blame all for the actions of a few.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:44 am |
    • a

      W0lfman-what every you need to tell yourself.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:45 am |
    • a

      Mark, funny we should get on 911. I was volunteering, i was feeding the firemen, i was comforting survivors, don't think your "church" can claim that as theirs. Compassion is a human quality, not a christian one. and I don't blame it on one religious group, but religion, false belief, lack of education and understanding.... which I attribute to all religion. And your hate groups which you site, the neo n the kkk all christians, all doing "gods" work. I believe the christians are now rallying to not allow a Muslim mosque to be built near ground zero, because in their eyes it was all Muslims.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:54 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      A- I never said they were the only ones but you have to admit that they were there and helping right along beside you. And those Christian's that are doing such about the mosque, again, do they represent all Christians...do they even represent the all the Christians in NYC?

      Come on, like most its to the truth that you have to drag some folks kicking and screaming. Peace out -kid.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:04 am |
    • W0lfman

      Even the most wicked people exercise love and compassion – as they choose.

      The prime directive of Christianity is obedience to God. To love Him, and all others through Him.

      If one cannot obey His simple commands, then pride is usually at the root.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:09 am |
    • W0lfman

      Actually, I'm probably disobeying Him right now reading this crap, because He is telling me in my heart to stop and go to bed. Because through Him I have the freedom of doing the RIGHT thing, and what am I doing? Trying to argue with a nutcase.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:19 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Barbara ... Power.

      Some people of faith and some atheist and so many others on this planet. Anything to feel a step over those that disagree with a persons point of view.

      The problem is that people live in their own world surrounded by people who think exactly like them. When they encounter people ...normally who live in their own groups is when issues arrive. Then you have two people who are used to their friends telling them they are always right confront each other.

      We can't all get along because when encountering a opposing viewpoint or ideal to admit we might be wrong would shake everything in our being to its core. We can't all get along because each side knows that and there is no greater thrill than to rip and shed another's core beliefs and values. it is the ultimate goal and high for so many of us who post online, in places such as this. To see a persons words posted and too continue to fire back in post after post .... its a rush.

      July 5, 2010 at 2:57 am |
  15. Mr. Owl

    *Generic assertion supporting a side*
    Replied with *generic assertion supporting another side*
    Replied with *generic assertion that someone is wrong*
    Replied with *generic responce trying to bring peace to the argument*
    Which one is the Christian?

    June 30, 2010 at 12:55 am |
    • Mr. Owl

      The answer is: None of them!
      'The Christian" would glady take any of those sides!

      June 30, 2010 at 12:58 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Not any of the Christians I know. Pahleez. You live in la-la land.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:01 am |
    • Mr. Owl

      "la-la land?" Take a look at the 500> comments above. It is true that many of them share a pattern to what I have written.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:06 am |
  16. LaJollaRich

    @typical jerk – I respect the concept of G-D very much. I don't burn paper or anything like that craziness. Give it a rest, already.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:51 am |
    • Your typical Jerk

      Interresting... Concept of GOD... so is he GOD or is he just a concept? If he is a concept why do you fear writing his name? If he is GOD why would he be just a concept? And why are we capitalizing the word god?

      June 30, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  17. Aede

    You know, I have a really good perspective on life. Love my fell human like I love myself. I'm honest, kind and always save the spider. I'm comfortable in my own skin. But the next person how say I have Christian values, I just might have to slap upside the head. Just because I am a good person does not make me God loving. It annoys me that to be good is to have "Christian values".

    I do it because of who I am. I love being Atheist and am happy where I am. We can be kind and good in morays and morals without reflection of someone's god.

    I like life without the blinders thanks.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:51 am |
    • a

      thank you, well said

      June 30, 2010 at 1:01 am |
  18. theother6days

    I agree with your article. As a Christian and pastor(and VERY conservative in my beliefs), it breaks my heart to see the hateful things that are posted online by purported Christians. We can be disagreeable without being hateful. We can hold closely and dearly what we believe without being mean-spirited. Whether Christians agree with the beliefs or lifestyles of others, THERE IS NO EXCUSE for hatred. I believe Christ and the Bible are clear on many things, but I never read of Him being hateful to those who didn't believe what He did. The only ones I read of him being angry with were the religous hypocrites of his day.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:49 am |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      Very cool to see a true Christian (as a liberal atheist)...I wish you well in showing others the true value of living your faith. I have many Christian friends, most of which are much closer to your viewpoint than the evangelicals who, unfortunately, predominate in the media as well as in our political life....Christ was an amazing teacher; the universe and the phenomenon of all that nature contains is truly moving and an astonishing thing to contemplate; my personal belief is that everything is part of a whole with only misperceived boundaries and differences.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:12 am |
  19. Mr. Owl

    It was fine. Good story, funny too. True that the intro was too long.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  20. MamaKas

    I'm not trying to turn you into an agnostic, please don't try to turn me into a Christian.

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

      Amen!

      June 30, 2010 at 12:58 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Hi MamaKas

      A few post ago someone stated that they were not attacking Christians as people they were just challenging their Christian views. I took notice of this because of the classic arguement that many have of a severe double standard. While some do not want to hear Christians testify and give their views it troubles many of us that these same ones wish us to remain silent and allow our views to be openly challenged. This is fair and I think that line of reasoning is what brings forth groups such as the Taliban and other extreme groups. Folks can not shame another group. Quite often such actions causes groups to close ranks and become stronger than they were before. Think about the LGBT movement.

      Like I said before the evils that were done by Christians do not have a baring on those Christians before today. Judge one by himself not by the actions of a group.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:13 am |
    • MamaKas

      I have no problem with people being Christian, or having their own views, or even expressing them, but, please, leave me out of it and DON'T TRY TO SAVE ME, I don't care what you believe, I have my own beliefs, I I feel quite "safe" within them.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:08 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.