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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. SMH

    I thought that a light hearted article like this wouldn't solicit the usual "I hate Christians" type of comments but I was wrong!

    I'm a black female Christian and have the best friendships with all sorts of people... straight, gay, Christian, non-Christian, etc. We respect each other and get along very well. It hurts so much to hear how people categorize all Christians as this group of people who are just buying into some big lie and are causing all of the world's problems. With all due respect to the critics I would like to say the following (please excuse any spelling mistakes in advance :):

    The reason why Christians seem uncompromising in our faith is because our God wants us to acknowledge him as Lord ONLY. Thats why we appear to be unwavering in agreeing with some of the popular or modern ideas that are out there

    As the article states, the greatest commandment Christians should follow is to love our God and our neighbor. However, the thing most people can't reconcile is how Christians should both love their neighbors and be against things like gay marriage. I will not go into the theology but to Christians this makes perfect sense while to everyone else its just a contradiction.

    Jesus said (yes in the Bible which I know many of the critics thinks is untrue but just hear me out) that he was persecuted so his followers would be also. It also says that God's wisdom will seem like foolishness to unbelievers. These are some of the many reasons why Christians keep on keeping on. We expect the world to be against his word and holiness. What stinks is that its like watching loved ones walk right into disaster. Thats why Christians get upset. The thing that hurts is how unbelievers are missing out on the most best most awesome thing ever while being against the creator of all things.

    We consider our bodies temples for God's Holy Spirit. It lives in us to the degree that YES we can actually hear the voice of God and know exactly what he wants us to do. Thats why Christians know what we believe isn't some mumbo-jumbo. Believe me, we're not brainwashed. We have actual proof. The bible allows Gods word to speak to us and the Holy Spirit confirms and comforts us! Its so friggin awesome! This is what I want people to know! His love, joy and peace, even in the face of critics and the horrors of this world is incredible. Its like nothing you'll ever experience. Please if you don't believe in Christ and think Christians are full of BS fine, no problem. Speak to God directly. This is coming from someone who grew up in a Christian home and still had the same reservations you did until one day I said, "God, I want to really experience you to the fullest". PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ask Christ to come into your life. All you have to do is ask him out loud and believe that he will. John 3:16.

    There's a lot more I could say. I'm not trying to stir up the critics or anything. I just want people to know Christ's love. If you're turned off by Christians thats fine. Its not supposed to be like that but we're human too and sometimes our sin natured flesh wars with the Holy Spirit and we are directed by it instead of God. Just find Christ for yourself!

    June 30, 2010 at 2:35 am |
    • nels d

      hallelujah, praise the almighty, share the love

      June 30, 2010 at 2:41 am |
  2. heathensguide

    As an active and very public atheist, I encounter this phenomena on both sides of the fence. (I often find that Christians save their worst vitriol for other Christians whom they declare not to be "real Christinans".) What worries me about it (no matter who is saying it) is the power base it represents. To me, these kinds of comments are indicative of what thse peopel would do if they had real power in the world. I hear so many condemnations and threats if violence that the idea of Christianity (or any religion/philosophy) scares the hell out of me (pun intended). It's why I so ardently advocate for secular politics. When people earnestly believe that they are 100% right based on a god's say so, then anything they do in His name is justified. As such, we are never very far from another pogrom or ethnic cleansing.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:29 am |
  3. LaJollaRich

    Queen Nef had 6 girls. Where the boy King Tut came from is still a mystery to this day.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:29 am |
  4. nels d

    Jesus loves you. If the king tut and the queen were with goodness, they are probably in the kingdom of God right now.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:28 am |
  5. LaJollaRich

    Anyway, after Tut died, Moses (an Egyptian) returned to claim the throne for monotheism and the people that believed in it - they would believe anything to get out there. They got out, all right.

    But they got hungry and thirsty in the desert and killed him. Birth of Christianity. Long way to go just to get that out with mentioning a REAL queen's name. Amazing.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  6. Marie.

    Since no one can prove that God exists, believing in Him is really a choice. Do we think we are good enough and smart enough to make it through anything alone, or do we see that we most definitely need help to make it through this life? It is written, "Choose this day, who you will serve."

    I would really like to challenge all that call themselves by His Name (CHRISTian), to quit taking His Name in vain by acting no better than a nonbeliever. Many nonbelievers act more Christlike than the ones who call themselves by His Name. Christians need to really read and study the Bible they say they believe in for themselves. Not take another's word for what it says/means.

    To those who do not believe, I'd like to challenge you to read The Bible for yourself and ask, "God, if you are real, please reveal yourself to my heart." Even read it out loud. It is written that "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by The Word of God." Take what He said, not what those who turn you off say. Most of them do not even know what all it says. The Word speaks of God always having a remnant. That means few. Jesus said the road is broad that leads to destruction and many are on that road. He said the road is narrow that leads to eternal life, and few their be that find it. This tells me there are few true believers in, and followers of Christ. Jesus said that the children of The Kingdom will one day find themselves in outer darkness. Read The Word for youself before writing Christ off. What do you have to lose? You may be surprised at what you find. What is written, we see first in our natural understanding and sometimes see contradictions. God says to plant the seed (word) in your earth(we are made of dust). Let your own seed (understanding die). Then ask for The Rain of His Holy Spirit, and watch Him raise up that Word seed you planted by doing it the bestt you know how, and He will give you the spiritual meaning as the harvest from the seed you planted. It is truly an awesome thing. If it is boring, it is not God. Since I saw this, I have not had one boring minute in my life. Everyday is an adventure. The only thing is, when I got to the point I thought I knew so much, God showed me how much I have to learn. I believe we will learn forever. When I really got it right, I found out I do not know anywhere near how much I once thought I knew. I saw, and see, how much I do not know. But, now I really know Him, not just about Him. He Shines. I want everyone to know Him and the Peace, Love and Joy He brings. Christianity is a religion. Jesus is not. He is wholly God and wholly man. He longs for fellowship with us, one on one. And the deepest longing of the human heart is for Him. He is the only one that can feel that longing, whether or not one believes that. He is an AWESOME God, not a dead religion.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:18 am |
    • SMH

      Thanks Marie! Amen! The holy spirit is speaking to us both right now as I just wrote the same thing!

      June 30, 2010 at 2:37 am |
  7. LaJollaRich

    It was Queen N that found King Tutakhenaten. Can't even type her whole name. Wow.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:14 am |
  8. Will

    Will
    Unfortunately, there is a vast majority of individuals in the world especially in the U.S. that claim to be "Christian" but in reality they are not. If they are out spreading hate-speech (whether it be via the internet or verbal) and constantly demeaning others, they are more than likely not Christian.

    Christians are to be outspoken about the many problems in today's society, and we are required to hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable but we are to do so in LOVE. Hate the sin...not the sinner.
    God bless everyone.

    1 John 5:11-12:"And this is the record. That God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son of God has life. He who has not the Son of God does not have life."

    June 30, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  9. LaJollaRich

    Can't even mention an ancient Queen of Egypt's name. Interesting.

    Typical - You mentioned Moses which is very insightful. There was a religious coup in Ancient Egpyt circa 1400 BCE. They were pantheistic prior to King Akhenaten. Tut appeared from out of nowhere and died too early.

    Moses returned to claim the throne for monotheism. He took people with him.

    Beginnings of Chrisitianity and monothesism. Whewm that was a long way to go.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:05 am |
  10. korakaos

    Okay... I was expecting a lot of stereotyping and I wasn't too far off; but you do at least say that not all Christians are this way. Now, here then: Try replacing the word "Christian" with "human being" and reinterpret the article a little more honestly? We have all been guilty of not treating our neighbors as we should. It is not only the Christians.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  11. Geckomayhem

    Couldn't agree more, Jon. I could never understand why so-called Christians feel inclined to lash out at others. Where did the love of Jesus go in that moment? Excuse it all we want, there really is no excuse for being a jerk online. Anything you do and say under any pretense, and within whatever medium, is a true reflection of your heart.

    Because all have sinned and fall short of God's glory; and everyone is at a different place in their life, whether a Christian or a self-proclaimed atheist. It makes you feel better and maybe sometimes it makes the others who read what you've written feel better when you take a deep breath and consider afresh what you have written before clicking "Post".

    June 30, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  12. Will

    Unfortunately, there is a vast majority of individuals in the world especially in the U.S. that claim to be "Christian" but in reality they are not. If they are out spreading hate-speech (whether it be via the internet or verbal) and constantly demeaning others, they are more than likely not Christian.

    Christians are to be outspoken about the many problems in today's society, and we are required to hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable but we are to do so in LOVE. Hate the sin...not the sinner.
    God bless everyone.

    1 John 5:11-12:"And this is the record. That God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son of God has life. He who has not the Son of God does not have life."

    June 30, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  13. LaJollaRich

    Typical – After Tut died too soon, Moses returned to claim the throne of Egypt. He was banished to the desert for believing in monotheism - very unEgyptian.

    How about that much?

    June 30, 2010 at 2:01 am |
  14. Jay

    Christian jerks online? Yes. Offline, certainly. My experience is that some Christians believe that if they "accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour," no other rules apply. I remember experiences with two members of a Christian church where, because of some obscure Bible passage, hymns were always sung a capella. My two "friends," who constantly proselytized, took advantage of me in what I would have termed a very un-Christian way. Two examples: I gave No. 1 a set of automobile tools. When, several months later, I asked to borrow one of them, he refused. No. 2 was desperately in need of money to pay his rent. I helped hm out, but Jesus apparently didn't require repayment of loans. The jerk stiffed me.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:52 am |
  15. Edwin

    Why do Christians act like jerks on the Internet? The same reason other people do: in cars we call it road rage. The anonymity suppresses our moral centers, enabling us to vent our frustrations and anger more than we would do if we were thinking clearly. It is similar to the screaming at political rallies or sports events.

    Unlike the 'business traveler' argument, it is not a deliberate choice - it is an unconscious effect. It *can* be controlled, but honestly, there is an addictive quality to smashing someone else's stupid argument to pieces and calling them a nincompoop. Most of the time, people don't even try to control it.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:52 am |
  16. marc

    I must admit that I've wondered the same thing Mr. Acuff discusses in his blogs. You can't stereotype all Christians... that would be ludicrous. But very often, when I see stories on line about Pres. Obama or about gay rights or liberals in general, I see some really incendiary, hateful remarks in the comment section about how these people are evil or are going to hell, etc. And it seems that when the other side makes its argument, even if its rude, it's not as hateful.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:47 am |
  17. LaJollaRich

    The system yelled at me for posting the same thing too many times. But I don't see my comment.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:43 am |
  18. so much

    pun!

    June 30, 2010 at 1:41 am |
  19. Your typical Jerk

    Every dog will have his day.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  20. Frank

    Lots of people hate themselves. Self hatred transcends faith. So my question is, are Christians who hate themselves as well as others following Jesus' words to "Love your neighbor as yourself"?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:39 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.