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. Father John

    I am a Russian Orthodox Priest. I think that part of the reason that the Western Church has so many arguments and hatreds is that they, long ago, forsook historical Christianity for their own brand of a Christian like religion. The stuff that is taught in most Evangelical and Roman Catholic Churches has very little to do with ANYTHING that Jesus or the Apostles or the Church Fathers ever had to say. The concentration on sin, death, and what people do with their genitals is NOT Christian. It is being re-enslaved to the Law. St. John told us to love one another and believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Not all of these rules and regulations that Western Christians teach. Check out Eastern Orthodoxy. The same for 2,000 years. No additions. No subtractions.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:05 am |
  2. Sapient

    Read the bible? I've read it and concluded that it is a collection of stories, written by men, passed down orally, and radically altered in countless translations over the centuries. It is no more profound than any other book in publication today. If one chooses to believe it is the word of god, by all means, feel free. But please refrain from unwarranted, unwanted proselytizing and self-righteous judgement. Christianity is not the only religion or belief system in the world today. There have been many religions and belief systems before it, and many after. No one is saying Christians can't or shouldn't believe what they believe. All the rest of the world asks of Christians is to show us the same respect in believing what we believe, and living how we see fit. To do otherwise is shameful and arrogant hubris.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:53 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Sapient – The same respect, can you request that Stefan change his tone towards those persons of faith. Right now his behaviour is not far off from the jerk behaviour in this article. See, it has to go both ways, you can't expect us Christians to address the jerks that this article speaks of when folks such as stefan goes on anti-faith rants.

      How about you handle your house and we will ours.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:11 am |
  3. Stefan

    Church was created to manipulate long time ago and some people needs that.lol

    June 30, 2010 at 3:51 am |
  4. LP

    I am far, far more struck by the rabid anti-Christian hatred online. No one can even speak the word "God" online anymore without being covered in hate messages. Just let people believe whatever they want. Their beliefs aren't a threat to you.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:50 am |
    • Stefan

      world without religion = less wars and terrorists (like no 9/11)

      June 30, 2010 at 3:56 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Stefan, with or without persons of faith there will always be someone fighting over something. It might be land or whats under it. It won't take long to find a reason for one group to want another dead.

      And 9/11 ...you know I heard it was for the oil? Don't you believe that? I also heard it was to kill brown skin people. Why do you not believe those who post those reasons for 9/11? Why persist with your views... someone else had a different thought and belief than you do....

      ....don't you want to go over and find them and ...correct them. See .... anything can be twisted to find a reason to get a baseball bat or a gun to correct people to think as you or I do Stefan.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:05 am |
    • SteveL

      I can agree with you, but then practice what you preach (I'm talking to all Christians and religionists of all stripes here . . . but especially to evangelizing Christians). Let your religious beliefs be your own personal views and keep them to yourself. Stop spending your lives always trying to stuff your beliefs in our face or down our throats or up our rear ends. If you believers feel you have a system of thought that helps you cope with and live this life, then more power to you. I have my OWN ways of doing the same. You have no more of a grasp of truth than I or anyone else does (you can't prove to me that you have faculties or powers of perception that I do not have; whatever is discernable to you should be just as discernable and knowable to me and everyone else who isn't otherwise brain-damaged). I respect your right to construct reality as you see fit; respect my right to construct reality as I see fit. There wouldn't be strident atheists – nonbelievers if there weren't strident religionists (especially Christians) always trying to hoist their ideas down our throats, micro-manage our personal lives, legislate their views into public law, and try to turn our nation into some semblance of a theocracy . . . amongst other offenses.

      (By the way, I used to be a Protestant evangelical Christian believer myself . . . so I speak as an one-time insider as well as now being an outsider.)

      June 30, 2010 at 6:09 am |
  5. Stefan

    only if you die for me than you can tell me how to live.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:49 am |
    • AtheistMelody

      So, every soldier who has ever written a treatise on how to live life, and has given his life to save yours, you will follow? That doesn't make sense. If a police officer dies to save yours, or a firefighter, and leaves behind a book on how to live, you'll follow that to the letter as well? That doesn't seem reasonable.

      June 30, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Mauricio

    Some Christians who follow their own way of worship and not God's ordained way of worship resort to all mundane tactics to defend that way. They would not even hesitate to lie, slander and suppress the truth to achieve their objective. They may say that someone is hating them when in reality they have rebelled against the truth. These Christians might find the words of the prophets as hate speech too! However, they may think of themselves as the ones who would not have persecuted those prophets if they lived in their time when in reality they are persecuting today's prophets because they do not speak in favor of their chosen religion. This why the Lord said of them that they adorn the tombs of the prophets but they were the ones persecuting them. I wonder if those who adorn the tombs of the prophets -those who speak well of them after they are dead – will realize that they persecuted them? When Elijah and Moses comes back again before the great tribulation and they are killed temporarily by the Antichrist, most of the earth dwellers at that time will sends gifts to one another because these two prophets tormented the whole earth with their speaking. Why does the whole earth consider their speaking as tormenting? So before we take in the excuse of hateful speech we need to analyze who is complaining and why.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:44 am |
  7. Kerry Hardy

    What it comes down to is "You are flighting to see who has the better imaginary freind!" Christians, Jews, Buddist and all the others are talking to no one and thinking someone is listening! The church was and still is a governement control tool. People need to wake up and see that YOU control your actions and life path, not some invisible man in the sky!

    June 30, 2010 at 3:43 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Hi Kerry- I think most people of faith do not hold that God controls their actions. If he or she did we would not need judgement or forgiveness. Which denomination believes such. I am not familiar with Buddhism.

      You have a interesting view on faith.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:50 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      The reason I believe in a god-concept is...if you cut any nut or dissect any egg, all you see is matter. Yet, somehow, this nut / egg when fertilized KNOWS to grow another copy of itself. We can't even see 'that magic' under a microscope. Scientists call it 'black matter'. I call it the 'god-effect'.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:00 am |
    • Kerry Hardy

      Mark – I have no faith in any regilion as all are on teh same level as Zues, Ra, Gilgamesh, and Thor. All gods were created by man to control the masses and to give false hope of reward at death for being good & punishment at death for being bad. Which sound a lot like Santa Clause ans we all know he doesn't exist!!!

      LaJollaRich – The term is Dark Matter and Dark Energy! And we know why the nut/egg does what it does because of DNA. DNA is a blueprint of life and will create a new life when combined with like DNA as it is coded to do so, but not by some invisible guy in the sky. Nature reacts to physcal laws that makes life possible!

      June 30, 2010 at 4:21 am |
  8. Mauricio

    Some Christians who follow their own way of worship and not God's ordained way of worship resort to all mundane tactics to defend that way. They would not even hesitate to lie, slander and suppress the truth to achieve their objective. They may say that someone is hating them when in reality they have rebelled against the truth. These Christians might find the words of the prophets as hate speech too! However, they may think of themselves as the ones who would not have persecuted those prophets if they lived in their time when in reality they are persecuting today's prophets because they do not speak in favor of their chosen religion. This why the Lord said of them that they adorn the tombs of the prophets but they were the ones persecuting them. I wonder if those who adorn the tombs of the prophets -those who speak well of them after they are dead – will realize that they persecuted them? When Elijah and Moses comes back again before the great tribulation and they are killed temporarily by the Antichrist, most of the earth dwellers at that time will sends gifts to one another because these two prophets tormented the whole earth with their speaking. Why does the whole earth consider their speaking as tormenting? So before we take in the excuse of hateful speech we need to analyze who is complaining and why. I am shocked to find FRONTIERSMAN

    June 30, 2010 at 3:38 am |
  9. W0lfman

    "Why Christians are jerks online"?

    Having been reading and posting for the past several hours, I now know the answer: too many nutcases.

    Would drive a preacher to cuss.

    Obesity isn't the problem in America – insanity is.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:35 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Even soccor and tennis players, world-wide are dropping the 'F' bomb. That's American.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:38 am |
  10. Saint Issa

    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

    June 30, 2010 at 3:31 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      They lost the message of Jesus - their Christ - millenia ago. They're nuts.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:36 am |
    • Whitney

      Sadly, that is the truth. If only many of the people who claimed to be Christians would live like they are supposed to.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:36 am |
  11. Sweetenedtea

    Why limit the rationales to two that assume Christians are acting contrary to their basic nature? Surely it must have occurred to you that a fair number of Christians are, in fact, hateful and judgmental by nature. Not to tar them all with the same brush - I grew up among perfectly nice, sincere Christians - but we don't exactly have to strain for evidence of this when the news and Christian TV programs and such present us with plenty of non-anonymous examples of this very behavior. And I can assure you I see ample evidence in my own daily existence. I've certainly noted that, in my circle of acquaintances and friends, the "Christians" are, by and large, far more prone to reject and insult someone for a lifestyle or behavior that s/he does not approve. They remind me, in fact, of a high-school clique, pre-emptively and mindlessly lashing out at those they disdain, and the behavior describe in this article does not in any way strike me as anomalous for such types of Christians.

    Perhaps I'm too harsh. But when I've known many lovely Christians, was raised by devout Christians, and know of what true, unfettered faith can engender in people, I can only feel loathing toward the substantial self-righteous hypocrite segment of Christian "believers."

    June 30, 2010 at 3:28 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      First.... cool name.

      The question is that you spoke of media outlets that detail certain Christian's negative behavior. I would challenge you to imagine that you are black and Hispanic. Can you imagine how the media and news would often show you? I remember Jeff Foxworthy complaining how when a hurricaine hits the news crews go straight to the trailer park and find the lowest image they can find of a redneck and that is the image they push out to the air waves. This is what sells. Do you think that all Catholic Priest are molesting kids or all Muslims are planning Jihad? No, because inside you know that its silly.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:44 am |
  12. elitistb

    "Why Christians are jerks online"?

    Xianity is a very large group, and encompasses a lot of people. Some are nice (the guy next door), some are not (the pope). There is no reason to believe that someone professing to be a Xian will be any better or any worse than any other average member of society.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:25 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      The Church watched Hitler do his thing the whole time and did nothing.

      The Church has done nothing about rampant peodophilia. Priest should have wives. Period. Its sick for a grown man not have a woman and jumpoff like every other man in the world.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:31 am |
    • Mauricio

      To LaJolla : Correction. You probably mean Christendom, not the church.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  13. Mark from Middle River

    Mauricio- Can't we just have our own relationship with God. When ever I hear another Christian saying another group is not worshipping God correctly it normally is followed by proof in the accusors personal interpretation of a scripture or text. They then hold that their way of Christianity is the true way and not just another way to worship and talk with the Father in Heaven.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:17 am |
    • Mauricio

      Nicolaitans: The Greek word is composed of two words, one meaning to conquer or be victorious over and another meaning common people, secular people,or laity. Thus, it means conquering the common people,being victorious over the laity. Nicolaitans, then, must refer to a group of people who esteem themselves higher than common believers. This was undoubtedly adopted and established by Catholicism and Protestantism. The Lord hates the works, the behavior, of these Nicolaitans, and we must hate what the Lord hates. God in His economy intended that all His people be priests serving Him directly. In Exo. 19:6,God ordained the children of Israel to be a kingdom of priests. This means that God wanted them all to be priests. However, because they worshiped the golden calf (Exo. 32:1-6),they lost the priesthood,and only the tribe of Levi, because of its faithfulness to God, was chosen to replace the whole nation of Israel as priests to God(Exo. 32:25-29;Deut. 33:8-10). Hence, there was a mediatorial class between God and the children of Israel. This became a strong system in Judaism.In the New Testament, God has returned to His original intention according to His economy,in that He has made all believers in Christ priests (Rev. 1:6;5:10;1 Pet. 2:5,9). But at the end of the initial church, the church in Ephesus, even in the first century,the Nicolaitans intervened as the mediatorial class to spoil God's economy.According to church history,this became a system that was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and has been retained by the protestant churches. Today in the Roman Catholic Church there is the priestly system, in the state churches there is the clerical system.and in the independent churches there is the pastoral system. All these are a mediatorial class,spoiling the universal priesthood of all believers. Thus,there are two distinct classes -the clergy and the laity.;all believers should be priests to God. Because the mediatorial class destroys the universal priesthood in God's economy,the Lord hates it.Among the seven serving ones in Acts 6:5, one was named Nikolaos (Gk.). There is nothing in church history to indicate that this Nikolaos was the first Nicolaitan.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  14. LaJollaRich

    The flaw with monotheism and Christianity - people have many gods. One is wealth. Another is image. Another is beauty. Another is power. Another is might / strength. Another is drugs. And the list goes on.

    There will always be many gods as in Ancient Egypt. One-god concept is a lie.

    'Thou shalt have no other god before me' – paaahleez. That's not mankind's way. That's not how G-D made us.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:09 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Sell that one-god concept to the billions of people on the planet, Earth.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:19 am |
    • Mauricio

      I could not agree more. Many people do not realize that whatever they have as replacement for Christ is their idol. But what is the solution? Feed them Christ only. Christ + something else is a mixture. Many people do not realize yet that Christ want to be their food and all not just a thing to look at or admire like an object. feeding is the only way to change a man from within. And just like feeding it is a slow process. People do not realize but they are what they feed on. I guarantee you that if you read only news pretty soon you will be sharing news with everyone.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  15. William F. DeVault

    Dwight Moody said "Character is what you are in the dark". The veil that the internet permits lets people in general indulge their anonymous whims. For many, this gives them the sense that they can be jerks without fear of being seen, really seen, just as people who would never litter while walking down the street think nothing of throwing a garbage bag out of a moving car, they they feel empowered by their isolation in the metal box.

    This does not apply to everyone. There are many, many people who don't see the internet as a place to be their worst and take out their anger or edges on the world. The dichotomy of the label "Christian" also comes into play. The church was never meant to be a museum of saints, but a hospital for those wanting, needing, help with whom they are. We all fall down, and oftentimes people who have not yet fully embraced the cure but still have their membership cards carry the label, even though they haven't quite yet got it.

    To me, as a Quaker, as a Christian, the difficulty of living the faith in the day to day is apparent. Can people point to elements of my day to day witness and criticize me and through me my faith? Absolutely, just as I can point out the hypocrisy of prayers on the battlefield and Christians having to swear on a Bible to be considered even marginally truthful in court.

    The Christian essence is not about perfection, or sin, it is about forgiveness. We need to be as gracious and forgiving of everyone else as we ourselves have received forgiveness. That's hard, brutally hard, for us humans. The small percentage who, once out on the web, wave their flags and pound their unread Bibles, and engage in hatespeak while claiming the faith? Forgive them and move on, but it is okay to confess we do not always live up to our best intentions or the essence of our faith.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:08 am |
  16. Mauricio

    Many Christians are divided on opinions just like the church in Corinth. Most Christians follow their own chosen religion and not God's ordained way of worship for the same reason you mentioned in your term paper illustration; the reason we find the energy to worship our way and not the Lord's is because our way is the way of the flesh – the natural man. The reason we find the energy to clean with a toothbrush on a midterm is because that energy comes from the natural life. This is why the Lord told the disciples that the flesh is weak when they could not pray for an hour. The flesh is weak in doing the will of God – if we liken the term paper as the will of God – but is not weak to do our own will -what we want. We were never told when we were saved that we have to put our natural self to death in addition to avoid sin.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:08 am |
  17. LaJollaRich

    Queen Nef and King Akenaten had 6 girls and introduced monotheism to Ancient Egypt circa 1400 BCE. They disappeared. Child King Tut came out of the concubines and reintroduced pantheism.

    Ancient priest were quite powerful as priests are today - murderers. But Tut died early and the priests and generals took control of the throne.

    Moses returned to claim the throne of Egypt in the name of HIS FAMILY and was dismissed but he was allowed to take 'his people' with him when he left. They killed Moses in the desert.

    Nevertheless, monotheism and the buds of Christianity were born. One and only one god.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:02 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Ancient Egyptian facts always hurt people sensibilities. Facts are facts. Revisionist history is a lie no matter how many time its repeated.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:22 am |
    • W0lfman

      And I would hate to have God looking at me like I'm guessing He is looking at you. Stop this vile game of yours.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:25 am |
    • W0lfman

      My feelings are not hurt – but enough is done already to offend God.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:30 am |
  18. Jayden

    Actually, I think there's a simpler answer - one that applies to any religion or belief system that restricts negative expression. As humans, we have negative feelings, and we need to express them. If we aren't provided (by the church, for example) with healthy, acceptable places to let those feelings out on a regular basis, we're going to create little loopholes for ourselves to vent. I have a devoutly Buddhist friend who can be positively vicious out two areas - baseball and a particularly difficult in-law. I believe Christians are much the same. Areas where the church can't watch them (like travelling or the Internet) provide ideal places to get the negative emotions out. Unfortunately, these negative emotions - because they have no daily outlet - tend to be pent up and strong, leading to the "jerk" behavior the author described. Give Christians valid ways within their Church to express anger, frustration, envy and other negative emotions, and they won't build to a boiling point.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:56 am |
  19. LordHaveMercy

    If you a Believer STOP TALKING! Jesus went through longsuffering. Act like u believe in Christ. It may suck when people talk bad bout us but we got work to do! Get yo butt off this page and get back to work! Go lay hand on the sick or pray for the homeless. Go study God's word. GROW IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST SO YOU KNOW HOW TO ACT! CHOP CHOP!!!!!!!!!!!!! And to all you who don't believe you want proof!!!!!!?????? That He is real!?! God will show you once you choose to believe. Jehovah is not trapped in a building! He is in all those who believe in Him. CHOP CHOP!!!!!!!!!!!! Over and Out.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:43 am |
  20. LaJollaRich

    I can't type Queen Nef's full name but I can type the word 'nefarious'.

    She's nefarious for finding a male child, King Tutakenaten, she obviously desperately needed? She and husband, King Akenaten, are the reason we have monotheism today. Monotheism didn't exist before her.

    Shameful and horrific I can't type her whole name and she was a very real person/queen.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:43 am |
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