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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. Allen

    Of corse we believers are a target of hatred. Jesus told us we would be. So don't be surprised at that. Only love people and pray for them. That is all we can do. Please just don't argue with them and make us look like haters.

    June 30, 2010 at 6:48 am |
    • T. Question

      This is the best answer I could hope for. It's the truth Christians were foretold to be hated despised. Love everyone and show compassion and forgiveness. The question is how in a world that asks you turn your back on the teachings and just popular opinion? I guess the answer is to keep preaching the truth but be careful not to stone the sinner who is all of us.

      June 30, 2010 at 7:10 am |
    • jamesbrummel

      Nice self serving ratiionalization, Alan. With a healthy dose of martydom. I don't hate Christians. I like exposing angry, vengeful cowards who conceal their opinions in a bible or a flag or what ever for what they are.

      June 30, 2010 at 7:25 am |
  2. Mark

    Hey, I have an idea, why don't you put something up about Stuff Muslims Like- Car bombs, keeping women oppressed, stoning Gays to death, killing people that display a sense of humor about Islam...

    June 30, 2010 at 6:35 am |
  3. angeljaneann

    What do mean Christians are mean online? They are are mean in real life. Some of the meanest people I have ever met have been the most religious. Of course, some of the niceness have been Christians too. The level of hate though is quite mind bogling. Quite a few young people have told me that they have rejected Christianity because of these kinds of people. It is a shame.

    June 30, 2010 at 6:28 am |
  4. SomeoneElse

    Christian is not a synonym for someone who is a good person. A Christian is someone who believes in a certain religion, nothing more. Being good or bad has nothing to do with it.

    June 30, 2010 at 6:23 am |
  5. Moody Blues

    All those who love God are on their way home. Doesn't matter if their Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever. The first step is realizing that we are not these bodies and we don't belong here because we've forgotten our true relationship with our spiritual parents, lovers, friends and siblings. Nor are we the mind, intelligence or ego we falsely perceive ourselves to be. We are all pure spirit souls temporarily inhabiting these funky bags of flesh and bones. Some will take the stairs home while others will take the elevator. We will ALL go home eventually. Let's just try to be amicable on the way there, OK? Cheers!

    June 30, 2010 at 6:23 am |
    • Samuel

      The book of Revelations points out that those not having accepted Christ are not necessarily barred from eternal life but are judged from the "Book of Life" based on their deeds. That will be a bit difficult I would think but it does open the door to non-Christians (as I read it). Christians that have washed their sins away in the blood of Christ do not hvae to be judged from the book of life because they accepted Jesus Christ as theri redeemer and spiritual father.

      July 6, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  6. T. Question

    I got a question? Just one. I have been reading this faith session on CNN off and on for a few days. I have to say I think the name of this part of CNN should be changed to Christian haters @CNN.COM. I will task someone to show a positive story like a Christian church saving a homeless child. Or Christians around the world and the positive works they do. I have looked I did not see it. They seem set on two things push out a liberal view and destroy Christians everywhere. I do invite anyone to show me positive stories like the ones below on this site.

    http://www.websites-host.com/insp/istories.html

    June 30, 2010 at 6:17 am |
  7. Jesus Lover

    You guys have dealth with "Mean christians" – Right ? Why don't we all become "Good Christians" and change the world ?
    Its written " We are hated by world because , we are not of this world , if the world loves us, the love of the father is not in us"

    June 30, 2010 at 5:53 am |
  8. Jimmy Medlock

    I think this is a great article, you're incredibly insightful and i hop you keep doing what you doing. Peace

    June 30, 2010 at 5:43 am |
  9. John

    I don't know.....does the word hypocrite mean anything to them? Or is that everyone else?

    June 30, 2010 at 5:41 am |
  10. Mickey

    I've never dealt with "mean" Christians online, but, I regularly do in real life. Sometimes I feel like a closeted Christian becaujse I don't want to be identified with the meanness that is apparently part of the Christian code here. "They" hate Mexicans, blacks, non-Christians, gays and everything going wrong on this planet and in space is full-square the fault of Obama. When I hear a service provider talking loudly about what a Christian he is, I know some kind of trouble is in my future. Whatever happened to love thy neighbor (I mean, other than those mission trips that require a passport) or do unto others, etc?. I believe that the churches here function much as a middle school clique does. It's a group to hang with. It's a way to feel superior to outsiders. But whateever it is, Christians as a whole and in my town, are mean. Most of the time.

    June 30, 2010 at 5:26 am |
  11. LaJollaRich

    There is something here and out there that takes a seed in the right environment, sends messages, and makes a copy of itself. We have yet to figure out that part. Fundamental stuff. HOW does it know? Can we 'see' it with our eyes under a high-powered microscope? No. Will we ever 'see' it with the eyes we have? If we can't 'see' it, will we merely 'understand' it.

    What is that?! I'm going with the G-D concept because I understand that's one very complexed piece of the puzzle.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:47 am |
  12. Vivian

    As someone once said going to church will no more make you a christian than sitting in your garage will make you a car. Labeling yourself a Christian and not acting like "christ" (going abut doing good, walking in mercy, kindness, etc.) does not make you apathetic toward world events. Jesus got angry on more than one occassion. He ran the money-changes from the temple b/c He declared they made "His Father's house into a den of thieves"; therfore there is a time for righteous anger. I don't believe the blogs are the place for anger. We all are emotional beings and I agree with some on this blog that we let our emotions get the best of us at times. Me included. Some posts seem to be delibertely there to get you upset. So, I think I'll read the article post my comment and not read the postings if that is what seems best for me. On this journey of life some things are better left alone and no one needs to be upset over someone else disagreeing with them. We are free beings and have a free-will. That's what prayer is for. So, pray to your God and I'll pray to mine. If you don't believe in God, then that is fine do whatever it is you do to bring peace and harmony to the world. I do not have to prove Jesus exists b/c I know from my personal relationship with Him. With that being said, knowing who I am, who I belong too, and that the only opinion that matters of me is the one He has, not peoples opinion (since everyone has one). That is ALL that matters to me when it comes to relgious topics. To become entangled in religious or anti-religious debates is ridiculous and God does not need me to defend Him; He can do that on His own. To the Christians...we are all at different stages as someone else said, on another blog, so we have to be careful not to cause another to stumble. So, before you shake your finger at me remember the beam in your own eye. The only person we can change is ourself and trust me I have my hands full. I want to make the most out of life and have mercy on the poor and what is known as the outcasts and rejects of society and the widows, orphans and broken-hearted people that have lost their hope for a brighter tomorrow that brighter days are ahead for them. There are too many other big and deeper issues going on to worry about another persons opinion of my opinion. Can't we all agree to disagree and work together to make the best of the space we're taking up on earth and the people who cross our lives path and practice a little more kindness, love deeper and not be so easily offended.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:45 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Even Jesus didn't like 'the church' is his day. He would be appalled at the nutcases, today.

      June 30, 2010 at 5:00 am |
    • T. Question

      Wise Wise words. This helps put things in perspective. I admit when people condemn Christians I forget that is how it was written and for told. We were told we would be hated, mocked, and even abused. I see a future were a certain point of view will prevent you from getting a job. I fear those times but know I must pray for the strength to endure.

      June 30, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  13. Ozgur

    Why? Because a great many Christians (and devout members of other religions) have proven cross-culturally to show up on cognitive tests at the "conventional" or "rule/role" or "concrete operational" mental structures which look at things in terms of black and white, evil and good, wrong and right, us and them, with no ground in between. Coupled with the increased amount of narcissism that people in the US show in such studies (you know, where lots of Christians and internet surfers are?), and you get a lot of self-righteous jerk Christians online. Read your Ken Wilber, Jane Loevinger, Carol Gilligan and Lawrence Kohlberg. Look into the worldview model known as Spiral Dynamics. It's all there. Of course there are Christians who are more cognitively developed, but they tend to identify a bit less exclusively as Christians, and they are not the "base" of conventionalism underlying the Church.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:32 am |
  14. Emilio

    If the Wiccans were forever foisting their belief system on us, as do the Krischuns, we'd react in much the same way: keep your beliefs to yourselves and leave the rest of us the heck alone.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:17 am |
  15. Rich

    LaJollaRich, you're saying anything you can't explain must be divine? That seems like a real leap in logic. There are many answers we did not have in the past but have now. Were those things supernatural to many before they were understood? Absolutely. And, this is ignoring the fact that reproduction and the science of genetics is quite well understood.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:16 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      Maybe we're just not there, yet. But have others in ancient times ever figure that part out? Doesn't appear they have. Cut a seed / egg and try to find out how it KNOWS to grow a copy of itself. Maybe, it isn't 'divine' but scientists have yet to figure it out.

      Neanderthals discovered fire long after many in Africa already had. That's simple physics to me. This is much deeper even with high-powered microscopes and advanced technologies. HOW does it know to grow a copy of itself?

      I'm calling it god-like because I'm too ignorant and not a scientist. They can't even figure it out.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:34 am |
    • Ozgur

      Well, one point about that: The science of genetics is well understood to a point. Natural Selection is about how mutations are passed on, but is woefully silent about how mutations come into being in the first place. Rupert Sheldrake's theory of morphogenic fields fills in a bit more, but the generation of mutations still often points to some higher omega point or inbuilt potential toward which things build. I'd recommend looking up the term involution. You'll probably enjoy much of what you find on these topics (especially as it can all be linked much more easily to science than to religion).

      June 30, 2010 at 4:47 am |
  16. LaJollaRich

    I have trouble letting go of the god-concept because when we cut an acorn nut into thin slices, we can't see under powerful microscopes how a acorn knows to grow into a maple tree. What is that stuff? How come we can't see it?

    We're still too many levels of abstraction away from understanding seeds / eggs. We don't have technology to understand HOW it knows to grow itself. Will we ever?

    June 30, 2010 at 4:08 am |
    • Stefan

      That's what I don't agree with. Just because we don't have an answer to all our questions, doesn't allow us to make up religions and Gods of all sorts and kinds, since the dawn of Mankind to fill in those blanks.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:22 am |
    • Stefan

      Like long time agowe did not know the fire so it was was gift from god now it's lighter for $1 from 7-11

      June 30, 2010 at 4:24 am |
    • LaJollaRich

      My point has nothing to do with organized religion and absolutely nothing to do with Neanderthals in Northern regions learning about fire when many others in Africa had already figured it out.

      My point is cut the seed / egg and we still can't see how it knows to grow a copy of itself. Period. We're not there yet.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:28 am |
  17. Stefan

    I am an atheist who does not believe in religious tolerance. I believe (yes, I recognise the irony) that the burden of worth, truth and proof lies with the actual religion, not the individual. Most religions are a scourge; they breed nothing but ignorance and preach nothing but intolerance.

    If this were not true, terrorists would not use Islam as a weapon, the KKK would not use Christianity as a weapon, Qi Gong practitioners would not need to give up their organs to wealthy Chinese, good Catholic boys would never be touched by their priests and 15 month old boys could have hope for the future.

    Religion should never be given the benefit of the doubt. Just because it worships one god over another, claims past miracles or fulfilled prophecies and is exempt from taxation, does not mean that your one religion is more likely to purify your soul over another.

    In so many ways, I feel so very sorry for any child that is not allowed the freedom of choice in their own spirituality. If religion truly were the individual pursuit for spiritual purification or perfection, it would be personal, not congregational, and no country or family or child would be labelled under it.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:07 am |
  18. david

    I also used to think that Katy Perry was a Missionary kid since she boasts about being a rebel so much but then in a interview she said that her parents always told her to follow her heart in any religion she wanted to chose, this is not Biblical Christianity for Jesus said that He is the only way to the Father and to heaven . John 14:6 "I am the Way , the Truth, the Life, no man comes to the Father except through Me". so she was messed up from day one. So much for standing up for the Bible, if you are a missionary then you should respect the Bible, anything else is just being a fake. Thats exactly why I think there so many "Christian jerks" for they might be in your church but not respecting the Bible or the God who inspired the book. A person could attend church for other motives, relationships, business, to socialize, etc. many go with the flow but its when trials and hardships come into their lives and others mock the God of the Bible...do they stand for Jesus who they claim to love or be a jerk and become cold hearted? denying the very Lord that died on the cross for them . with sadness Jesus also says to these "If you deny Me before this wicked generation then I will deny you before my Father". so its up to you, go with the crowd and please men , who are all selfish at heart, or please God and keep your faith in Jesus no matter what life throws at you

    June 30, 2010 at 4:07 am |
  19. Stefan

    Without religion women would be free from their idiotic repression in the Middle East.
    Without religion people would be more concerned with what they did with their lives, rather than what they avoided.
    Without religion the strongest and most divisive form of segregation would be dissolved and many wars and borders would become irrelevant.
    Without religion stem cell research could continue uninhibited and cure many debilitating diseases.
    Without religion the scourge of AIDS and other STDs would be controlled by a condom.
    Without religion, people wouldn't pray for peace, they would work towards it.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:06 am |
    • Jennifer

      Not all religions are equal. That is like comparing a Fascist dictatorship to a democracy and making blanket claims about "all governments." To the extent you're trying to claim that the world is somehow better off without structured beliefs that are theological in nature, that is inherently impossible. It's just that your particular religion consists of denying the validity of all others.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • righteous-in-Christ

      @ Stefan:

      If we have Relationship with Christ, women & children would be free from idiotic repression in the Middle East.
      If we have Relationship with Christ, we would be more concerned with what we do with our lives in order to help others, rather than what they avoided.
      If we have Relationship with Christ, the strongest and most divisive form of segregation would be dissolved and many wars and borders would become irrelevant.
      If we have Relationship with Christ, no stem cell research would be needed to continue to uninhibited and cure many debilitating diseases.
      If we have Relationship with Christ, the scourge of AIDS and other STDs would be controlled by the healing of the Blood of Jesus Christ.
      If we have Relationship with Christ, people wouldn't pray for peace, so we can work with each other and love each other.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  20. Rich

    Christians are very often full-time hypocrites in their daily lives. That's why they're jerks online.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:06 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.