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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. itsjustme

    I think it is always easier to get stuck in the rules then the spirit of the message. Sometimes folks get all tripped up in the thou and thee and forget the you and me. It is also easier; from the playground to the internet to point out others faults thereby feeling superior and safe. The fact is as stated; we are the broken , sick and sinners all in the same boat so grab ahold and help one another.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  2. Dana

    A few other things:

    1) Non-Christians can be just as nasty online though not so in real life. I figure whatever it is that makes a kind and gentle non-Christian turn fiendish online is at work in some Christians as well.

    2) A lot of internet dialog is spontaneous and not thought through. A reaction rather than a response. Then the sin nature comes through. Social constraints hold us back in person, but not online. Think of all the "Oooh, I shoulda said..." things you think of after a confrontation that it really is better you didn't say. I think it comes out more readily online.

    3) Some of those rude Christians are just rude Christians. I've met people just like them in real life. Also, some will answer requests to be civil with statements like "I'm just speaking the truth. If the truth offends you, that isn't my problem." Or some reference to anger at God being the source of any offense rather than the inappropriateness of their tone. I'm not sure that the self-righteous online aren't just as self-righteous offline.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  3. Dan Lilledahl

    The whole "Christian jerk" thing became glaringly real to me when I read all the HATEFUL and vitriolic comments directed at Pat Robertson on ChristianityToday.com in regards to his comments about the origin of the earthquake in Haiti.

    The thing that didn't hit me right away, but eventually I found troubling about the comments directed at Mr. Robertson, was that some/many people were stating that they hoped that Mr. Robertson would burn in hell for his comments. So now someone can lose their salvation simply because of an (in my opinion) an ill-timed and thougthless comment? So now many of us who have made ill-timed and thoughtless comments are bound for hell.

    Yes people, it is THAT bad in some places on the internet, even on Christian websites!

    June 29, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
    • gg

      I think the point can be made that in making those comments about Haiti after the earthquake, Pat Robertson was engaging in some "room cleaning" christianity of his own. It's much easier to spew nonsense like the comments he made than to actually go to Haiti and help the poor victims of this natural disaster. Or how about even arranging a fundraiser if he can't go himself? He certainly has the means to do so. That's an example of a Christian being a hypocritical, room-cleaning jerk. That being said, I think some of the reactions were equally uncalled-for, but when one holds oneself up as a mouthpiece for God, one should not expect to be given a pass when one says such ridiculous things.

      June 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  4. W0lfman

    He was tried only because he failed to live up to the Jews' conception of the Messiah – if he had become king and led a revolt against Rome, their behavior would have been entirely different. That is, for the Sanhedrin.

    For the Samaritans, if he had worshipped on Mount Gerazim, they would have followed him.

    For the others, if He had just provided bread for them, they would have followed Him.

    I say, He has divided the world, and there will never be peace until He returns.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Ddubbya

      Remember, Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. Others did. However, he did not refute them.

      I believe that if Jesus lives in your heart – then you have peace. Jesus lives today, does he not? He has returned to the hearts of many that left him, no? Then, for whatever reason, Jesus has already returned. When you have Jesus living in your heart, you have no room for anything but peace and love.

      Maybe his second coming isn't in physical form, but spiritual. Maybe is has occured, and the world simply refuses to see it.

      (Just sayin – I am no prophet)

      The way I see it, if Jesus' purpose was only to divide, then how can Christians actually unite under the banner of love and compassion? Is it not then that the entire idea is false and the world's Christians are on a wild goose chase?

      Jesus came to overshadow all sorrow, all pain, all political insainity, all sins of this world for one purpose. To unite the whole of humanity with love. The one and only thing that can and does conquer hate and evil.

      You are free to disagree with me. I can only speak for myself and my experiences. To me, Jesus is the glue that holds it all together. Without some sort of belief in his teachings (regardless of any prophecy), then one can only face the world alone. That is the pure definition of Hell. Live without the presence of God (Jesus).

      June 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • W0lfman

      Ddubbya – I like you – your post made me feel calm all of a sudden. No I don't disagree – I believe we have received an advance of the Kingdom in our hearts. I feel it, and it does bring me peace. If each individual were at peace, the world would be at peace.

      We are the Body of Christ, but although Christians may unite, I fear that not ALL will become Christian.

      June 29, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Ddubbya

      your sentiment is shared. i can tell that you have a passion within you. i can't explain how i know it, i just do.

      i don't have all of the answers. in fact, i am still searching for some sort of understanding for myself. i admit i don't know everything or if anything i do know is real or not. all i know is what is within my heart.

      and, this may come as a surprise to you, but i don't consider myself to be christian. i'm a work in progress. i believe that Jesus did exist, and his messages are very important to me. i have learned a lot about life and how to deal with others through is teachings. that is as about as much construction has been done on myself. but, i am always open.

      maybe he speaks through me. maybe that is why i am here. i don't normally come to these comment posts because i usually get too emotional reading them. for some reason, something compelled me to come here today and leave a comment or two. i won't try to explain it or understand it. it is what it is.

      i hope you have a great rest of the week and a wonderful safe weekend.

      same to everyone here......

      June 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      That is an interesting thought Ddubbya. What if people are living in anticipation of "the second coming" and "the rapture", when that is not what Jesus meant at all?? Maybe we should just live as if this is it and it's up to us what to make of it..?

      June 29, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • W0lfman

      MrsFizzy: Most people who say things like your post do not believe in organized religion. I believe this is precisely why God gave it to us: when you use yourself as an authority, you risk becoming a fundamentalist, whether you believe in God or not.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Well I don't know where I said I believed in organized religion. Many cases out there of the head of an organization being a fundamentalist seeing themselves as a God-figure. Good post re. faith vs. belief though. I don't think I need to belong to one denomination or other to give me faith.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  5. mitch Lunceford

    The rotten apples spoil the bunch... or at least the image of the bunch. This is a great article.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  6. Dan Lilledahl

    Very well put Jon! I have been a jerk online also. I would like to add it seems like we have this disconnect in that we don't feel like we are accountable for things we type on the internet.

    I would also like to add (and maybe it has already been said above) that it isn't just Christians who become jerks online. Just about every article on CNN.com that has a comments section, along with almost every other website out there (whether it is Christian or not), the comments section seems to degenerate to a heated argument within 7-14 posts, regardless of the topic.

    My only jerk comment: why is the "eatocracy" CNN.com add overlaying the add comments button?

    June 29, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  7. Ddubbya

    Then you have not understood his entire purpose.

    He was not an important figure for the beginning of what we know as Christianity. He was a rebel against the Jewish faith. He was a criminal in the eyes of the Priests because he spoke against the faith. This is the reason he was tried and sentenced to death.

    We fail sometimes to remember that Jesus was a Jew and bound by the Jewish tradition. Jesus spoke against it. He abolished all of the commandments that were used as law, and created the new commandments that we could all live by.

    It is hard sometimes to understand all of this. There are many layers that must be taken into account in order for the reader to have a full understanding of Jesus' messages.

    June 29, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • Gil T

      Not quite so, Ddubbya. What you (and many others) see as Jesus rebelling against the Jewish faith was actually a stance for scripture. It was tradition, as you state, against which he spoke. Even then Jesus did not rail or rebel against tradition. It was the elevation of tradition on par with scripture by the Pharisees and scribes and in some instances tradition had come to displace scripture. I do commend you on, "hard sometimes to understand..."

      June 29, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  8. elin

    Right on – After the particularly inane posts you will find lines like "Have a blessed day" or "May you find peace" as a last ditch attempt at faking benevolence

    June 29, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  9. W0lfman

    Luke 12

    Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:

    52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.

    53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

    June 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      [Jesus said] 'Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.' Matthew 5:17
      Division is due to man’s not wanting to live by Truth. Man does not like the narrow path. Man prefers darkness over Light.

      June 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Morgan

      And yet more irony. Since you posted the verses without a context, I'm curious if you're using the verses to justify things like Christians picketing funerals for soldiers with ugly signs. I'm curious if your verses justify the killing of those who don't believe as you do. I wonder if you would be happy with Christianity, not as one religion among many, but rather as the law of the land.

      July 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  10. KERRY

    I haven't yet seen a real devout Christian.......no drinking alcohol..no nudity....being in peace with others (others religions).....no judgement withou proof. So why would Christians all of a sudden listen to "be nice to thy neighbor"?

    June 29, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Ddubbya

      My grandmother was a devout TRUE Christian. Her life influenced me. She never met someone she didn't like, and never had a bad thing to say about anyone that wasn't in jest. They do exist out there. You have to pick through a lot of crap somethings to find the treasures that get covered up.

      June 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      My Grandmother is too. But you don't tend to notice those people, they are humble and don't call attention to themselves and go on about being born again etc.

      June 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
    • Lee

      "No judgement without proof". I suggest you listen to your own words or you become hypocrite like the Christians you claim are. There are over 1 billion of us. If you haven't met all of them, don't say things that contradict your very own words. I've met quite a few Christians who were everything you'd expect them to be. Not perfect, but then again who is? I've never been taught in my church anyway (Catholic) that because I go to church I'm better than the next guy. Actually quite the opposite, we're usually reminded quite frequently that we're sinners and weak. No one who is truly religious would be anything other than humble.

      July 6, 2010 at 1:15 am |
  11. Ddubbya

    "Jesus came for the mess-ups like us. Jesus came for the failures. Jesus came for the jerks. "

    Yes, this maybe so. However far too often this is used as an excuse, not as a declaration of salvation.

    I have encountered my fair share, or more than my fair share, of rude arrogant prideful Christians online (we call them Xians, because if they can't show the love of Jesus in their daily walk, it's dispresctful to call oneself a true Christian).They, and maybe yourself, fail to acknowledge that God never said we HAVE to believe in him or follow Jesus. It is a choice. Even Jesus respected, but not approved, of the choices of the non believers. At it's core, this is God's own way of compassion and love. Too bad not enough Christians are blessed enough with true grace to realize this.

    All in all, good article. You are only scratching the surface, though. There are many other reasons as to why SOME ('cause not all are) Christians are jerks online.

    June 29, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  12. Tristin

    I don't know. I kind of like my Christians to be judgy and a little angry. It let's me know they actually have a stake in the conversation beyond the ever trite: god will take care of it. I'm not saying be mean. Sometimes loving people is refusing to be nice to them. Overturn some tables. Get angry. There is a difference between righteous anger and trolling. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks Christianity as hand holding, full of warm fuzzies, therapy is the problem. I think cutsie feel good theology is the reason people around the world don't take American Christianity seriously. Skip the inquisition. Skip unfounded assertions. Bring on the thoughtful social / cultural / environmental / economic critique. Some things are worth getting angry over. After all Jesus did.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Jaina

      Yes. This. We need a little more righteous anger in the church. God is the ultimate judge, but when it comes to church matters, well, Paul said, are we not to judge the angels? How much more, then, are we qualified to judge earthly matters between our brothers and sisters in the church? (1 Cor 6:3, paraphrased to clarify the context).

      June 29, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • Ddubbya

      Jesus became angry at the mis-use of the temple.

      The world does not view American Christianity (which is another issue ALL together) as warm and fuzzy. Most view it as close to the theocracy as one can get. More people would rather see the TRUE side of Christianity. The love, the compassion, the acceptance. Sadly, with American Christianity, those mose sacred values of which Jesus spent his 3 years preaching about have all been replaced with the teachings of others that did not share his view.

      June 29, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • gg

      I think the author article is referring to this sort of "righteous anger" as one of the ways Christians can act like jerks. They spend their time fuming over some cause, picketing with signs, and posting their carefully-worded and passionate admonishments in the comments section on articles about gay marriage and abortion instead of practicing the more difficult task of loving God and loving people. In my mind, these are worst kind of "room cleaning" Christian. Did Jesus scold Mary Magdelene about her sins and tell her she was going to hell if she didn't change her ways? No. Instead, he washed her feet. For those who don't know about foot washing, it was considered an ultimate act of love and service to another. He loved and served her rather than judging her, even though he could have easily done the latter. He didn't say "I'm Jesus, and you should do what I say!" He knelt down at her feet and showed her compassion. If even Jesus himself didn't put himself above those who should serve him, why do so many Christians feel justified to even use the term "righteous anger" to explain why they judge others? Because it's easier to judge someone from afar than to kneel down and wash their feet.

      June 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • SLA

      The thing is, there needs to be balance. Yes, there is sin and God hates sin and we need to be very aware of that. But I also think we Christians are waaaaay too ready to judge others, and not usually with the kind of judgment God wants us to use. We want to slam other people with how wrong they are, or point out the huge flaw in their theology, or whatever. But what about the fact that God wants us to be clothed with "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience?" (Colossians 3:12) If we feel that God wants us to correct someone (as opposed to our own self-righteousness fueling it), then it is to be done with love. Pointing out the sins of the world is important, but showing Jesus as a God who wants to body-slam us and throw us into hell is really not very consistent with the Bible. (You might say, "But, in the Old Testament God was all about wrath." But you have to look at what His chosen people put Him through to understand that He had absolutely reached His limit - a limit He had warned them about over and over again, telling them the consequences of their disobedience, but also pointing out that He would MUCH rather they repent, because He would gladly forgive them.)

      Anyway, wrath without "tough love" behind it is just ... wrath. That's not really the God I want my non-Christian friends to see. I definitely want them to understand that sin is spiritually deadly and that God does not tolerate it. But I also definitely want them to know that, because of His lovingkindness and compassion, He has provided a way for them (for all of us) to be freed from the chains of sin and death, and that having a personal relationship with Him is all about love (even in discipline).

      June 29, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
    • DR

      tristin, You can read the Gospels front to back and you will only find Jesus getting angry at the "christians" of his day. The Pharisees, the religious capitalists (money changers) and the political religionists (sadducees). They finally murdered Him. The christians that spew hate and death threats on the internet would be the same ones that would cry for Jesus to be crucified. Lets get the big picture here people God is not trying to preserve(save) America He is trying to save the whole world!
      Cheers

      June 29, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
  13. NavPress

    Why do we argue about the faith of U2? That's a personal matter between them and God. And about Bono–I know he likes The Message. He sent us this endorsement: "There's a translation of Scriptures that this guy Eugene Peterson has undertaken. It has been a great strength to me. He's a poet and a scholar, and he's brought the text back to the tone in which the books were written."

    June 29, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  14. Kristine McGuire

    Rock on Dude! I'm sure I've fallen into the "jerk" online in the past but your right there is grace and hope for all of us. Thanks for keeping it real and reminding us all that we are Christians in real time and in cyber space.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  15. Jennifer

    Great article! and too, thanks for the humility. It's nice to read a post that points out where we can all improve without sounding like someone who's above it. I think we, as Christians can get into trouble when we start pointing fingers at others with the mentality that "I would never do that." If there's anything I've learned it's this: never say never. Thanks, Jon, and also for your humor:)

    June 29, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  16. julia

    Love this...thank you! And...just FYI, I'll be using that Timbaland line at some point today.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  17. Jared Yaple

    Well played Jonathan...I read a blog comment yesterday where it seemed like the commenter was trashing the author for comparing the size of the new Les Miserables translation to his ESV Study Bible...which are roughly the same size...physically.

    I sat there thinking..."what the...?"

    Which always makes me think about the people I knew at Bible school who wore the fact that they'd never said the word "crap" on their shirts like a Lady Gaga accessory...while I sat there thinking "Crap? That's my 'tone-it-down' word?!"

    Anywho...I appreciate your angle on this...the humor is some of your best, and it makes the point vibrant.

    Thank you...

    June 29, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  18. Lori

    nailed it! :^)

    June 29, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  19. cindybcapps

    You are right on the money. I have dear friends who are on the receiving end of this right now. WOW....Christians...we are the only ones who EAT our own wounded....

    June 29, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • illlisten

      yuck

      June 29, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  20. Carl

    If there's a reason for so much of the "Christians can be jerks online," it's probably pride, a well established cardinal sin, maybe the best. For someone who wholeheartedly "embraces" their religion, who knows it's the True Path ™ to salvation, it's hard to accept criticism from the obvious evil Satan worshippers who populate the Internet. A good deal of the problem arises because Christians cannot separate themselves from the Old Testament, which is the background that sets the stage for Jesus' teachings, which have been captured in the New Testament.

    Your comments are well put, done in a kindly manner, and will probably have no effect on the jerks who live in the Old Testament and not in the actual life of Jesus.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Brittany Dowdy

      I wholeheartedly agree that pride is far too often the root cause of Christian online jerkiness (if, yannow, that's a word).

      But I have to disagree that living in the Old Testament is a problem. The Old Testament is a fantastic handbook revealing the character of God and pointing toward Jesus Christ, and I fear that Christians who place it below or in a lesser place than the New Testament risk losing the richness and depth revealed by it. That being said, Christians are terrible about taking things out of context, and far too often forget that the New Testament provides commentary on the Old just as the Old does for the New, and leaning too far toward one without reading it in light of the other DOES provoke some really big problems.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • Marcus

      I heard it put this way: You shouldn't go by something in the Old Testament unless it has an anchor in the New Testament. It doesn't mean that the OT is irrelevant. It's quite the opposite. There are plenty of good lessons to be learned from the OT. However, some of the laws and such from the OT only apply to the people of the time before Christ came to redeem us for our sins, and save us from the consequences that the old laws placed upon us for sinning. Or at least that's the way I understand it....

      June 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • Kay

      Carl, I think you are right about Christians dealing with so much evil online. Just reading the boards on CNN are cause to make any Christian cringe. They are often filled with immediate hate towards Christians (especially Catholics) and lies are spread about them or exaggerations are made up to incite even more hatred. It is all the doing of the evil one, even if the non-Christians don't realize they are his tool. So, yes, some Christians get defensive. Being defensive is not mean or hateful, it is a manner of defending the Faith.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
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