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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. Meg

    God is indeed alive and at work. He is the positive in our lives and helps us get through the negative. He's the love.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  2. chas

    I wonder if any muslims / jews / hindus / pagans / witches / warlocks / unbelievers in anything or anyone else for that matter can be jerks online??? Why single out Christians???

    June 30, 2010 at 8:39 am |
    • SueK

      You just bundled actual religions (Islam, Hinduism) with fairy-tale characters......and you still wonder why we think you're judgemental and elitist ? Everyone else's faith is a joke to you. Because they believe in a different god, they must be morons, or "witches". Right ?

      June 30, 2010 at 9:37 am |
    • Jennifer

      SueK, witches and warlocks consider themselves to be part of the Wiccan religion. There was nothing inaccurate about the post.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  3. KewBear

    I'm just waiting for the rapture, so I don't have to put up with them anymore. 😉

    June 30, 2010 at 8:32 am |
  4. Saganhill

    Like I say, since there is no god all this talk about it is nothing but here-say and faith. Faith is not fact and I find no evedence that any christian brings to the table reliable. Its all word of mouth. No christian, or muslim for that matter has ever proven any existance of god or jesus.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  5. Dave

    As one of Jehovah`s Witness`es I get the unique experience of talking to persons of most religions face to face and not online. I am not calling anyone a "Jerk", but I get my share of insults, slammed doors, dog attacks from owners, police calls, and dodging items that are thrown at me. Most of these persons have religious items located in their yards or on their doors that indicate they are Christian. Most, obviously do not care that i have sacrificed time and money just to bring a message of hope that Jesus himself commanded Christians to do and showed by example. I am not surprised that I receive this treatment as Jesus and his disciples also were treated in the same way for the same message. I have also discovered that some Christians are taught by their Clergy to treat persons of other religions this way, just like in Jesus day. What makes it worthwhile is when you find a person who appreciates why you are there even though they may not agree with what you are saying. They display Love of Neighbor. It truly is refreshing to see acts of kindness instead of acts of hatred.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:26 am |
    • John

      Now that IS being a Christian.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:13 am |
    • Mauricio

      1 John 4:1-2 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone into the world. In this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God," Jehovah Witnesses say that Jesus is not God, so How can Jesus be the Son of God if He is not God. Would not the Son of God have the element of God to be His Son? If Jesus did not have God in Him how can Jesus be the Son of God? He would just be a great man, that is all. Also, How can He be sinless if He is not God? Suppose that He is not God and He is sinless that would mean we can be sinless from the moment we believe. How many have been sinless from the moment they believe until their death from Jesus death and resurrection until now? Probably zero. So since no one have attained this perfection of Jesus until now it implies that He had to have been God to be sinless. No one else can be be sinless from the moment they are born again until their death let alone be sinless from the moment they are born! To say that Jesus is sinless and not God is an absurdity. You may say, some of the angels are sinless. The angels, but we are speaking of humans. So if He is a human that has no sin; He has to be God. Jehovah Witnesses will have to deny He is sinless to say He is not God. How can they say He is sinless without being God? So, Jehovah Witnesses may say Jesus came in the flesh. But, who came in the flesh? Just as man. Every man comes in the flesh for that matter. It must refer to God coming in the flesh. What would happen if a Jehovah Witneses say He was not sinless? Then He could not redeem us and we would all burn in the Lake of Fire, because to satisfy God's demand on us sinners the redeemer has to be sinless. No one else can be a redeemer because they are sinful as we are. The redeeming sacrifice had to be perfect and human. This is why Buddha cannot be your redeemer or Mohamed or any hero. If you are not redeemed then God has to kill you forever; He cannot change this. The wages of sin is death. God cannot change this because He would become unrighteous if He did. Also, I wonder how many Jews has Jehovah Witnesses converted! Jews have simple mathematics, one God. Let see how many Gods Jehovah Witnesses have, God the father, God the Son – or we be crazy worshiping Jesus if He was not God – I guess they do not worship Him, and God the Spirit. I add three Gods. Sounds like polytheism to me. Try to sell that one to a Jew. If Jesus is not God, most of us would be idolaters for worshiping a man, and according to Jehovah Witnesses we would be a polytheistic religion. How can they believe this absurdity. So, they decided that no Jew can be saved so who cares If we have more than one God? Ah, they may say the Spirit is not God. Then what are we born of? How can we become sons of God if there is no element of God in us since the Spirit is not God? By becoming sinless? Then God does not have one single son or daughter until now. Apart from Jesus there is no sinless one I know! What Jehovah Witnesses say simply do not add up. The only way for it to make sense, God has to the father, the Son and the Spirit. Besides you were all baptized into one name not three names. What!, three persons and one name? Oh, I get it, only Jesus have a name! The rest are persons according to Jehovah Witness but neither has a name! Hum, a person without a name! I don't think I buy that one. So the Father is the father but He does not have a name, and the Spirit is a wonderful counselor but He does not have a name! But aren't we baptize into just one name, into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit? Otherwise we would be baptized into one God, one human and a thing!. And would you be baptized into anything that is not God, not me. And if they are Gods we would all be baptized into three Gods! Polytheism! So still, what Jehovah Witness suggest is absurd. Where did they get their revelation from? What kind of spirit? Either way you dice it, for the scripture to make sense, God,Jesus, and the Spirit has to be one God.

      July 2, 2010 at 4:53 am |
  6. GladToBeWrong(according_to_the_government)

    I find it humorous when people jump all over topics like this to bash Christians for not being perfect... lol! I think Christians and non-Christians have forgotten one very basic, yet very important fact about being a "Christian." Christians are humans. I know you didn't want to hear that. You wanted us to be up on some pedestal so when we fail we take a big tumbel... but no such luck.
    Christians are simply humans who have chosen to put their faith in Christ. As much as we would like, that doesn't automatically make them perfect. Instead, as Christians, when we put our faith in Christ, we begin a process of change that takes our whole lifes and even then we will never reach perfection until we are changed from our earthly bodies to new bodies in heaven.
    So, yes, we are prone to the same sins as anyone else like immorality, drunkenness, anger and yes, even being a jerk online. I'm not saying it's right for us to act that way. But we struggle day in and day out with the same issues every other human struggles with, with varying degrees of success.
    While I agree with the author that we need to focus more on giving grace to both Christians and non-Christians, we need to remember that we are simply "sinners saved by grace", not super-humans who are always right about everything just because we carry (and hopefully read) our Bible. Even the great apostle Paul noted his struggle with fleshly, human desire when he stated (paraphrasing) "the good that I want to do, I don't do and the bad that I don't want to do, I find myself doing."
    While I can understand how pleasing it is to non-Christians to jump all over a Christian when they fail, I hope the Christians reading this article where moved to pursue a closer relationship with their Lord and Savior as they journey down the road of life through both successes and failures despite the jeers and mockery you will read in this comment section.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  7. TomBomb

    Right on. Seems your view is confirmed.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  8. Paladin

    Forget John 3:16. Look at John 17:3 – Read it! Think it! Live it! Set yourself free and know the REAL Jesus!!!

    June 30, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  9. ChiefOBoB

    So because we are Christians, we are supposed to be perfect? Wow, in my 35 years of being a Christian, no one ever told me that at church, school, etc. Good to know. Thanks my new internet friends.

    See, we are not perfect. Sometimes, we are even a little sarcastic. I do find it funny, however, of all the people who are making hateful statements about all Christians because of the actions of a few. If someone were to make similar comments about a racial group, what would society call that? Just a little bit to think on for a moment.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  10. ChoCho

    "Amish Romance Fiction"???

    There is such a thing?? *shudders*

    June 30, 2010 at 8:11 am |
    • MamaKas

      Too funny... 🙂

      June 30, 2010 at 8:13 am |
  11. Mara

    there's a reason that Jesus is called the 'good shepherd' and church congregants are often referred to as his 'flock'.

    baaaaaaa. baaa.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:09 am |
  12. Forbidden Truth

    The Real Jesus

    Julius Ceasar and Cleopatra had a son named Julio Cesar (son of Ceasar)
    Cleopatra proclaimed herself the reincarnation of the virgin godess Isis.
    that makes Cesar the son of a virgin.
    When Julius Ceasar returned to Rome he was declared a god by the Roman senate.
    That made Cesar – son of god.
    When Julius Ceasar was murdered by members of the senate Octavian took the throne and sent troops
    to Egypt to kill Cesar, the hier to both the Roman & Egyptian thrones.
    Before Cleopatras death she sent Cesar to India for his safety.
    These are all historical facts.

    What happens next is interesting.
    Cesar studies Budism in India and at the age of 33 returned to Egypt to reclaim his throne.
    Now called Jesus Christ
    The Egyptian name for Jesus is Esu (means son of Isis).
    Rome having conquored Egypt, Jesus realized without an army he cant reclaim throne
    so it was decided to turn The Roman Empire into
    The Holy Roman Empire.
    Most of the rest of the story is true, but Thomas, James & Mary Magdalene are Jesus' half brothers/sister
    (from Cleopatra & Mark Antony)
    Jesus did not die on the cross.
    He was revived and later Married Mary-Magdalene
    and had 2 children Tammar & Jesus the just.
    The blood line lives.
    The church of Rome (Vatican) has been corrupted.

    I dont expect anyone to believe, as you have your official bible version of the truth.
    You think for one minute the church wants you to know the truth and lose its cash cow ??

    June 30, 2010 at 8:06 am |
    • ChiefOBoB

      Small problems with your little theory. Julius Ceasar died approximately 44 years before Jesus Christ was born. C leopatra died in approximately 30 BC.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:16 am |
    • HUH?!!!

      WOW, but what about the aliens and magic and all the other stuff that goes along with the making stuff up genre. You should add those to the story, makes it more believable.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  13. Jason

    If you want to see a Christian at their worst. Be a waiter or waitress at a restaurant Sunday mornings. They treat you like crap because all their sins were forgiven and now they can start fresh again until next week.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  14. Susan

    It is discouraging to hear that Christians can be at times, condescending; let's remember that all humans are faulted by nature. I think that we're dealing with spiritual warfare here; and sometimes the tone of the world can be utterly venomous toward us and our beliefs. Our prayer, before we post any comment ought to be, that our words would not be abrasive to others, but inviting them to the love of an unchanging, powerful, and loving God.

    June 30, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  15. Bea

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

    "The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness." - Joseph Conrad

    June 30, 2010 at 7:53 am |
  16. Karen

    Hi Mark,
    Love the U2 references! Bono is a huge inspiration to me. In fact, U2's" 40" was the first time that I heard scripture and really thought about the meaning. I do think he is a good example of what you talk about though. He actively lives his faith. The world has seen the love and sorrow that he holds in his heart for the African people, and it becomes obvious by his actions and the words in his songs that he's a Christian. I wish we all behaved that way, on the internet and else where. I don't think our own pontification is necessary because our actions speak louder. I admire Bono for his integrity as a Christian. I have tried to hold that same integrity in my own life too.

    June 30, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  17. Erick

    A friend of mine made a pertinent observation. You'll find genuinely nice Christians and genuinely nice atheists, and you'll find members of those groups who are indeed jerks. It's a question of whether you use your belief in God (or lack thereof) to justify your good behavior, or the opposite.

    Probably too many words to get to a simple point: Some people may use their beliefs to justify being jerks. When it comes down to it, the person doing that is a jerk, regardless of their beliefs.

    June 30, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  18. John

    "Love your neighbor as yourself." ...I find this 2nd verse usually forgotten by most "Christians". And as soon as it is forgotten, the whole argument concerning a Christian point/value goes out the window. Kay makes the statement "s a Christian you do have the right to defend the Faith and to defend other Christians." This is true enough, Kay, but the defense does not include vitriol commentary. By your responses Kay, it is very apparent that those hateful comments are just under the surface, and if pushed, they would come out. "...Christian have to suffer the violence of another. They are free to defend themselves and also report evil, rude, criminal behavior if that happens to be the case." I'm not sure where you read violence into Mr. Acuff commentary, but it is apparent that you feel violated every time someone makes a comment about "Christians". My guess you skip over the part of 'Turn the other cheek' and certainly don't understand the importance of God not using His power to smite those that were crucifying His only son, instead enduring and forgiving the cruelty that was put upon him. In other words, you are Christian in name only, and not in practice.

    June 30, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  19. Bobby D

    It's because Christians think they are above everyone, including other Christians. And most of them thin since they go to church, whether once a week or once a year, they can do whatever they want.

    June 30, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • KyleM

      It makes me sad that this is all you know of people who call themselves followers of Christ. In fact those who you talk about likely don't know him. The followers of Christ I know don't operate that way. They are humble, generous and kind. I hope someone, someday treats you that way instead of what you know.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  20. Jim Bob

    The Two Great Commandments, love God by loving your neighbor as yourself, not just a mental decision but a lifelong effort !

    June 30, 2010 at 7:45 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.