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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. Cameron

    Awesome post! I try not to be a negative commenter, but I have often used my blog or twitter as a rant against my neighbor. It's a cop out. It sure feels a lot safer to rant online where they may never see it than to "speak the truth in love" directly to the person. Well, thanks for the chastising. Now if you don't mind, I think I'll go don my tankini and scrub the bathroom...

    June 30, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  2. Scott in Atlanta

    I have to say that I've fallen into the "Internet Jerk" catagory. I know that the Lord has a way of humbling the selfrighteous. He can use the "foolish of this world to confound the wise..." lol. Anyway, for anyone I offended, instead of loved, in my zeal to defend the faith, my apologies.

    Jesus

    June 30, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  3. Sybaris

    The reason why some christians are jerks online is because they're jerks in real life. Don't make excuses for them. A spade is a spade.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  4. Marie.

    The Bible does not say who the two witnesses will be who are lying dead in the street causing the people to send gifts to one another. That is an assumption. Just as the Catholic "Assumption" that Mary accendended into heaven without dying.

    Also, the Bible does not say that God lives in the sky somewhere. It says He is in His Temple. The place He lives is in the hearts of those who believe, obey, honor and serve Him. It is written that our bodies are the Temple of God.

    The natural man receives not the things of God, nor can he, for they are foolishness to him. They are spiritually discerned. The problem with the christian jerks is that they are really not what they claim, OR they are carnal Christians, who are not "putting on" the mind of Christ. The Bible says to renew your mind daily with the washing of water, by The Word. Jesus IS The Word made flesh. No wonder The Lord said that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. We are a stiff necked people who willl not allow our head to be "cut off" and replaced with His. We who are truly His are His body, and it is written that the government shall be on His shoulders. Yes. When the mind of Christ rules in this world, it will be as Eden. Let the beheadings begin. (Please read as a spiritual truth, not a natural beheading). Believers must be crucified daily (in their carnal mind) in the place of the skull (Golgotha/Calvery) That place outside Jerusalem even looks like a human skull. Most never see this, for they let others seek their truths for them, instead of going to God for themselves and studying The Word. There is still much spiritual blindness in those who say they can see.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  5. Karen

    I just want to say how much I have enjoyed all the comments!
    I have grown up in the South and was raised Southern Baptist (prayers are accepted) and it wasn't until college that my eyes were opened to rest of the world. I appreciate my parents for sheltering me from the chaos of the world while growing up, but am glad to see what else is out there now that I'm older.
    I am a Christian, but I feel that Christianity (as a religion) has become misconstrued from the original meaning and purpose. So thanks again for all the comments and being thought provoking for the day. Let's just all try not to be jerks; online or in person.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:12 am |
    • Gary

      Karen good post......Did you parents (Shelter you from the Caos) in religion......Jimmy Bakker , Jimmy Swaggert,David Koresh,Benny Hinn,Pat Robertson,Ted Haggerd,Jim Jones all the priests and other religious leaders...

      June 30, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  6. Gary

    religion is a culture, a system of man made attributes practiced by a group of like minded folks. Earth is billions of years old way older than any religion. I realize many folks go to religion out of hope and fear. They give up or feel desparate. This is very obvious in poor countries and many muslim nations..My neibhor in 6 years back. Andrea Yates drowned her kids cause her sons were acting up. She feared they were destined to Hell. By killing them in their innocent youth she believed she saved them from the fires of hell. .....

    June 30, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  7. Truth

    This Gospel shall be preached in all the world. Then shall the end come. To all of my brothers and sisters in Christ...continue on, preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don't worry about the name calling. Jesus said "If they do these things to a good tree, what shall they do to it's branchs". The world's name calling will certainly not stop the Gospel from going forth. I am going to tell the world all about Jesus with my LAST breath.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  8. patricia

    1st if you have been baptised as a child whether Catholic or any other Christian religion you cannot be born again. You're slate was wiped clean with that 1st baptism. Now what YOU choose to do after that is by your own choice and that's where forgiveness and really living and practicing your religion come in. So if you're a jerk to others in real life or on line then you don't really love yourself and neither are you practicing what you preach. I have met many so called CHRISTIANS in church on wednesday night Bible readings and Sundays all day praising the Lord but in general they are hypocrites. I call them Holy Rollers, they can tell you every verse in the Bible but have no idea what the true meaning is nor do they practice it. They gossip,critize,cuss,backstab,cheat,steal but think if they do it and go to church then they're ok and no in reality they're the biggest sinners. Forgiveness and treating people with dignity and love is hard especially when they are jerks towards you but there's a saying " Kill them with kindness" and that's what I do. I admit its very hard and its very hard to not be a jerk back but like everything its a conscience effort one must make and that is in my opinion what being a Chrsitian is about.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  9. Steve the Kiowa

    U2's early albums contain many songs concerning faith, this was 30 years ago. Bono is not born again, he is the same Catholic boy he's always been.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  10. Marc

    This isn't a news column, it's a troll. What might your next "report" be? How about "Why do black people like fried chicken and watermelon?" or "Are all Jews really money-grubbers?" Why single out Christians? How about secular humanists? What about Republicans? Democrats? Tea Party "activists?" Married/single/divorced people? I'm pretty sure there is plenty of hypocrisy everywhere you look, not just online. But to single out any one group seems a bit irresponsible and unethical for a journalist. Why not talk about what you really want to discuss in your column- the complete disappearance of polite discourse in America (worldwide?).

    June 30, 2010 at 9:01 am |
    • crazy8's

      i thought this too.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:35 am |
    • Kate

      LOL, the entirety of CNN is nothing more than a troll anymore. The belief section is just one of the more effective ones.

      June 30, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  11. theorangeman

    Many Christians hate due to envy. They see what a non-believer gets to do and they want to be able to do the same thing and still hide behind a halo. So many, you will find, are using their savior as a crutch to why they can't "have fun" or something to that extreme. Non-believers, no matter your affiliation, dislike Christians for many reasons as well. The fact that they feel like believers are "stupid" for believing in something they can not see or touch or explain is just enough for them to insult or also be envious of. (I am not accusing everyone of such a state). The true life of a Christian is led not spoken. We love people, for no other reason than they are human. We truly should never have enemies. We feed the sick, help the poor, and do all of this because it is the right thing to do! Whether things are bad or good, we give praise to our Savior because it is what we believe. I should not be hated, or insulted for my beliefs any more than anyone else for their beliefs. It frustrates me when I see other Christians out there wanting to be vocal and fix problems. If you are vocal and degrading in trying to fix problems (when i say problems I mean poverty, hunger, etc.) then you are a part of the problem and in no way a solution. Myself as a believer thinks it is worse if a believer passes on someone in need than a non-believer simply because we know and are commanded by Jesus to help and we don't. Jesus loves everyone... He doesn't care what your background is or where you have been, He just loves so we should too! I would hope that when you see a Christian in the world that you didn't know they were a Christian because they told you, but because they lived it in front of you. It isn't being judgmental or crude or pushy... it is simply loving people and caring for a broken world.
    P.S. Those people holding signs up at military funerals and such as previously mentioned are NOT believers... No matter what they want to claim! (trust me, I live in a town where their ring leader is and he does what he does to take advantage of the lawsuit system)

    June 30, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  12. bob

    I'd really love to meet a vast majority (I haven't read every response to this post) of the people who responded here. I am a gay Christian who grieves that a huge majority of other LGBT people are so turned off to Jesus because of the hate thrown out by the ones who claim to be His. This is a beautiful article about how grey our world is, but the most beautiful part is the manner in which other Christians have replied to this suggestion of the need for grace instead of the law. I know there are people like Fred Phelps who would read each word on this page and still be filled with such disgust as to incite a war, but it gives me great hope that the Jesus I love has such a wonderful band of followers. 🙂 I look forward to meeting all of you in Heaven some day...

    June 30, 2010 at 9:00 am |
    • J'randal

      1st cor 6:9

      July 1, 2010 at 1:26 am |
    • J'randal

      Whats more comfortable Bob, to hear the truth about decisions concerning the deception of LBGT, or face eternal life deaf.

      Joh 3:19 "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
      Joh 3:20 "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
      Joh 3:21 "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

      July 1, 2010 at 1:35 am |
    • J'randal

      Bob said " but it gives me great hope that the Jesus I love has such a wonderful band of followers"

      Not the Jesus of the Bible. Your object of worship is the temple of your lover. One of your in need of salvation followers.

      Rom 1:32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  13. Steve

    It seems that Mr. Acuff makes a tacit assumption that Christians are somehow better than the rest of us. He finds it surprising that Christians, "because we serve a loving god", can act badly. In reality, Christians behave no more ethically that Jews, Muslims, atheists, wiccans, or any other group.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  14. J'randal

    The worldly religious can't understand the simplicity of devotion to Christ: Romans 8 – Hostle toward God's Way.

    It's all about Being Born Again: That by the Holy Spirit; an individual soul's appeal for a pure conscience. Jn 3:3-8

    Joh 3:19 "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
    Joh 3:20 "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
    Joh 3:21 "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

    Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

    All men apart from the true relationship with Christ are self centered, rooted in self righteousness and move and think in ways that are evil and unholy.

    Php 3:9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,

    Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

    It's all about Jesus, no other name under heaven given by which a man can be saved.

    Accept that truth and the windows of heaven shall be opened and the blind shall see: Jesus, The Lamb of God.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:54 am |
    • teecha

      Thank you for proving my point. "The worldly religious can't understand . . . " Then you throw out a bunch of bible verses. How is that helpful to anyone truly wondering what it means to be a Christian? It is not. You start your response with a comment that proves you think you belong to an exclusive group that "understands" what no one else can. It is judgmental and elitist.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • J'randal

      Teecha, Iike what truth has posted also – It's not as you proclaim "personal favortism" it's about knowledge of God.

      Truth: This Gospel shall be preached in all the world. Then shall the end come. To all of my brothers and sisters in Christ...continue on, preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don't worry about the name calling. Jesus said "If they do these things to a good tree, what shall they do to it's branchs". The world's name calling will certainly not stop the Gospel from going forth. I am going to tell the world all about Jesus with my LAST breath.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • Nan

      Thanks for the beautiful words. They always give me peace of soul. Bless you.

      June 30, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  15. SueK

    I have a question (an actual, genuine one) for all the CHristians on this post – I don't know a lot about your faith (born in a Hindu family, now an atheist). Recently, a young girl came to my house and asked if I would talk to her about Christianity. I thought this would be a good way of getting to know more, so I invited her in. The first thing she said ? "Jesus will save you, no matter what, if you have faith in him". Ok, understood. Then she went on to say "it doesn't matter what you do in this lifetime, all you have to do is believe in him and you'll go to heaven". Now hold that thought !!!! So, I can murder, r@pe, rob and abuse, and I'll STILL go to heaven ? That confused me immensly !! What kind of God would treat good people and murderers the same way ? Sadly, the girl was too young to answer this one, so she just kept repeating her initial statements. Can anyone shed any light ???

    June 30, 2010 at 8:53 am |
    • dm

      SueK

      I don't know if this will help but this is what I was taught.

      No sin is worse than the other, but when we hear, believe, confess our sins, are baptized, and start living our lives for God is when true salvation is granted to us....in the bible God was friendly and loved the people we'd even think of as horrible, murders, adulters, tax collectors, even lepors. He loved then all and when they believed and were baptized they were given a second chance, a new life. Their sins were washed away and were forgiven. I believe that say a guy were to have killed my mom, It'd be very hard to forgive him for that but as a Christian I must love and find a way to love him, which even though it would make me very sad, I would know my mom was in a better place. And if that man while in jail found God truly excepted him into his life, I would be open arms...bc he's my brother in Christ.

      hope that helps!

      June 30, 2010 at 9:31 am |
    • dm

      I was talking about God forgiving people who repent and are baptized.

      If a murder, adulter, whoever DOESN'T believe in God and do those things well, then they will go to hell. that's what the bible teaches.

      Its for the people who give up their old life for a life in Christ may go to heaven.

      But even if your a christian you can stumble or make mistakes, like say cussing and asking forgiveness is key.
      But God also says if someone who is a christian continues sinning when he knows its wrong will not be shown mercy in my site. Bc they continue doing wrong even when they know they shouldn't do it. blantantly disobeying God's commandents.

      But in the end God says according to the bible that he will judge rightly in his site...so he'll know if you have truly lived for him and have him in your heart..so you could talk the talk but if you don't walk, the walk God will ultimately decide your fate.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:59 am |
    • JoeSCSU

      Yasure, I'll try ok Sue, first of all, how old was the little girl? Nevermind that, you said she's a little girl so so obviously she's not going to have an adult response to an adult type of question. So why didn't she have a response that you in fact will go to heaven if you are a murderer, a rapist, blah blah bah, a sinner...? Well, think about this with me if you will SueK...she said..."all you have to do is believe in him and you'll go to heaven," right? Well, then, you have the freedom of choice, He in fact does love us, For gosh sakes He created us.Secondly, why not open your eyes, I MEAN WIDE, and ask if Jesus is there...somewhere in this place...And Yes SueK, you will 'STILL' go to heaven, it is written in the book of Life (BIBLE). Please check it out...

      June 30, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • paul

      Joe, This is exactly the repetetive, but deeply felt, response that goes nowhere. I've been around for 40 years now, and have been looking for answers for a good portion of that time. I have opened my eyes, and looked deep inside, opened my mind to the lord, listened for an inner voice, tried really hard to feel the power, and so on, and, I don't share your faith. I understand that when you open your eyes and really really try to feel Jesus, you do, and that's great, but you have faith. For those of us who don't, that exercise isn't convincing, exactly the opposite, it re-affirms that looking deep inside does not show us your truth. It's not there for us. We are not denying a truth we know deep inside, we just don't share your faith.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  16. mrrealtime

    Christians, as a group, are no different than any other group of humans. They do not possess powers that others do not, and this is because god is imaginary. So, you'll see that rates of divorce, disease, greed, and even "jerkness" do not change when looking at a group of Christians vs any other sort of group.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  17. teecha

    I consider myself a Christian, but have also seen this side to people who call themselves Christians. Many, many of the Christians I know act as if because they have been "saved," they are in an exclusive club of elites who can do no wrong. Those who have not been saved just don't "get it." Instead of being loving to all and setting an example, they turn people off because of their snobbish and cliquish behavior. So, I can see how these same people would feel completely justified in sending "hate mail" or judging others without a thought about it. They feel they can do no wrong. In fact, I think many of them justify what they do because they honestly think somewhere in their minds, "I'm a Christian, so I must be right." Unfortunately, it is this exact behavior and way of thinking that turns off scores of people from religion all together.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  18. Dawn

    I am not a christan. There are many that I love and admire, they are truly loving moral people. but. what i see online is that many chistians like to think of themselves as martyrs and warrior defenders of their faith. they cannot conceive that others will not grasp their beliefs. its the arrogance and self righeousness that puts me off. one of the main things that christians forget is the humility. the leader of their faith was an extremely humble man but very few pattern themselves in that manner.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  19. jk

    Bono is Catholic, no born again necessary

    June 30, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  20. Mintlaka

    Very timely article. I wrote a post on my blog last week about an aspect of this. One of my 10 year old daughter's friends professed a strong "hatred" for Lady Gaga. She actually said, "I hate her" – with an emphasis (and some venom) on "hate". As a Christian mom, I can understand NOT wanting my daughter to emulate the singer. However, we have been studying "agape" love and I took this opportunity to let my daughter (and her friend) know that we can "hate" a person's actions, yet still love the person. I reminded my daughter later (after the friend had not budged on "hating"), that Jesus died for Lady Gaga also. God loves Lady Gaga, even if some of her actions might make him sad.

    As a performer myself, I actually admire Lady Gaga's songwriting talent and her business smarts – I may not agree with the way she uses them, but I can recognize her savvy! And I can admit to humming "Bad Romance" quite a bit!

    June 30, 2010 at 8:41 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.