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. john

    Jonathan, I'm going to take a page out of the Catholic Playbook here and point out that your apology is only meaningful if you resolve to not be a jerk again and to remind others when they are being jerks. Having said that, bravo zulu for the try, and good luck keeping up with not being a jerk.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  2. Belial

    And the plan falls into place

    June 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  3. Mike

    I don't think "Christians" are any more rude than any other people out there, but I do think civility as a whole has declined in recent years. I agree that the anonymity offered through the internet contributes to it but I also support people feeling free to express their real thoughts and opinions without fear of social/political repercussions. I just wish they were a bit more polite (and academic) about revealing their anger! I also agree that there is a distinction between being religious vs. spiritual. One does not necessarily imply the other and I much prefer the spiritual person (with or without religion) as opposed to the religious person that cannot grasp what spirituality really means (all life is sacred, not just theirs and those that agree with them).

    June 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  4. siranda2010

    Love this article. I'm sure someone has already posted something similar to what I'm posting but how can we expect non-Christians to take us seriously if we don't ACT like Christians....no one on earth today is perfect..I lose my cool like everyone else...but I try very hard to follow the Golden Rule...lead by example...not by force.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Kate

      The golden rule far predated Christianity.

      At any rate, since following Jesus is fraught with contradictory rules, I hardly blame Christians for getting it wrong a lot.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  5. Mike Speakman

    Not a Christian myself, but someone needs to do an article on why liberals are such philistines online. I've noticed this behavior from both groups.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  6. outhere

    My experience with Christians on-line is no different than in the real world - they are frequently jerks in both places. The basic tenets of the faith that you cite are absent.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  7. Belial

    It is very simple, they are not responsible for their own actions. Satan made them do it, he spoke through them in a moment of their weakness, They are not responsible for their own actions.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  8. JJH

    I'm certainly no Christian y'all, but I do believe in the saying "the devil finds use for idle hands". Geez...go help someone, or better yet yourselves. This is nothing more than a discussion about an imaginary friend.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  9. Dennis Watts

    Anytime religion (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc...) is used as a weapon, it makes the person using it a "jerk". It's nothing new: the Crusades ; the Holocaust ; the Twin Towers – you get it.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  10. DPK

    If you want to find the Christian jerks, just look at the drivers in the church parking lot after church lets out.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  11. Craig

    I think the reall reason anyone of any faith is a jerk online or off is their faith tells them that theres is the only way. If you truely believe that then anyone who believe different from you must be wrong. Form many while they dont realize it, their very inscure about their faith.

    For Christians is the statement "Love your neighbor as yourself." is that true if your neighbor is a Jew, Muslum, or a person who does not believe? For many Christians I dont believe they think that statement belong to non believers.

    What is really sad is so many wars and deaths have been because of religous beliefs.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  12. senor obvious

    you think at a very elementary level.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  13. Barb

    To all Christians posting or reading... "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Matthew 5:44. May we obey this command of the One we follow and pray that the spiritual eyes of those who are vehemently opposing on here will be opened as only He can do. They are in darkness and the light of Christ must illumine their hearts and minds. Let's not add to the hatred and bitterness: "Love does no harm to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:10

    June 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  14. Justin

    Good article. Very timely and thoughtful piece. I think it's a lesson that could be translated IRL, as well.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  15. Adam Whitley

    I'm just picturing some of you guys sitting proudly at the computer carefully crafting your post to make your point so perfectly that every other commenter would have no choice but to bow before the wonder of your towering intellect. This is all hot air and re-hashed arguments. The point is love and tolerance.


    June 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • joe

      a good message, but it's also worth pointing out that

      christianity is not tolerant.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Joe- Worth it to whom? Is your plan to discuss and have dialogue is to start off with such a statement? Do you feel you are really helping?

      June 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Katie

      And Christianity has neither.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • joe

      mark – perhaps I should elaborate:

      The article is "why christians are jerks online"
      The author seems to think its because they dont follow their book well enough – not enough grace.

      The poster above is mentioning that love and tolerance are the keys.

      I'm pointing out that while love and tolerance would be great – christians are commanded to not be tolerant.

      Tolerance: accept other people for who they are.
      christianity: go and make disciples of all nations. That's exactly the opposite of tolerance. Convert them to your way of thinking.

      in response to the above post specifically, love and tolerance are important – i agree – that might be why christians can be jerks online. They're commanded to convert other people to their way of thinking. That's an intrinsically deeper problem than simply failing to follow their moral guide – which is the excuse the author tries to pass off.

      July 2, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  16. Marcos Gutierrez

    Most of you people are insane. get off the computer and go be kind to someone who is mean to you. It is a hard thing to do but that is what this article is really about. Think about it like this, what if you are the only christian, hindu, muslim, whatever a person is going to see. What kind of impression and message do you want to give.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • joe

      alternatively you could show love because you fundamentally do love them. Not just because you want to represent your group well, or because you want to be rewarded.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Joe- I don't know. I think that doing such to represent your group is not a bad thing at all. When the local Muslims got together in my old home town to help with a school fundrasier at the middle school I think it was great. The logistics was strange but I think they were attemptign to show another side of Islam and Muslims that often times gets drowned out by the radical side. It can be done many ways and does help.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  17. P.F. Bruns

    This is the kind of article I like to see. I also think non-Christians can be jerks online (and off)–and I say that as a non-Christian. I think forcing any belief on someone else–especially doing so by pestering them or excoriating them online (or off) is a bad deal all around.

    Personally, I'm a deist. I believe that a sentient being or beings created everything, because it's just too odd to have happened by itself, but that that sentient being or beings do not have a form or a language or any other aspects we limited humans can clearly understand. That said, I think "love your neighbor as yourself" is a wonderful way to live, and while I'm not always successful at it, I do try. I think if we all did that there would be far less pain and suffering in the world.

    Mr. Acuff, I like the way you write.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm |

    Judgemental Christians are jerks. So are judgemental Athiests. I guess all judgemental people are jerks. Based on this, I guess that makes me one too.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Mark

      The difference is that Athiests have no supreme being laying down guiding principles. They can be jerks if they want, because there are no rules telling them not to be.

      On the other hand, Jesus died for the Sins of all people, meaning that the all are forgiven, and the sole judge is The Father. Thus Christians who are jerks are also hypocrites because they are violating one of the fundamental tennants of the religion they profess to live.

      My take is that there are two sorts of Christians. There are the real Christians who attempt to follow in the steps of Jesus – who give Alms to the poor, donate their time to worthy causes – the sick, the needy, the damaged – they pray for those in need and struggle everyday not to judge those who don't follow the Faith.

      Then there are the "Me Christians" who pray to receive things themselves and believe that by damning the beliefs, actions and behaviours of other people they will raise their profile in front of Our Saviour and somehow be "saved". They appoint themselves moral judge, jury and executioner. They haven't understood the teachings of Jesus. They are the jerks refered to in the this article. They are the people held in mind by the rest of the community when they say "I have no problem with God – its his fan club I can't stand". What motivates them? Fear of being left behind?

      They are worshiping a false God, themselves, but they will find a place in the Kingdom of Heaven as Jesus died for their sin as much as the next guy. So maybe the logic is "Hey, I'm going to heaven anyway, I may as well be a jerk". I think you missed the point.

      If you want to bring people to Jesus, lead by example. Judgement. Fear. D

      June 30, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • Kate

      Go look up the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy.

      June 30, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  19. Mark from Middle River

    TC – What the almighty means , ... I do not think it is best to ask too many folks, especially those online. You can only find about what he or she means to that person when it is really a connection that must be forged between you and him/her.

    Open your heart. I went to NYC too a openly LGBT church and I did feel that his presence or the desired connection by those there of faith was in that building. Deal with opening your heart first, do not stick with a single church, temple, or mosque because aspects and issues vary sometimes greatly. Look for the underlining presence and go from there.

    Peace , gotta bounce.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • TC

      What?? I wasn’t asking what the almighty means. I was asking about the notation “G-d” versus typing the characters “God” and if there was a reason why he did that. I’m not the least bit interested in learning about the almighty. I’m purely interested in, and find intellectual stimulation from, understanding how people discuss their beliefs and how they do so.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Sorry about that TC. My mistake. As they say "we cool"?


      June 30, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • TC

      Yeah Mark, of course we're cool.

      June 30, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  20. TC

    @Dan Lilledahl What do you mean chill? I'm chill. I was curious about the G-d thing. I was actually enjoying the conversation I had going with a couple of Christians not looking to condemn me for my lack of faith but willing to engage in interesting discussion. I really don't know what the G-d means and would love to find out.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Dan Lilledahl

      I apologize TC! I am sorry for my misunderstanding you.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • Zallicious

      If i remember correctly some people type it like "G-d" because they have a more orthodox belief that God's name shouldn't be printed on any object that isn't holy or something. I think it's more of a Jewish thing, too. But that's just what I've learned from some friends who typed it like that, some people may have other reasons.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
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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.