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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. Boner

    I don't think it has a thing to do with what he says. I think people are Christian jerks online because they're that way in person. They like to believe they know the TRUTH and are a bunch of holier-than-thou scolds that get jollies telling everyone else how to live their lives. They feel safe and secure with a golden ticket to eternal salvation while the rest of us poor, misinformed and reticent drubs are condemned to eternal hellfire. They will always be at odds with any other belief system until the end of time. Same goes for any other right-wing nuts in other religions too. Prove me wrong. Love me, love my opinion.

    July 1, 2010 at 5:59 am |
  2. Johnny Knoxville

    I was a christian for 22 years, and over the last two years have changed my views. So many people are saying that Christians aren't only jerks online, and that's true. I was ashamed to be associated with those people most of my life. Many people are also saying there is too much Christian bashing, and that's also true. I'm still ashamed to be associated with those people. I think people in general can be jerks, and it's not only Christians, or atheists, or online, or anything. Some people are just jerks. But many people are also good people, whether Christian, atheist, etc etc etc. My main view now is not to force your beliefs on others. Jerk atheists are just as annoying as jerk Christians. The secret to life == don't be a dick.

    July 1, 2010 at 5:22 am |
  3. Retired Marine GySgt

    Thanks for the insight. Perhaps it will remind those of us who suffer from that affliction to throttle down, back off and keep our mouths shut. I do include myself in that number.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:45 am |
  4. Casey

    Hello Mr. Acuff, I do agree with your feeling about Christians online. It does hurt me to see Christians or people whom call themselves Christians act and say what they do online. Even though I didnt read every comment but I have read Jake's comment. I am kind of like him, I have my faults so I dont judge people on their actions. I am not saying that I never dont there are times when i think I am right about something and I do say something and fight about it. But there is a few times I recalled in the Bible Jesus saying if the people dont hear you then knock off the dust on your feet and move on. (that was just a paraphasing) So I am too need to learn how to knock off the dust on my feet and move on.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:26 am |
  5. Angelique

    @Shawn: Dude, you read like a nineteenth century catholic or a Calvinist. Take off the hair shirt and relax in the warm presence of God. It's why Jesus came, to remove the veil, to be the final sacrifice. Everybody's going to rejoin that which created All – deal w/ it.

    On topic: Mean people are just mean – we find 'em everywhere. Like fleas, they're irritating and sometimes cause sickness but otherwise can be deleted specifically then generally ignored.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:06 am |
  6. Jake

    To the non-christians posting here. You are all right in your own ways. To the christians here. You are all right in your own ways. I am a believer in Jesus Christ as my savior. I still and always will struggle with maintaining love for people, I catch myself gossiping, I catch myself lusting after women who arent my wife. But, the two distinct voices in my spirit are to do two opposite things. I am sorry to those out there that have witnessed or experianced first hand, those that proclaim to be christians and yet treat others like they are below them. We arent supposed to judge and we do. We arent supposed to treat you poorly and yet we do. We are supposed to be Christ to you. And we fail. I am sorry.

    But, truth is something that the christian cannot escape. Some christians feel they should be the judge and jury without first being love to someone. My first statement was everyone was right in their own way. But, absolute truth is the only right. I personally believe that Jesus Christ is God. That He loved me enough to forgive me of my sin. That for me is absolute. And I believe that is everyone's absolute. But, I will never force that on someone. I can only make every attempt to show love like Christ did. Even if that means I never utter His name to someone, but, through the course of my actions, they see something different about me.

    Again, I humbly ask for the forgiveness of those that I or someone who calls themselves a christian may have done to wrong you. I sincerely hope that you can find it in your hearts to forgive me and others who claim Christ as their Savior.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:01 am |
  7. Mauricio

    Ssince i brought the subject of sufferings and martyrdom I will elaborate more here. Every Christian drools at the though of being crowned with glory of Martyrdom. I gave it away, it has to with Glory so it must means we must earn it unlike the gift of eternal life which is a freebie. You know General's get their medals of war but it would be shameful if we rob this medals a put them on our chest – not to mention it is illegal. Because martyrdom is a high honor, it is not something we can stage. Like provoking some atheist or Muslim to kill us – like killing a pig and throwing it on their shrines. If they kill us we wont received anything but shame – in spite of the tomb adornments – he was so good and bla,bla,bla. If a thieve comes and demands my property and I try to kill him and instead he kills me. That is not martyrdom, let alone approved by God. If I try to provoke the cops to kill me and they do – that is suicide and if they do not kill me, it is jail time. Not something to boast as suffering for the Lord's name. If an abortionist get shot -that is not martyrdom and 1000 years in the can for a believer when the Lord comes. If you daydream of being martyred, chances you will mess your pants because what Daniel did you will not be able to do. Why? Not because you are not a real Christian or a coward. But because what empowered Daniel to do what he did and the Christians being thrown to the lions in Rome was the Holy Spirit of God. If the Holy Spirit does not empower you, you better have a change of underwear. Let say you even have the guts to jump to a lions cage like the Taliban that wanted to test his relationship with God an jumped into a lion cage in a zoo to be like Daniel an the lion simply ate him. This is not martyrdom is sheer ignorance. So, you suffer insults from people because you are preaching that Jesus is not God -the very belief that save them and you suffer insults. You are receiving the wages of your sin in this case not being persecuted on account of righteousness. Some Baptist went to Haiti and got nabbed. Was this suffering for the Lord's sake? Perhaps for the ones who did not know what was going on but not for the orchestrator who pull the wool on the rest. So we see that not every kind of suffering or martyrdom is approved by God and that without the Holy Spirit you will need a change of clothing and even if you manage to pull the guts the result will not be as expected as in the Taliban case. People don't cheat;it is useless. The Lord knows those who are his and they have been refined by FIRE!

    July 1, 2010 at 2:47 am |
  8. Mauricio

    Anyways what I had in mind for Dave will benefit many others so since I cannot post it there, i will post it here: I do not know if you have read Rev 6:9-11 "And when He opened the fifth seal I saw underneath the altar the soul of those who have been slain because of the word of God and becauseof the testimony which they had. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, How long.Oh Master,holy and true,will You not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? And to each of them was given a white robe.;" The white robes here signifies that their martyrdom was approved by God. So, just as martyrdom has to be approved by God, the persecution we may suffer has to be approved by God too. Suffering persecution because of our own chosen way will not get that approval. What good it is for Jehovah witnesses to suffer persecution if what they do is not approved by God? Jesus Christ is God incarnate and you are preaching like the Antichrist spirit who denies that! People are saved by believing that and you say that is not true!!! Your goodness is nothing but competition to God's chosen way! If you did the same thing believing that Christ is God incarnate and without the name of Jehovah Witnesses and not on your own but sent by the church then perhaps your suffering will have value. The same goes for those abortionists ones. Who sent then to meddle in the affairs of others to suffer for causes of their own religion? Will their suffering for this causes be approved by God ? certainly not. Anyone who would wish to have a shortcut to the coming Kingdom age will just cheat by staging a martyrdom if that was possible. Obviously then our suffering has to be approved by God before it can be of any profit. And Christendom is not the one who approves it.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:00 am |
  9. BlessedGeek

    Christians are jerks online? R U sure? No, we, non-Christians non-Muslims are the jerks online. Sure there are Christians and Muslims who are jerks online but there are proportionally more of us who are jerks on-line. Why are we jerks on-line – because we perceive observant Christians and Muslims as jerks off-line. Why do we perceive you guys as jerks off-line?

    – You attempt to prove that the rest of us are going to burn in hell using circular arguments. You prove that your scriptures are true by referring to your scriptures.

    – When we try to tell you that your scriptures allow us to own women, Canadians and Mexicans as slaves, you tell us that we are "quoting out of context" as quick escape route from admitting that you don't know the answer.

    – At least Muslims accept that we need to actively mitigate global warming caused by excessive human activity. But observant Christians, no matter how hard we hammer in the message, they express negative concerns about saving the planet. Because they believe it is a greater trophy to save my soul than to save the planet. They tell us that since Jesus is coming soon, don't worry about the planet, that we will always have the poor with us, that since they should not pray for the world or the planet – they should not care for its well being.

    – and moreover, they think that the Theory of Evolution is an insult to the Creator while many of us believe that Evolution reflects the ingenuity of the Creator.

    – and worst of all – many of us non-Christian Conservatives are repulsed by Christians mixing liberal politics with Conservative religion to force us to the other side of the political spectrum – by dressing up prosperity gospels and liberal Capitalism as conservative agenda that your Jesus encourages you to preach and practice rather than preservation of family and life and caring of the poor.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:43 am |
    • Kate

      LOL, you poor baby. If you don't like who you crawl into bed with, that's pretty much your problem.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  10. courtney

    I have had many run ins with lovely christians who don't believe I am a christian even though I believe that Jesus died for our sins he is the son of God and the Holy Trinity! "They are forgiven but I am not"!! nice huh! it was my actual neighbor who told me that to my face! I think that like in most religions there are a few that ruin it for every one else!! I could care less what anyone says I am much more spiritual than religious anyhow!! I want one of those coexist stickers I think they are neat! I don't care that the couple down the street are lesbians I am not one but they will see God in heaven and awnser for that not me! I say Live and let Live. I love your observation on Christians and I think the people who comment and take it to heart are idiots because you didn't blame them directly...unless they feel guilty about something??

    July 1, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  11. Mo

    Sacreligious Bono in heaven? Good luck with that. If he or Edge worship any God you can bet it's not the one that you or I do. Oh oh, have I just been a "jerk Christian" online? 🙂

    July 1, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  12. Miriam

    @Jonathan, thanks for your opinion piece, it's interesting, humourous and gives a good picture of Christian behaviour relating to online interactions. Everyone who has commented: please do take it on board as much as you ever wished to, but don't spend your time tearing each other apart, especially my dear brethren in Christ. We have been asked to edify one another. Why is it judgement is our fallback position and love (which He gives us to disseminate) is so hard for us to share? No-one comes to Him but by His calling, and especially not by our harsh criticism.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:12 am |
  13. ResidentApatheist

    Online? If you want the unfettered truth:
    Every Christian I have ever met in person for the last forty years has been a jerk or worse. How did I know they were a Christian? They had to tell me, they had to know what I believed and then they had to try to convert me. It didn't matter if they thought I was nice or even happy. I've even lied and said I was Christian just to get along and then I got to hear their Church or denomination was better, more rewarding, etc. Every time I've dated Christian women who were serious about their faith I've had to deal with her sexual inadequacies, constant religious exhalations, misandry as response to the constant misogyny they seem to constantly endure or a Bible study. I've read all sixty six books of the OT and NT and many other religious books at my own provocation and they're not as difficult as subjects like anatomy, physics, chemistry, calculus, etc. Is a study group really necessary? I've been happily married to an agnostic for about fifteen years so now I know the issue wasn't me. For the last decade years Christians, not just the Mormons, knock on my door and spam our neighborhood with advertisements while complaining about decorations or advertisements for other religions. I've noticed more jewelry stickers and fish on their vehicles so all will know as if it's a badge of honor. The Baptists and Catholics in my area are picketing the future site of a Mosque. How do I know? They've tried to get me to join their cause, created traffic jams and distractions and given me queer looks because I would not participate. The Baptists are hanging signs up about ending the persecution of their Church while plastering businesses and schools with posters stating prayer is the only hope for America. Have you ever been pestered by a Krishna in an airport? It's like that. Now imagine if they were rude and threatening in addition to being annoying while they solicited you for money or your soul. Imagine they just wouldn't take no for an answer or insulted you because you had neither any interest in denying or accepting any claims of anything supernatural nor found said topics relevant and meaningful to your life in the slightest. I'm beginning to understand what motivates anti-theists and that bothers me.

    @Tom Don't troll me bro. That point of my post was to contribute another perspective.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  14. Pastor Bob

    I think the point that was missed in the article was all the "hate emails" that are forwarded by Christians. Horrible practice, and shows the senders/forwarders complete lack of knowledge and/or understanding of God's word. When I call out fellow Christian's on this practice, they don't do any introspection or further study in the Bible to see if what they're doing might not be the best course, they just remove me from their email list.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  15. Scott

    Eternity will tell who is right and who is wrong: Christians or non-christians. As for me, I will serve the Lord Jesus Christ. You decide for yourself. Your eternity depends on the choice. I would hate to be wrong on this one.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:26 am |
    • John

      What might Jesus say about theology based on fear?

      July 1, 2010 at 12:36 am |
    • Camille in Raleigh

      And Scott has summed up a good many of the reasons why I am so happy I left the abusive relationship that is Christianity years ago.

      If somebody is happy being a beat-down slave, that's their own lookout. But as for me, I would rather be dead than enslaved.

      July 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  16. Antoinette

    I believe the Bible is a folktale that has been told throughout the years. As they story was retold, it changed throughout time. Finally, it was written down. Many individuals quote and interpret this folktake to make their actions or opinions appear rightous.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:00 am |
    • HeIsGod

      That's your belief, your opinion, not ours! If you don't want to believe, it's okay with me. Does it really bother you that we believe in it?

      July 1, 2010 at 12:04 am |
    • Kate

      It's more than a belief dear. It's reality. Reality doesn't change just because you don't want to believe in it.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  17. Brittany

    Christians: I understand as a Christian, it is easy to get defensive over our beliefs and want to have everyone else think the same and believe the same thing. I am not saying that there is not a time and a place for these types of discussions. But just take a moment to ask yourself this question: do you have any idea with whom that person is who you are arguing the issue of drinking with online? Or do you know the likes and dislikes of the person with whom you are discussing the issue of abortion?
    We get so caught up in proving our "point" that we don't take the time to care about the pain, joy, likes, dislikes, experiences, difficulties, blessings, etc...of the people that we talk to online. Maybe some of have become Christians by your online comments, but Christians, the greatest commandment besides love the lord is to love your neighbor as yourself, and if you cant take the time to get to know someone, well, you should just keep your mouth shut because in the end your words just come off as prideful and jerky. read james 1: 19-27.
    Non-Christians: I dont know you or your experience with Christianity, and my heart is not to argue a point but to simply say this: I can't make up for all the ways that Christians probably have displayed hypocrisy in your life both online and off, but I can say how truly sorry I am and hopefully emphasize that while Christians are sinful fallen people, this is not a reflection of the God we serve and that his love does not fail no matter what. Once again, i am sorry for the hypocrisy of Christianity, it is not how God made his people to be.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      AMEN!!!

      It is so true about this "while Christians are sinful fallen people, this is not a reflection of the God we serve and that his love does not fail no matter what." It by their actions that we will be seen as disciples/followers of Christ!

      But even a fallen Christian is lifted up by the Right hand of the LORD, if this Christians doesn't give up on Jesus Christ!!

      Psalms 37: 23-26 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand. I have been young and am now old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful and lendeth and his seed is blessed.
      Psalms 199: 105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
      God's desire is to walk with us. He has ordered our path, watched our steps and kept us from danger. He wants communion and fellowship with us. When you are walking according to the will of God, He will direct your path and give you direction. God's way is always the right way. He knows where He is going. He knows the end from the beginning. The greatest thing you can have going for you in your Christian walk is to have God order your steps.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:01 am |
  18. i'm batman

    most people are jerks online. not just christians. just like they are in cars. they're all pretty brave when they don't have to be face to face with a person. get em face to face tho, and these same people would never say a word. big bad bravies online. small little woosies in person.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  19. PACoug

    Christians are a persecuted minority, until it's them doing the persecuting.

    You can insert your religious or ethnic minority into that statement, and it will be true. Also atheists and leftists.

    I've had my share of really awful persecution at the hands of Christians, and I'm not even gay. I'm something worse.

    I'm a Mormon.

    We get it from all sides. The Left doesn't like us, the gay lobby freaking hates us, the Christians think we're servants of the devil. The main people we seem to get along all right with are the laid-back, tolerant, not-neurotic-about-other-people's-beliefs types. These tend to be people who are not terribly attached to a church but still think of themselves as Christians, and American Catholics, who tend to be some of the most decent people I know.

    So why did I get the hell out of Utah after my 4 years at BYU? Because Provo is SO Mormon that you come in for opprobrium if you're not.

    Teenagers can be the cruelest. Adults there look at you warily if something comes out of your mouth that doesn't comport with what "the bretheren" have pronounced. If you stick up for gays' rights, you're a weirdo in Provo. Maybe the persecution is more subtle–but it's no less insistent and potentially devastating in its consequences.

    I feel quite secure enough in my own beliefs, thank you very much. Want to ridicule me? Go right ahead. If I can't take it, or if I feel you are in error, I might have something to say about it. I've noticed Mormons in general hang out with me without pressure regardless. Catholics, check. But boy, you run up the LDS flag in front of a Baptist or a pentecostal, best watch your back (and front). Same with a lot of atheists.

    Curiously, I encounter the same hostility from "progressives" when I mention that I generally oppose the president. It's like you just insulted their religion, and they behave in a way analogous to the complaints they're always mouthing about Christians and Mormons. They'll avoid you, stop talking to you. They'll ridicule you behind your back. You'll find they don't seek you out anymore. It's a "shunnin' " worthy of the Amish.

    Not that there's anything wrong with being Amish. Some of my dad's people were PA Amish. But these atheists who love pointing fingers at Christians are often comical in their own analogous behavior when it comes to apostates from their own Leftist religion.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  20. Michael, Chapel Hill

    Another one to make fun of Christians; they do not fight back like someone else. So they are easy targets. People do not sacrifice lions but lamps.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Michael, Chapel Hill

      AMEN, But it is written, if God be for us, who can be against us. Stay strong my brothers and sisters in Christ!!

      DO NOT LET NO MEN TAKE YOU CROWN OF LIFE!!!

      Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. (Revelation 3:11)

      2 Corinthians 4

      Paul's Apostolic Ministry

      1Therefore, since we have this (A)ministry, as we (B)received mercy, we (C)do not lose heart,
      2but we have renounced the (D)things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or (E)adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth (F)commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

      3And even if our (G)gospel is (H)veiled, it is veiled to (I)those who are perishing,

      4in whose case (J)the god of (K)this world has (L)blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the (M)light of the gospel of the (N)glory of Christ, who is the (O)image of God.

      5For we (P)do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake.

      6For God, who said, "(Q)Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has (R)shone in our hearts to give the (S)Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

      7But we have this treasure in (T)earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of (U)the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

      ******************************************************************************************************************************************************

      8we are (V)afflicted in every way, but not (W)crushed; (X)perplexed, but not despairing;

      9(Y)persecuted, but not (Z)forsaken; (AA)struck down, but not destroyed;

      10(AB)always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that (AC)the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

      11For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

      12So death works in us, but life in you.

      June 30, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
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