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. Tena

    Christians; Live and love, as Jesus would. Don’t force faith on others. Atheists; Don’t force your lack of faith on others. BOTH Atheists and Christians; REALLY look, with compassion, for the GOOD in others, instead of arguing about our differences. There IS something good about everyone – we have just been too focused on ourselves, to see it. We are all human beings, with a need for love. Have a good life. Good-by to blogging.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  2. Scott

    I would rather be a jerk that goes to heaven through faith in Jesus Christ than a jerk that goes to hell due to the lack of faith in Jesus Christ..

    July 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • Eric G

      So, regardless of your beliefs, you have decided to be a jerk. Thanks for clearing that up.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Scott – In all Christian kindness, our faith in the teachings and lessons of Jesus Christ sorta shys away from us being jerks as normal operations. Remember the simple WWJD bumper stickers. To show others the light it is in the way we carry ourselves. I would hate to get to Heaven and Jesus says "yeah you followed my faith ...but did you have to be a jerk about it"

      July 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • Annette Snyden

      Laidies and Gentlemen this is your typical Americanized christian...never read the bible

      July 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  3. Gary

    Kate, thanks for definitions. I have no idea whether a God exists or not. I thought that meant I was agnostic? My point on O'hair is she was a nasty vicious lady. Most if not all agn and atheist I have met are nothing @ all like her. Most of the agnostics/Ath I come accross are extremely intelligent,open minded,nature loving great people.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  4. Mark from Middle River

    Hi Tom – I have been blessed to have been in contact in some way or another with a lot of movements. I have seen the LGBT movement make its strides and the tail end of the civil rights movements. My mother and her friends were very much into the NOW movement as well.

    In other words I have seen what happens when a group gets together and marches, pickets, and show up at universities. I have also seen klan and neo-naz's stand on corners and show up at campus's. All of these groups, from my grandmother who was in the Norfolk civil rights movement to the klan guy that lives in my community all were protesters. I remember once some klan guys down south wanted a permit to march and the city denied a permit for them to march. Some how they hired a black lawyer to take up their fight against the city. I remember this because I was still in middle school because while I do not remember the "I have a dream speech" or the "four score and seven years ago" speech, I do remember that this lawyer's argument was that the second that the state could stop the klan from protesting was the second that they could potentially stop us (blacks) from marching the next day.

    Sharing the gospel and street preaching, coming to universities, you know falls into the free speech issue. The blocking "physically" blocking of abortion clinics I would say was legally wrong but the picketing on a municipal street, does again fall under that free speech argument.

    My second question for you is, how do you relate your views towards LGBT Christians? Two years ago I was able to go to a LGBT church in New York City. I am pretty sure that it is still there. I know that it was featured on Oprah a few years back. This church preached the love of God and a connection to faith. While it was a little bit different for me, I did feel that the ones there did have a desire to know and worship God that I did. ... and the best church band I have ever heard 🙂 They have marched in Gay Pride parades, I was told and had booths setup. So they are ... sharing the gospel, street preaching. Not sure if they visited any universities, but I know they have attended gay pride events.

    Tom, you questioned someone's intellect and now I wish to challenge yours. You stated that the vast majority of Christians that you know are nice, as long as they do not talk about their faith. With knowing that there are LGBT churches, Gay minsters and bishops, could you hold them to that same standard. They could talk about "gay" issues but their Christian lives and callings they would have to be silent?

    July 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  5. Scott

    As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
    • Annette Snyden

      Oh, Gawd!

      July 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  6. Gary

    I am agnostic, from Austin went to grammer school with Madalyn Murry O'hair granddtr ..she was a spoiled rude brat .Madlyn ohari was a mean hatefull lady who tried in vain to force Atheism on the enitre city eventually the country. jerks come in all groups cults and walks of life...

    July 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Kate

      An agnostic is someone who doesn't think there can be any knowledge about a god. Gnostic is knowledge of gods. A is preface that means without.

      An atheist is someone who doesn't believe in god or gods. Theism is belief in gods, A is the preface that means without.

      You can be an agnostic and theist, or agnostic and atheistic.

      And Madalyn Murry O'Hair just brought a lawsuit that was decided by judges that schools couldn't force all children to pray. I don't see anything mean and hateful in that.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  7. Emmitt Langley

    I admit it...I'm a jerk sometimes. Well, most of the time...ok, pretty much all the time.

    My general jerkiness (jerkdom???) is usually spawned by atheists who want to call names more than discuss things rationally, BUT still no excuse for it. Thanks for the reminder.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Kate

      So I dare you to discuss things rationally here with an atheist.

      If you can.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  8. Tom

    Tony, let's face: you're not an intellectual people. In other words, you are hard people to get close to because your answers to life's most esoteric questions are boring and predicatible. Usually, intimacy between friends implies you talk about such things. Basically, I talk to my dad about the meaning of life and my mom about what color I should paint my bedroom. Discussing the meaning of life with my mom is like watching paint dry: the grand wizard in the sky made everything but he knew we would be bad so he sent his son to die a gruesome death to relieve the world of the burden of sin so we need to follow his word or go to a fiery place in the center of the earth. How can you honestly believe this stuff? Not to mention, why do you NEED to preach it? I've heard the message and rejected it because it is the dumbest story I've ever heard.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Tom – and this is just a open discussion, what and how do you define your "preach it" comment?

      July 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Tom

      sharing the Gospel, street-preaching, coming to our universities, blocking access to abortion clinics, protesting at gay-themed events, etc. Basically, "preaching" is arguing with somone and/or acting in a way in which your "faith" informs your decisions (e.g. you regurgitate an annoyingly predictable Bible verse to support your claim about anything – one that lacks evidence naturally).

      July 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  9. Tom

    Tony – did I say that about all Christians? I said: "I count very few of you as friends." My mom is a devout Christian and my dad is an atheist. And I love them both. The VAST majority of Christians I've met are nice people except when it comes to issues that would otherwise NOT be an issue (like gay marriage, stem-cell research, the environment, women's rights, the teaching of evolution, etc.). When your "argument" consists of regurgitating a memorized Bible verse like some insane and possessed wind-up doll, I give up on you. What stings more is the majority "know" you are right because your adult fairy tale book tells you so. THAT is anti-human.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  10. Tony

    Tom, Let me get this straight. Seventy percent of the population is Christian and all of us are jerks or 70% of jerks are Christian? Or are you just a jerk who hates Christians for throwing your lack of belief in anything but your own self-indulgent "tolerance" and "open-mindedness" back in your face.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  11. Andacar

    I suupse I'm just blind or blinkered, I'm sure that's it, but most of the really nasty attacks I've seen in online discussions have come from athiest trolls. I can't count how many posters, with shocking irrelevance, connected the horrible crimes of Melissah Huckaby with the fact that she taught Sunday school. Any article that mentions religion is sure to attract long winded diatribes from some shmuck arguing that the best way for people to free their minds is to think like him. Have we redefined hypocracy recently?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • Kate

      Hmm, the official position of the church is that if you don't think like us, you are going to hell.

      Nope, don't think there's an atheist alive that can top that.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Kate – If a atheist dismisses God and feels that he has no basis in his life then would not the state of being in hell also be dismissed?

      July 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Kate

      Not agreeing with the church does not equal atheist. It equals following any other religion or even flavor of Christianity or even to just disagree with your neighbor on the pew about something.

      At any rate, are you saying that an edict of Hellfire is pointless? If so, why bother mentioning it at all to anyone not of your denomination?

      July 1, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "Not agreeing with the church does not equal atheist. It equals following any other religion or even flavor of Christianity or even to just disagree with your neighbor on the pew about something."

      So, is this a mistype. You say that it, atheism, equals fooling any other religion or flavor or Christianity?

      Either way. Kate what I stated as a question is if God is pointless to a atheist then should not existence of hell be pointless as well? So to answer your response question, for me it means something but to a atheist should it?

      July 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • verify

      Mark: "...If a atheist dismisses God and feels that he has no basis in his life then would not the state of being in hell also be dismissed?"

      "The state of hell" is a metaphor for "the worst imaginable place – a place of suffering"; and the message of hate and condemnation is not dismissed.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • Kate

      Mark, my point is the whole point of a church is to tell humanity that unless they agree with that church on almost everything, the result is burning in hell. That is not just directed at atheists. The point of atheism is to be honest. I don't have any evidence of a god, so I don't believe in it. So the original post was how atheists attack Christians by bringing up bad christians just because they don't agree. I pointed out that the whole mission of the church is to attack everyone that doesn't agree.

      I'm not sure what you are trying to get at. We aren't stupid – we get the intent of a threat of eternal damnation, even if it does come across silly and toothless.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  12. bob

    The reason that any religious group is obnoxious online is that they tend to inject, scripture and proselytizing into every conversation.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  13. Mark C. Potts

    Religion has become a matter of business like sports or politics. You must Love my guy or gal or else you're dumb. So certain religions tend to push their rules for financial reasons and completely ignore or even destroy the philosophies that their Religion is based on. Hating has become the new passtime for people, they love to hate. I've been a Christian all my life and I've never seen the level of hate that I see now. In our Church a very small minority of people made it so rough on our Pastor that he's now gone to another Congregation. If he did something wrong I could understand, but no. They just hated him, not just dislike, hated!!! So I keep turning to the philosphies of Jesus and Paul and am appalled by what is happening now. Christians are now becoming like the ancient Jewish hierarchy and Romans and nailing non-conformists to the proverbial cross. Is there light at the end of this dark tunnel, absolutely. Living and working around the Amish and Mennonites I've been finding them to be more open and inclusive, go figure. When the Nickel Mines School shooting took place, the plain people were the first to forgive and even help the shooter's family. These are heroic Christians along with Mother Theresa and so many more. It is written that we should not gossip, lie, or hate and that we need to Love and share. Well let's put the Word of God into action!

    July 1, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  14. RoughRider17

    When Christians are strapping on suicide A&F/GAP sweaters and Polo's then lets chat, until then who gives an F

    July 1, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  15. David

    Online? Most are jerks all the time.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • RoughRider17

      David, I am guessing you believe and following the teachings of Al Gore & Barry Obama?

      July 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  16. Tom

    When you're 70% of the population, there is no such thing as "Christian-bashing." The reason we think you're jerks, because unlike you, we claim not to know everything. Your absolute certainy on what are truly unknowable questions is disgusting, intolerant, arrogant, and anti-human. I count very few of you as friends becuase of this.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  17. trouble841

    I didn't read through *all* the comments, but was surprised to see no one call out the fact that the second commandment is NOT "love your neighbor as thyself". In fact, that is not a commandment at all.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • Matt

      It's actually a summation of the commandments quoted from the bible. It was never stated in the article that it was the second commandment from the stone tablets that Mosses received at Mount Sinai, just the second most important one according to Jesus.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  18. fgreen

    As a Michael Jackson fan, I have found the Christian community to be most hateful towards him. This is disheartening because I am also a Christian and I am ashamed of the judgementalness of the words of some. They don't take any time to do any research on the issues that he had and just label him a freak or a child abuser who is going to hell. Any bit of research would prove his innocence in those allegations and explain the medical issues he had resulting in facial changes. No prayers for him over the years, only condemnation and ridicule. And much from the Christian community. BTW..he was not a Muslim– that was refuted. And he left the Jehovah Witness church years ago. He had a strong faith in God and Jesus and spoke about it often. Some close to him said he read his Bible daily. Nobody should be judging someone's salvation and what God will do with them when they are gone.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  19. Peter Thompson

    Why do so many Christians show anger and hatred toward others? It's obvious given their scripture is chock full of such examples. Your god is often angry, judgmental, temperamental, homicidal, etc. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong's 2005 book, The Sins of Scripture-Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love provides innumerable examples. I would urge all thinking Christians to track down this fine book. Used copies of it can be obtained cheaply on Amazon marketplace. It will be worth your time and money.

    July 1, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  20. elgeevz

    The obvious glee with which some writers contemplate the eternal torment of us nonbelievers suggests that they are somewhat lacking in Christian compassion.

    July 1, 2010 at 7:09 am |
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