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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. Truth Life

    the self-deprecating god-talk mischaracterizes the real value of the new testament. the retort to instances of petty un-thoughtful verbiage must be dropped as counter-productive. the big things matter, tithing mint again.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  2. RHINO Texas

    I do not have any exprance in any church except southen baptist. The beleif is they do not drink. I have never been in a home that did not have a stocked liqure cabnit. Don't dance , right. I saw the Church for what it is , a bunch of people tring to be God. I saw way too much and far too often. So yes they can be over bearing jerks and some times are

    July 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  3. conan the contrarion

    glad to hear it mary- just don't be tempted to send a guy on tv money ; )

    July 2, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  4. mary

    christians are full of crap.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • conan the contrarion

      very intelligent mary. 2.2 billion people. you might just be a world record holder for most sweeping generalization.

      July 2, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • mary

      I consider my self a christian though.. I dont go to church nowadays but I grew up going every sunday until I was 16. Have not been to church in years.. by age 17 I thought I was the anti-christ. At age 20 I became my self again. I mattured.. but never went back to church. I pray every day. my relationship with god is closer than you can ever imagine. WE TALK DAILY!! and i know he protects me and loves. Dont need to go to church to prove my faith.

      July 2, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  5. John Wozniak

    Great article. I couldn't agree more. Keep up the good work!! And.... "Cheers!"... on the beers. 😉

    July 2, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
  6. Israel

    Christians can obviously be hypocritical or jerks wherever they go... but it's way easier to be a jerk online. The same thing goes for pagans, aetheists, muslims, etc...

    Really what happens is we get caught with our guards down... We haven't put on our pretty face and the real us comes out. We try to look nice in person. We try to be a good witness. But a lot of times we're repressing (not wrongfully so) our sicker tendencies.

    God wants to work on our hearts and who we really are. Not just the outside.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  7. Maty

    Christianity misses the point just like all the other religions do,as well. Why sit around pondering the existence of a "God", or other source, or "Maker"? Religion takes up too much mental real estate, as far I'm concerned.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
    • donavon

      what is the point that is being missed?

      July 2, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
  8. deb

    I actually had a "religious experience" when I was 13 years old. I asked Jesus to come into my heart and immediately felt a warm sensation in my heart that radiated throughout my body and I experienced a feeling of extreme "happiness", or "peace" at that moment. It was really surreal and for a few days afterward I felt "on top of the world". Having said that and "experiencing" that I am not religious. I believe there "must be some higher power" but I can't wrap my arms around any of the "religions" because they are so judgmental, self-righteous and just nuts, in my humble opinion. I "believe in" the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's so simple. If everyone treated everyone else with dignity and respect the world would be a kinder, better place. I spent most of my childhood in church, first as a Lutheran and then as a Baptist. They basically have the same philosophy and "rules". I hadn't been to church in years when I went one time as an adult (probably around 40 years old) and I just couldn't believe how the minister just yelled at everyone (Lutheran church and it wasn't even an evangelical one!) and told them how "sinful" they all were. It all just seemed ridiculous. I haven't been back since.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
  9. Brett

    Just to be clear, this isn't prevalent just on the Internet, and it isn't just for Christians either. Some people turn into raging jerks that they aren't in person, simply for the fact that there is a supposed anonymity of being online. Sad to say, but hopefully we'll get more folks like you talking about it, and we can shut out the vocal minourity 🙂

    July 2, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  10. MH

    Thanks Jonathan for the blog. I'm glad religion is around, or the only things people would talk about are what to eat or what to wear. And why apologize for being a jerk? The greatest sin is to be un-entertaining.

    July 2, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  11. Heidi

    About the Offline vs Online Christian... I'm thinking it shouldn't be about where the *Christian* is. It should be about where *God* is. And that is basically everywhere. If you're going to be Godly you better be Godly everywhere because there's no escaping His seeing your behavior, no matter where *you* are.

    About a Room Cleaning mentality... I think that happens to all people at some point, regardless of faith, age, etc. When humans want to avoid something difficult, they don't have to belong to a particular subset of humanity to do so. Equal Opportunity Avoidance Strategies = Part of The Human Condition.

    As to why Christian jerkiness can happen at times... My theory is that there is an inherent conflict of interest in any faith that calls for its members to love all others while also teaching that their faith is the "right" one and the only one that can "save" humanity. Loving someone else doesn't mean deciding for that person what is best for them. It means accepting what they choose for themselves, especially if they still choose a different (or no) faith *after* hearing the appeal of Christians to convert to Christianity "for their own good." Loving someone who chooses not to accept something you yourself feel is so profoundly important IS hard. But then, Jesus didn't ask his followers to love only easy-to-get-along-with, like-minded others.

    BTW, I'm not Christian. I'm not even a monotheist. I'm fine with most of Christianity and with a good number of Christians. Not all Christians are disrespectful jerks. (Neither are all non-Christians, for that matter.) And I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who is Christian and is able to publicly admit they've dropped the Christian ball at times. Life isn't about being perfect; it's about trying our best and about trying to improve when we have failed at being our best. Oh, and cutting each other some slack on occasion. Namaste, Jonathan.

    July 2, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Well said Heidi!!

      If Christianity was about being perfect, we would become self-righteous in the eyes of God and He would not be please to see a self-righteous Christian that proclaims that he/she never fails.

      July 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  12. Annette Snyden

    Wretched with stuart smiley or whaterver the jerks name is

    July 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  13. Annette Snyden

    Baptist Board,Rapture Ready Board,Fighting Fundy Board, Venom Fang X on You Tube, and Yokeup on YouTube jerks all

    July 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  14. Promert

    Jonathan Acuff is completely right in what he is saying! Some Christians, unfortunately, throw the book at anyone who disagrees with them. That is patently wrong. You should Love Your Neighbor As Yourself. But that appears to be the hardest thing to do for many simply because they cannot hide their idiot-like ways of treating other human beings. That is shameful! Perhaps it makes them feel good or better about themselves since it is known that those who 'cast the first stone' have their own collection of skeletons in the closet.

    So, some Christians who do not truly live the Christian way and follow the Bible indeed do spout off in manners unbecoming a true Christian. Acuff has hit the nail right on the head with this article. This is a time for a great awakening of brotherhood in the world. And there is no time like the present. Live each day from the time you get up to the time you retire like it was the last day of your life and you were going to meet your maker. Because, you know what? One day you surely will! Of that there can be no argument. Then what excuse will you have for your Earthly behavior? And you will have no one else to blame for that but yourself. Be aligned with God through His teachings brought forth by His only Divine Son Jesus Christ. Accept Him As Your Lord and Savior and become Born Again. It is your Key to Salvation whether you choose to believe it now or not. Why take the chance? Life is too short. Be in tune with God and His teachings and know that when you pass on to the next experience of life you will be free of the heaviness carried by many who cross over who chose to not know God. But *You* have a right to Salvation and to enjoy your next life, which is Eternal, as the Child of God that you truly are!

    July 2, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  15. vince

    I think it's wrong to lump Christians together. Just like there is variation within Islam there's lots of varieties of Christians. There's old testament Christians that emphasize bits and pieces to their liking to hate about (ie the God hates F**S churck in Topeka) to those Christians who focus exclusively on the New Testament Jesus and dismiss the old testament entirely as the work of an Evil God that loves harrassing his "chosen". Lots of variety - pacifists to militarists - seemingly incompatible. Plus there's the pios Christian who actually reads the words and believes and those who simply go to Church for the social functions (that when pressed, don't necessarily believe in a god). So just because someone says that they are a Christian does not mean much. As you point out, one would LIKE to believe that they acknowledge the "golden rule" but that is just as likely not to be the case.

    July 2, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  16. JoeJack

    I'm glad that you have the luxury to make a career out of arguing about make-believe stuff. Many people are rude online, and many people are Christians . . . of course there will be a large intersection. Many Christian congregations are controlled by judgement and guilt; why wouldn't these poor fools project that on others?

    July 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  17. Gene

    @ Mary; Maybe because "Particularly key is to ridicule the faithful while attempting to transition the very faith itself into a core element" "social justice”

    July 2, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Mary

    I do not think Christians are the only ones who are rude online. I think there are people who make a habit of mocking an picking on others and not being able to communicate effectively or in a respectful manner. I guess because I'm older, I do not think it is cool to swear or tell people they 'suck' but it seems really common here, to the point that I think people have been desensitized to the harm their words actually cause.

    July 2, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  19. Zach Roth

    As a whole, Christianity was the re-branding of the Roman rule over society. Rome is "under new management" so to speak. The generalization that any group of people is one way or another is specific to the observer. From my perspective, humanity is full of jerks that would sell their mother for the new iPhone. Feel free to add any religion or any group for that matter to this statement. Peace

    July 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  20. stormy miller

    the majority of comments i read on the internet from christians are hateful and predjudice and mean spirited. the reason why non-christians react as they do is because that all they get from christians is hate and judgement. i agree that most christians do not even know what jesus or the bible is really about. they listen to hate filled religous leaders like pat robertson and that is where they get all their information. i think jesus is broken hearted about the way his followers are today. but one day all these "christians" will know the truth and they will be ashamed of the way they have tgreated others

    July 2, 2010 at 2:40 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.