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. Harry Coverston

    You raise some good points here, Jonathan. A couple of responses:

    “We follow a Christ who very plainly told us what to do.” Perhaps. This does assume an evangelical approach to scripture which does not speak for the majority of Christians. Many of us don’t see the Bible as a book of instructions. Perhaps more problematic is the notion that what Jesus said (noting the Christ is any number of interpretations of that figure) is somehow plain and clear on its face.

    The parable of the Good Samaritan suggests otherwise. Who is my neighbor? To whom do I owe the duty of respecting their dignity? Who should I love as myself? The answer was unexpected: the despised outcast. For evangelicals that might mean gay people (not the smarmy love the sinner hate the sin bit but actually loving the human being as oneself, i.e., unconditionally without reserving the right to judge their experience which you don’t share). Or it could mean Muslims. Or liberals. How plain are Jesus’ words here?

    Moreover, the assertion that “grace is the antidote to being a jerk online” seems to miss the point of the Good Samaritan parable. Expecting G-d to save us from ourselves is irresponsible. At the end of the parable, Jesus told the lawyer who posed the question, “Go and do likewise.” Don’t’ wait for a rescuing deity, be responsible to your neighbor. Here and now.
    This is not to say grace plays no role. The responses to the promises made in the Episcopal Baptismal Covenant express a healthy relationship between human effort and divine grace: “I will with God’s help.” Our action with G-d’s grace.

    Evangelicals are no bigger jerks online than anyone else. The detachment of cyberspace has made us decreasingly civil and sensitive to the human being at the other end of the internet. But the presumptions that evangelicals bring to their interactions with others generally can readily lead to arrogant behaviors. That includes presuming one’s own understanding of Christian believing is somehow normative for everyone else – everyone believes as I do or they ought to.

    So, if folks like Bono are not in heaven, it won’t be much of a heaven, will it? But ultimately, that’s none of our concerns. Fortunately for Bono – and all of us – that decision lies in the hands of a G-d whose wisdom surpasses all human understanding and whose mercy is everlasting.

    July 3, 2010 at 11:03 am |
  2. Heathen

    The issue I tend to see with Christians is many of them are jerks "in real life" as well as online mainly because they are totally invested in being right about everything and being "holier than thou". Maybe they can't help it being immersed in an environment of worship where they are constantly being told "You Are Better Than Non-Believers Because You Are Forgiven of Your Sins."

    If you are right and you are better and you are forgiven and you are holy, why bother being a loving person to your neighbor. Just Love Your God (which covers "Accept Jesus Christ") and You Are Forgiven.

    There's no moral incentive there for Christians to be nice, normal, loving, accepting people.

    July 3, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  3. ReddHedd

    I believe that people show their true selves when no one can "see" them, like when a usually mild mannered person shows road rage tendencies. Surrounded by their car, and physically separated from the other person, they curse each other, display vulgar hand gestures, and act ugly. If they were standing in line at a grocery store beside the same person, they would never behave this way. When we don't have the threat of retaliation from the object of our hatred, we have no deterrent. A jerk Christian is a jerk kept hidden away until he thinks he is safe from retaliation,

    July 3, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  4. Bob

    Jesus wept ... 🙁

    July 3, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  5. David

    ohhhh all the people who fight over religion. and ohhhhh cnn for publishing these things

    July 3, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  6. jona

    They may be jerks online but they're great with butter.

    ( this was a stupid article)

    July 3, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  7. ron

    In my humble opinion there are two kinds of religious people .. those that live their religion ..and those that talk about living their religion , I get along quite well with the latter

    July 3, 2010 at 9:06 am |
    • Noble9

      I prefer the former. Live it, just don't bother me about it.

      July 3, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  8. steve

    First of all I'd like to address Jason's comment from above. What shred of evidence are you looking for? Can you answer that question? I'm truly curious. You see, most cannot articulate that answer. Proof is always beyond they're reach because of that. If you're truly not looking, but just being argumentative, then this discussion is a moot point.

    Secondly, there is the excuse of the Bible being full of contradictions...if it is, then show me where. I'm still waiting for that. These stumbling blocks to faith leave people 'invincibly ignorant.' In other words, they don't know what they're looking for as proof and therefore place themselves in a barrier to ever knowing.

    Thirdly, Christianity, as it was practiced by the first Christians, isn't a religion. Now, has it become that to some? Of course. The difference being other religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, is focused on self and creating a god-like state in man. Christianity is about worshiping the One, true God. Giving lavishly to the One who created us. Other religions may hand out some great ideals but ultimately it's self serving. Are there christians who do this too? Of course. But that's not a slap too God. He didn't instruct man to act this way, but they allow their sin nature to control their actions. Everyone has a choice daily to choose righteousness or sin.

    Ironically, that at the beginning Satan gave mankind a choice: He simply questioned God's authority to Adam and Eve, placing doubt. How? Simply posing the question,"If you eat from the tree of good and evil, will you die? No, but you will become like God, knowing good from evil." Notice the phrase: Become like God. Sounds like those other religions.

    July 3, 2010 at 8:57 am |
    • Noble9

      Pointing out biblical contradictions is like shooting fish in a barrel. Just google it and you'll find all the examples you'll ever need.

      I worship the ancient powers that my ancestors did. I see all the evidence of them I need in my life every day.

      July 3, 2010 at 10:39 am |
    • Eric G

      Hi Steve,
      First you are basing your argument on an unproven fact. For your questions to be addressed properly, you will need to establish factual evidence that the bible is accurate. If you do not, you are making an arguement from the position of assumption. You must first have a common point of accepted reality to start from and your refrences to the bible do not provide this.
      Second, As for the "shred of evidence"? The only evidence that matters in christianity is the resurection. That is the part of the story that requires proof. Everything else is just noise. Can you provide verifiable evidence of the resurection? A more important question would be, does it really matter to you if the god you believe in is real?

      July 3, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  9. Amy

    The whole idea of "loving your neighbor" is a farce when it comes to Christianity. You cannot "love" someone whom you believe is going to Hell for not sharing your beliefs. You can only see that person as God's enemy– and yours, since you are obviously one of his favorite pets and cannot love someone who does not love Him. Oh, you may talk about love and show "kindness" to people who do not share your beliefs, but the bottom line is, you don't really love that person. It is nothing but an attempt to convert him or her to your beliefs, and when that attempt fails, the real underlying attitude– contempt– shines through. With all respect due to Jesus (and there ain't much due, in my opinion), he was full of crap. He taught something that is impossible, even if you do happen to believe that all things are possible with God. So let's quit playing make believe here and just admit it: Christianity's message of "love" is a farce.

    July 3, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  10. JokerOC

    Christians r hateful online because their message is hateful. They r hateful everywhere. Towards gays, opp faiths, to athiests and nonbelievers, to science, to liberals, to the poor. The list is very long.

    July 3, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  11. lazarus zion

    Hi Jon,
    Incase you are lukewarm (reflected by your reasoning) we all aren,t
    You don't as a christian sit back and let the world rot. When christians express holy anger, that's different from hate-online.
    I am christian (not perfect) but bilieve you me i have helped many online by standing the ground. Like Kay puts it you must defend the faith at any cost. There is something to loose by being overly nice. Jon, i hope this doesn't sound 'HATE' does it?

    July 3, 2010 at 3:20 am |
  12. Aaron

    So, I read the article...
    I actually am a christian and found the article pretty true. I really think it's purpose was to give a fellow believer pause, to make them consider that their actions online matter just as much. I've read a lot of comments on this page about people being tired of the goody two shoes christian. Grudgingly, I admit that our belief is not presented well. Especially not by me, but it's also a BASIC and CORE part of our directive to spread the belief. Telling a christian not to present their belief to others is like just like telling them not to pray or go to church. IN fact, it's much worse. The whole point of christisanity is love and spreading the truth. In part, I apologize for the annoyance that other christians and myself have surely caused others... but on a larger scale and bigger picture... at least you know the name of Jesus Christ. At least he is a figure in the world. That is a success and whether he is disliked, scorned, believed in, or not, at least we have presented an idea of perfect love... if not in ourselves then in a God. The wreck that is humanity and the poor image of a christian that I am I cannot excuse. No christian can, but I can say that it's sorta true that no publicity is bad publicity. It does certainly matter how christians treat others. It's extremely important, but it's part of the deal that even bad works and misguided people can make a difference.

    July 3, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  13. melissa

    Just dont gather sticks on Sunday! Or God will come down from the clouds and tell you that such a person must be stoned to death!! It's in the Bible - its all true! If your neighbor cuts his lawn on Sunday, go smash his head in with a baseball bat! Yes! This is what God wants! It is in the Bible! Kill! Kill! That's the Christian way!

    July 3, 2010 at 2:00 am |
  14. m.k.

    Just give them some rattlesnakes and cottonmouths to play with while they drink poison, and they are happy as a lark. The right wing- nuts are nutty as a fruit cake. They think an ex b-movie actor that plated second fiddle to a monkey is their God.

    July 3, 2010 at 1:19 am |
  15. LK

    I have found that many Christians are flat out hypocrites. On and off line. Some are amazing examples as to what the Grace of God is and how to lead a Christian life. Most are not. In fact, they use Christianity as something to thrash others with (see: Religious right).

    As the bumper sticker says: "Jesus please save me from your followers."

    July 3, 2010 at 1:16 am |
  16. PulSamsara

    I like hotdogs. Some times just with mustard – sometimes loaded to the hilt Chicago style.

    Above you will find the most spiritual conversation posted here.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  17. Mark

    But we never hear about that other world religion that pillages and causes destruction over a cartoon depiction of their key figure....not to mention endless violence, mistreatment of women and other atrocities.....

    July 3, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  18. John

    A liberal bashing Christianity......how redundant

    July 3, 2010 at 12:38 am |
    • mr pink

      hes a Christian.

      July 3, 2010 at 12:39 am |
  19. Brooke

    Great observations!! I love the room cleaning/final comparison!! Thanks for the article!!

    July 3, 2010 at 12:37 am |
  20. John

    More liberal athiests are jerks online.

    Your contempt for religion (except Islam) is blatantly obvious.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:36 am |
    • Eric G

      So, if someone does not share your polital ideology and religious beliefs, they are a jerk? Maybe you should tell us what color skin you have. That way, we can identify more people that you think are jerks?

      July 3, 2010 at 10:58 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.