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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. David

    People should stop trying to invent God. A man cannot fashion God in the image of his choosing, that is insane. Quit trying to define God!!!! Are we living in some science fiction movie? One where we each can argue over who has the true God? Absolutely insane!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 3, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • jonah of arkansas

      absolutely insane from your limited perspective!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Wow, are you telling us to stop trying to event God? How many gods do you think nondenominational Christians serve? There is but one God, ONE, UNO, (1). How many do you know?

      July 3, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  2. AshannaK

    While Christians may be jerks on line, so are other faiths, denominations of Christianity or not.
    Being a jerk is not exclusive to a faith, or political affiliation. However, for Christians, I should
    hope it isn't a full-time occupation. That would negate the whole object of Christianity, that we
    love God and love our neighbor as ourself.

    July 3, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  3. Alex Guggenheim

    Christians are jerks because they are human and like all sinners, though having received redemption, they are not exempt from being selfish. This should not be so ponderous.

    But they preach virtue...you say. Well the virtue they teach or should be teaching, is that of God's, not theirs personally. It is when a believer become self-righteous and then fails that the ponderous nature of the issue enters the discussion.

    Why are Christians jerks online? Because they are sinners. Should we expect more of them? Yes, but that isn't the issue or the question.

    July 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Thank you, Alex!! Well said, we are not perfect. We strive to reach perfection in Christ Jesus, but that doesn't mean that we have reached our perfection. We will never reach it here on earth until we reign with Him in heaven, until then, we have to work out our salvation as imperfect human beings.

      July 3, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  4. peace2all

    @heisgod.......You still did not answer Eric G's comment/question........believing in your heart is still no proof of a God....I am not saying whether there is or is not.....just trying to help with your lack of understanding. There is a giant step from believing to actually KNOWING something. So far, you have made no arguement that would hold up anywhere.... It is o.k...for you to believe, that is obviously your right, but please.....all of the rest of your commentary about mankind, etc..etc....and your mental leap that there is a God...not accurate......
    And your comment...."Why do Atheists fight so much against him if you don't believe him..? So...fighting against = believing...? Really...? I think you might want to revisit logic and critical thinking class.... Good luck though.....

    July 3, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      LOL, lack of understanding? You are a fool!!!

      The Lord Gives a Warning
      45:9 One who argues with his creator is in grave danger, 1
      one who is like a mere 2 shard among the other shards on the ground!
      The clay should not say to the potter, 3
      “What in the world 4 are you doing?
      Your work lacks skill!” 5
      45:10 Danger awaits one who says 6 to his father,
      “What in the world 7 are you fathering?”
      and to his mother,
      “What in the world are you bringing forth?” 8

      July 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Scripture comes from Isaiah 45:9-10

      July 3, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • David

      Is HelsGod espousing Christianity? I seriously do not understand how people use fiction as a weapon when clearly it seems hypocritical to do so. Let the killing, arguing and suffering of mankind continue. Let me point out one important piece of information: Just because one does not believe all in the Bible or Quran or Torah...or whatever theological text is being sold does not make one an atheist. God created man...it is not the other wat around....no matter what a man says he cannot speak the word or will of God. A belief is a belief is a belief and it is nothing more as God has given us each this wonderful gift...and our responsibility is to use it wisely.

      July 3, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ David – You said:

      I seriously do not understand how people use fiction as a weapon when clearly it seems hypocritical to do so. Let the killing, arguing and suffering of mankind continue.

      My reply:

      How is it fiction? Are you saying that God's Word is a fiction? Wow, do you think that God condones killing, arguing and suffering of mankind? No He doesn't, mankind condones it. So, if we can't speak the word of God, how will others know the will of God?

      July 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  5. peace2all

    Anyone can possibly be "a jerk online"........However, in response to the article at hand. I think that why 'some' Christians are definitely jerks online is because there is absolutely NO proof or merit to their arguements. Proof of God...None....the bible is the word of God...No proof...but if it is, the bible is so full of hurting others, if you don't obey God's law, etc... it is ridiculous. Then trying to shove their views down everybody else's throat that if you don't believe in all of this you are going to burn for eternity in hell.......Does that even make ANY kind of sense....? Think about it.....
    Please Christians....those that are open to a real debate and not just spouting of biblical versus or that the 'enemy' is speaking through anyone who is a non-believer.....you are the one's that are worth talking with as you have an open mind....and a willingness to take a look at what you are really saying and believing...

    July 3, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Your lack of understanding doesn't allow you to see past what your physical eyes can see. How can the believers have a civilize conversation with one that keeps whining and complaining that we are shoving God's Word down their throat when they are bashing God? What makes you think that unbelievers don't try to shove their belief on others throat? As for me, I could care less what you or any unbeliever think, say, or believe. I don't answer to you or owe you any explanation as to why I believe nor do I need to prove to you or anyone that the God I serve is real!

      July 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  6. Eric G

    Many of the believers have responded to my request to prove that their god exists with the answer of "I don't need to prove it". My question is now, does it really matter to you if the god you believe in exists or not? Hypothetical situation: You are in a room with a table that has a box on it. In the box is indisputable evidence that either god does or does not exist. Would you look inside the box to find out the truth, once and for all?

    July 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Eric G........Very Nice....I like it....

      July 3, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Eric G – The only prove there is, is the heart of one. Can you see the heart of one that feels or is in pain or that believes? Only with your heart will you be able to prove yourself that God is there. But if you don't humble your heart, how can you know that there is a God. If we could bring God from heaven to show you and others, we would, but as you know, that isn't possible.

      It matters to me that God exists, why, because if you look around you, how can it so much corruption exist in mankind? There has to be Hope in the lives of us that need to know that we can be protected and have confidence that God will protect those who need Him. That box that you are talking about is the very box of your heart, it's empty, with no hope, with no belief. I can tell you that there are times when I just think about God, my heart is overwhelm with joy.

      Why is it so important to you to think that there no God? Because you can't see Him with your own eyes? Well, I don't see Him with my own physical eyes, but I see Him with the eyes of my heart and hear His voice with the ears of my heart.

      It's all about the heart, it starts from there. I wasn't born believing in God, but I knew within the depths of my heart that there was a God. Why do Atheist fight so much against Him if you don't believe in Him?

      July 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Eric G

      @HeIsGod: Very well put, but I am not questioning your faith. It is obvious that you believe, and if it makes you happy and brings you peace, great! You avoided my question by questioning it's relevance. Again, this is a hypothetical situation. would you look in the box? Yes or no? Is it really important for you to know that your beliefs are based in reality, or is it enough to know that they just make you feel good? I don't fight against a god. I am questioning your perception of reality. I would like to know more because I prefer my perception of reality to be verifiable. So, please, yes or no?

      July 3, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Yes.

      God the Father is invisible (1 John 4:12). We cannot perform scientific laboratory experiments to determine if He exists, but this does not mean we must accept "blind faith" without evidence. Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. His life can be investigated like any other historical fact. Likewise, many other claims of the Bible can be investigated by evidence from logic, history, geography, and archaeology.
      In our daily lives, all of us determine our beliefs on the basis of this kind of evidence. For example, a hunter may not see an animal, but from its footprints he knows it exists and he knows much about its nature. In the same way, God has left "footprints on the sands of time."
      A judge and jury do not physically observe a crime, yet they reach a verdict about what happened by the testimony of witnesses. Likewise, God "did not leave Himself without witness" (Acts 14:17).
      Let us call God's "witnesses," and you be the judge. Weigh the testimony honestly, then reach a verdict (Rom. 10:17), but remember that you are not determining the guilt or innocence of someone else. Rather, your verdict will determine your own eternal destiny!

      July 3, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Also, if the Box is full of evidence of God's existence, would you open it to search for evidence? That is why God provided the Bible for us to open it up and search His Word to get all the evidence that we need. The bible was not written for unbelievers or to make believers, it is sealed and only believers are able to understand it and know God.

      July 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • Eric G

      If you really have faith that god exists, why would you look in the box. Is true knowledge of his existence more important than your faith in his existence? If the box showed that he does not exist, as a believer, you would still have faith that he does. If the box showed that he did exist, you have invalidated your faith because it was more important for you to have the knowledge of his existence over your belief in him. Using the logic from your previous posts, you would have some explaining to do because you did not really believe until you saw the evidence.

      July 3, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  7. Carol

    Excellent article! We Christians sometimes forget Jesus' response when Peter tried to defend him by inflicting injury on someone else. Thanks for the timely reminder!

    July 3, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  8. Todd

    I am a Christian and I confess that I have been a jerk, both online and off. I think we Christians take ourselves too seriously and we sometimes repond with our emotions and come off looking like jerks. I feel no need to correct anyone or even defend my faith on a form where everyone is essentially anonymous and free to say anything. Jonathon is obviously a Christian who doesn't take himself too seriously. Loved the article and love his book because I can laugh at myself. It really lowers your blood pressure

    July 3, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      So true! We are all guilty, Christians and non Christians. We are just weak human beings. But I thank God that I can learn from my weakness so He can strengthen the areas that my life needs in order to grow spiritually in Christ by the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit!

      Take care of your BP and God Bless you!!!

      July 3, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  9. Neil

    Do you still believe in Santa too?

    July 3, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • jersey

      the laziest atheist argument ever ladies and gentlemen.

      July 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ jersey – LOL, no disrespect to you Neil, but jersey is right.

      July 3, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  10. Neil

    We serve a loving God.

    -

    Can you provide any proof for this bizarre claim?

    July 3, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Funny Neil. I think you have to come out with a bit more than that to start a flame war.

      July 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Neil – Can you prove the opposite?

      An atheist believes Nothing made everything. (A scientific impossibility.) They say, "...space and time both started at the Big Bang and therefore there was nothing before it."

      July 3, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Neil – Can you prove the opposite?

      An atheist believes Nothing made everything. (A scientific impossibility.) They say, "...space and time both started at the Big Bang and therefore there was nothing before it."
      You can lead an atheist to evidence but you can't make him think. To be an atheist is to play Russian roulette with all the barrels loaded. An atheist just can’t win. Of course, he feels and acts like a big player, until the trigger is pulled.

      The issue isn’t the existence of God. If the atheist is wrong and there is a Creator, then he was wrong. He gambled and he lost; no big deal. The real gamble is that there’s no hell. That’s what makes the player sweat, just a little. “What if?” is the deep and nagging doubt. He believes it’s worth the excitement of the game. Yet atheism isn’t a mind game; it is intellectual suicide.

      It’s been said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” That maxim is true. If there is no thirst, the horse won’t drink. However, you can “salt his oats” to increase his thirst.

      you can lead an atheist to evidence but you can't make him think

      July 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  11. Christine

    I am a non-denominational Christian (but NOT a 'lapsed' one) who's been on the internet for 20 years now, and I partially agree with you.

    Probably because I don't hang around with a lot of Christians but rather with people of all different persuasions, I find that #1 applies to people in general on the internet, not just to Christians. Its more of a 'this is all fantasy' mindset with regards to typing online, when in truth what you think and what you do online is also being counted in the Heavenly register. Of course if you SAY that to the wrong person...

    I also run quite frequently into militant athiests...who are worse than 'policing' Christians in that their intent with their attacks is inherently selfish, whereas the Christians' intent, even if their attempt is poorly done, vicious, or harmful, is the good of the other person. And whereas denominational Christians will argue until Kingdom Comes about the validity of other denominations and religions, at least there's discussion about them...militant athiests don't even want that and usually won't respect anyone else's desire to HAVE that.

    July 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  12. Robyn

    After reading many books on the subject of U2 and faith, I believe we will see all of them in heaven . I would rather go to a U2 concert than mega churches because I do feel Gods presence at a U2 concert , not so much at mega churches.
    I am a Christian , however I fail on a moment by moment basis as expected . I judge , I get angry , I become ashamed – not as a fellow human , but as a Christian . I see so many hurtful things (on the web and off) done and said in the name of Jesus that I cringe at times. We as Christians hold everyone accountable ... except ourselves.

    July 3, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  13. Mark from Middle River

    Heathen- >online mainly because they are totally invested in being right about everything and being "holier than thou".<

    Is it just Christians? Seems like there are a bunch of people if not the majority of people expressing their views are totally invested in the belief that they are right. Christians, Muslims, Buddist and atheist. Once again it sounds like the two biggest problem that atheist have is that they fear that the commitment to faith of Christians is equal to or greater than their own. The second fear is of Muslims.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  14. Mary S. Lynn

    Agree entirely with Kapelusprime.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  15. Kapelusprime

    I liked this article a lot. For more than just a few reasons, but the glaring one is. As Christians we don't very often do what I was told be an old priest at my parish. He said "turn the page" in other words some of us love to use Gods words, that of his son and the profits as rocks; To be thrown at others as weapon. We often fall in the trap, of using the greatest guide to living as the lord wanted us too. We use it as a tool of damnation rather than a tool of salvation. Good old Father Walsh, his simple explanation for his saying was that often when people seek guidance in the bible they read till they find it then mark it and close the book. Run off to whom ever they would reprove and there you go. Simple, "turn the page" and read on, you may find there is more instruction and message to the passage you just chose as your weapon. Father Walsh is long passed from this earth, but his wisdom in his advice still holds true.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  16. Neil

    Many people may SAY that they are Christian but they are probably not. I was raised in a Catholic home believing I was a Christian. Although I went to church each week, attended Catechism, and was an alter boy, I still had problems. I drank like a fish, did drugs, had an uncontrollable anger, and I cussed and lied on a daily basis. To be honest, I probably had no morals at all. As crazy as this sounds, I still called myself a Christian. It was not until I was 30 years old that I understood the real truth and accepted Christ as my savior. There are still times that I have problems due to 30 years of bad habits due to the weakness of the flesh.

    This is not a bash against Catholics because I have known people from every faith that wrestle with this. I think that is why some people are against Christians because they only remember the actions of a few people that think that is who they are.

    Sports fans can wear a team’s uniform, live for each game and talk as if they had something to do with winning the championship. However, they never once stepped on the field; they don’t have an agent and they have never received a paycheck. There are fake Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists that do the same thing.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  17. Dancer

    Labels. Labels. All labels are judgements. "...it's what is in a man or woman's heart that defiles them."

    We're meant to enjoy life as a dance. I invite you to throw off your burdens and dance with me. The Lord of the Dance is coming soon. I invite you to step out of your boat and dance upon the water. Dance in your boardroom. Dance on your factory floor. Dance in your homes. Dance in your selfmade prisons. Dance on the internet. Invite others to dance with you. Enjoy life as the dance it was created to be. Shake off your shackles and pick your dance partner. We are made for the dancefloor and we must choose a dance partner. I choose the Lord of the Dance. Will you dance with me?

    July 3, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  18. Azad

    Same applies to Muslims as well, we are bigger jerks i would say! we leave the more important teachings of our religion and find faults with the minor issues.

    July 3, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  19. Brian

    The links don't work in this article. They're relative, and clicking them leads to page not found errors in the cnn.com website.

    July 3, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  20. Geoffzie

    Up front I'll tell you, I'm a born-again Christian ... I believe in Heaven ... I believe in Hell ... and I believe Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven ... and that He paid the price on the cross for anyone who will believe in Him.

    You know, the easiest way to solve this discussion about who's right ... about Islam ... about Buddists ... about Christians ... about Heaven ... about Hell ... about Jesus Christ ... and about "online jerks" ... is just simply ... wait!

    Let's all agree to discuss this again ... 100 years from now ... and we'll see who was right ... and who was wrong!

    July 3, 2010 at 11:11 am |
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