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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. Done

    This is a somewhat healing essay for those of us who have been cut off on the freeway by fish-sticker cars. Do you have a stronger essay for those of us who were married to abusive, controlling men who believet god designated them superior to women and can quote verses to prove it? Ah well. It was a pleasure to deliver unto him divorce papers and remind him that he must submit to the law, and that abusing his son ever again would result in even worse problems. I wish the church had been there for me through those miserable years, rather than telling me to pray that God would change him (even as they made him an elder). The truth (and those lovely divorce papers) has set me free: it is most often the followers of Jesus who demonstrate the very opposite of what he taught.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • Heartbroken

      I'm so sorry for the way you were treated. Nothing in the Bible justifies abuse. Thank you for getting yourself and your son out of an awful situation. The passages that he might have used to try to prove his superiority (perhaps Ephesians 5?) and put him as "head of the wife as Christ is head of the church" also called him to love you "as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her". Sacrificial love, putting your well-being above his own. Doing that does not result in abuse. I'm so sorry the church failed to see your need and the true heart of your husband and help you through a horrible time. I do pray that he'll change, but I also pray that you and your son will be able to heal and that you won't hold the failures of Jesus' followers against Him.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  2. Terrie

    I think you forgot about God's word in 1 John 3:6-11 "No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;"

    June 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • Barb

      Excellent scripture reference Terrie! The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, and you chose the perfect one to use!

      June 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  3. Hate in your heart

    If you got hate in your heart, let it out.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  4. John

    Why assume they're not jerks in real life, too?

    June 29, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  5. Joe Parent

    Like this "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." That's all we need to remember when making our comments. Very good point! Thanks

    June 29, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  6. anonymous

    Just online?

    June 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  7. Ty

    Man invented religion, God invented reason. Free your mind.
    http://www.deism.com

    June 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Gary

    If I meet someone in a business setting and they tell me, unsolicited, they are Christian I prepare for the worst. I cant tell you how many times they turn on you. My wife sold something on ebay saying the item was "antique" and posted a picture of it. The lady she sent it to had some bible verse on the bottom of her email. She tried to then defraud my wife by saying it arrived broken but wouldnt send any pictures. She then said it wasnt what she ordered and filed a complaint with paypal. Needless to say she didnt win. She filed so many similar baseless complaints that Ebay actually cancelled her account.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  9. Worker

    I work in the health care industry and my experience has been that many Christians are jerks. If someone brings a Bible with them to read they are more demanding, critical and less cooperative than average. (Look up the episode with Joel Osteens wife on the airplane and you will get an idea of what I am talking about). I guess if you believe you are saved you can do whatever you want and still go to heaven for all eternity, you can be as big a jerk as you want, especially to someone that does not go to your church, and is therefore not a believer or "brother in Christ".

    June 29, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    Acuff laughs off a very serious subject.

    The way "Christians" behave online is so disgusting, I think we need a Christian Anti-Defamation League, lest we be the targets of the next holocaust.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  11. Silas Scarborough

    Christianity has never done anything except to make boring people think they're interesting.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • K

      And give excuses for people to murder millions of other human beings throughout history, don't forget. (:

      June 30, 2010 at 1:27 am |
  12. Steve in ABQ

    I think jerks and nice people exist in every world view, even Islam (you Muslem-Hating types). Christianity does not "own" morality. In fact, sometimes it's the refuge of scoundrels.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  13. Eve

    Christians are jerks anywhere..... just ask Jesus

    June 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  14. KTinCA

    Why are athiests the same way?

    June 29, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
    • hambydammit

      Because atheists and theists both have the same sense of morality - it is an evolutionary adaptation, not a list of rules set down by a magic ghost in outer space. So we all have it. Believing in a silly story about talking snakes and zombie gods doesn't change the fact that we're all just human.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  15. Scott

    "We serve a loving God."

    If you think you serve a loving god, then you've obviously never read the bible. And if you did, and you still consider him "loving", then you're the one with issues that make you a danger to society.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • ryan

      i agree that the old testament god is a vengeful, punitive god but i think (read that as hope) that most believers today have taken a more progressive view of the texts, seeing them as parables of the time and not literal accounts of history.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  16. GodIsLove

    "because Christianity is an outdated, patriarchal religion that treats "good" and "evil" as properties, not value judgments?"

    What?? "Value judgements?"
    You mean, like when you decide not to jump off a cliff? What do you care about what others believe? Get a life.
    I'll bet you don't attack muslims like that, do ya? Cuz you're scared.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
    • hambydammit

      LOL @ GodIsLove.

      Was that Poe or are you serious? If you're serious, then I think telling me to jump off a cliff counts as being a Christian and a jerk.

      And for what it's worth, yeah. I think Muslims - being followers of a similar patriarchal monotheist Bronze Age religion - are equally deluded in their beliefs about morality. The thing is, they have things called "peer reviewed science journals" with genuine scientific knowledge of what morality is and why it exists. Religious myths from back before we discovered science just can't compare with real study of the world.

      And I guess for my final contribution to this lovely conversation... did you want me to get the same kind of life you have? Yelling at people you disagree with on the internet?

      June 29, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
    • Captain Nemo

      >I'll bet you don't attack muslims like that, do ya? Cuz you're scared.

      Bet you don't, either. Cuz >>you're<< scared.

      Do you actually know any Muslims? Gone out of your way to say, "Hi"? If you haven't you've failed in your mission as a Christian, you know.

      I use the same type of muscular debate with Muslims, most of whom are, like most of everybody else, pretty good people just trying to help everybody get along. Frankly, I get a lot less crap from Muslims than I do from Christians. I also get a lot more well-reasoned (but, for me, equally unconvincing) arguments.

      Get this through your head: most Muslims, like most Christians, are not violent, intolerant, inflexible fanatics. Nor is Islam any more a violent religion than Christianity. Quote me a violent Quran verse and I'll find you a nasty piece of a Psalm...

      Muslim translates as one who submits to God. Just like you submit to Jesus and The Father.

      Get over it.

      July 7, 2010 at 12:45 am |
    • peace2all

      @Captain Nemo.......Very nice... I too, know a number of muslims....good, honest people...And...yes, just like the religions of christianity, and Islam, among others... don't believe in it either.....

      Peace to you....

      July 7, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  17. Jim

    Believing in a fairy tale is always confusing.

    June 29, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  18. GodIsLove

    Christians are bad. I am bad. We are bad. Bad, bad, bad, so bad!

    June 29, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  19. hambydammit

    * magic man in the sky thinks you're special.

    Damn... I hate pressing "send" before proofing. Why do I do it?

    June 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  20. hambydammit

    Hmmmm... could it be that being a Christian doesn't contribute to being more moral because Christianity is an outdated, patriarchal religion that treats "good" and "evil" as properties, not value judgments? Or maybe it's because believing that a magic man in the sky thinks your special leads to a feeling of self-important narcissism?

    Just thinking aloud...

    June 29, 2010 at 6:29 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.