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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. maddawg

    HUGE LMAOs @ all you lemming cultists...

    yea of course your cult is the correct one and the god your cult follows is the correct one; definately over all the other cults and gods anyway, that's for sure.

    but one more thing......your cults continue to mold you into the 'better than thou' lemmings that you've clearly become determined to be.

    war, hate, prejudice, killing in the name of.....YEA....a cult is a cult is a cult is a cult!

    lemmings unite...and then throw yourselves off of a very high cliff and put yourselves out of our misery!

    this world will SURELY be a much better place without cults, their gods and the lemmings that blindly follow!!!

    July 6, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  2. Mbane

    What you are refering to are Evangelicals. Those people have their own brand of Christianity. Most Christians around the world do not subscribe to the same beliefs. Please do not group real Christians with those people.
    The majority of evangelicals have never even read the bible. They have twisted Christianinty it into a fear mongering religion. The proof is in their made beliefs and in the hypocrisy of their statements!

    July 6, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  3. CindyV

    Why would a Christian woman post negative things about gays and lesbians to a "friend" on facebook who is gay? What purpose does this accomplish? Is her hate-filled comments meant to shame her gay friend? Change the gay friend into becoming straight? Recuit the gay friend to the Christian lifestyle?

    July 6, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  4. Kathy

    I guess I'm a minority Christian then...because I don't believe in being a jerk to anyone at any place at anytime. I am Christian by MY choice and thinking that I can persuade, threaten, guilt (etc.) others into my way of believing is just ridiculous. Christ didn't condemn...he didn't threaten...he loved people into the way of life that he knew was right. So...loving your neighbor as yourself means just that...no condemnation, no threats, no guilt. Have a very blessed day!! : )

    July 6, 2010 at 8:55 am |
    • Housla

      Bless you, you are a truly minority Christian among the majority Christians. Follow Jesus, don't hate, love God and your neighbors, and among practicing other attributes of Jesus don't populate the world with your hate emails, rumour mongering, false stories, accusations and championing your political agenda, self interests and ulterior motives. But instead evangelize the Gospel and the Love of God.

      July 6, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  5. Danny

    I'm not a white Republican male, so I can't speak for God, but I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to sit down and shut up when people challenge our beliefs.

    July 6, 2010 at 4:41 am |
    • peace2all

      It probably would be better if religious zealots did sit down and shut up......because beliefs are just that....beliefs.

      Mythical beliefs don't = Absolute knowing.... So, unless any proof comes other than spouting off biblical dribble.....then probably best....

      July 6, 2010 at 4:45 am |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Nobody's talking about sitting down & shutting up, we're talking about responding like jerks or bratty 8-year olds when your "beliefs are challenged". Isn't that the BEST possible time to demonstrate the humility Christ probably would have shown? It is entirely possible to respond to people online without resorting to a playground mentality.

      July 6, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • Housla

      What makes you say that only white Republicans can speak for God? If it is true I would encourage the white Republicans
      to measure their and my walk and talk with the teachings of Jesus. Are they prepared to discuss and be challenged for their actions for God with THE JESUS WAY? Their belief in Jesus is muddled up with politics and preservation of self interests.
      Fully understand the Jesus Way before you start implementing the How.

      July 6, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  6. Mauricio

    I was enjoying, "The need to be wealthy with reserve grace" by Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 3) Vol. 55: The Ministries & The Open Door, by Watchman Nee. I thought they were speaking at first about material riches which was what i was interested with. However, this was equally edifying to me. Here the writer was speaking about having special grace vs having spiritual reserves. He used the illustrations how some brothers after they spend their special grace have to be silent because as soon as the special grace is removed from them they become empty. He used Paul as an example of one who had spiritual reserves. That even when the Spiritual inspiration was no there he had words coming from his deposit that were counted as the word of God. The writer used (1 Cor 7:25)"I have no commandment from the Lord" and then he said, "But I give my opinion as one who has been shown mercy by the Lord to be faithful [or honest]" This was his reserve. The writer contrasted that to the spiritual poverty of the Laodiceans. Then he went on to say that those brothers or sisters that are so dependent upon that hand to mouth – as he put it – special grace, that they could not withstand trials – this is what benefited me. He defined trials as times when God does not seem to care for us, listen to us,or fellowship with us. He used Madame Guyon as an example of one who understood trials best -by the way, Madame Guyon was raised in Roman Catholicism. He went on to say that, "Trials are times when it seems that God has covered His face and shut His mouth, when it seems that He will not answer or make a sound, when it seems He is so quiet that there is no God in heaven at all. These times of trials immediately separate those with reserves from those with none." I hope this is beneficial to you as it was to me.

    July 6, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  7. Kayla

    Thanks for the boldness of your article, and the truth. Christians are 90% of the reason others do not want to believe in Christ. We're told to live our faith attractively in the New Testimate, plain and simple.

    July 5, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  8. Samuel

    The Bible book of Revelation (chapter 17) refers to a beast and a harlot that rides on it's back. How is that that applicable to the majority of posts on this board?

    July 5, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  9. Judy

    I have an example of a Jerk Christian and the reason behind it as it came to light.

    My "Christian Housekeeper" of 6 yrs got rather nasty in her political comments. As it turned out, her whole raft of lies was unraveling. She had been recently sacked by 4 credit cards with default fees she didn't want anyone to know about. She went to a "Christian Financial Counselor" for debt relief from the fees and interest but she HAD TO LIE to them because she also didn't want anyone to find out she had been hiding over $20K per year in housekeeping income from the IRS.

    Getting caught as frauds makes "Christians" very crabby. Her best defense to the whole event was to declare that she never really lied so much as just failed to tell the whole truth. She went on to declare that if I was a better friend I would have paid her for housekeeping services in cash so she had less chance of being caught by the IRS. BTW, she was my housekeeper because I am disabled and needed household help; this was not a luxury service I could have otherwise afforded.

    July 5, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • Kate

      It's not real sane to think that an employee committing fraud is none of the employer's business.

      July 6, 2010 at 12:55 am |
  10. AMY ADAMS SQUIRE

    It is better to be wrong out of love than to be right out of hate.

    July 5, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
    • Scott

      Speak the truth in love. That is the best way.

      July 5, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  11. JiminNM

    DNA tests could identify real Jews as compared to converts without a blood link to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. If you are not a blood Jew and still call yourself a Jew, isn't that false advertising?

    July 5, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  12. JiminNM

    Everyone has a nickel's worth of jerk in them.

    July 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  13. John

    Mormons believe that native Americans are descendants of Israel

    July 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  14. E in Atlanta

    @Ken,
    It sounds like, unfortunately, you have had a bad experience with religion. I can only speak for my experience with Christianity, but I am a gay Christian and have experienced nothing but love and support from my church and community. I have to disagree with your assertion that an ideal world is one in which every person practices their beliefs alone and in solitude. To me, that sounds horrible, empty and dispassionate. And on behalf of Christians, please don't judge our entire faith (which consists of many different denominations, beliefs and practices) by the belligerent, intolerant, or un-Christian acts of some. Just keep in mind that living a Christian life is very hard; only one person ever has done it perfectly!

    I hope that one day, you meet a Christian so loving and true to the faith that they change your life, and change your mind. And by the way, neither me nor my friends with me 'judge' you for being atheist or would ever force our beliefs on you.

    July 5, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  15. Juancho

    I am more concerned with Christian's lack of creativity and originality.

    July 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  16. Cape Codder in the Desert

    Recognizing that you’re neighbor is on a crash course to hell and allowing him to ignorantly head there merrily is not loving him but it is hating him which you will have to account for. Warning him of his impending peril, whether he likes it or not, is not showing him hate or being a jerk it is your commission and it will be credited to your account.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • verify

      Cape Codder: Then please have some valid PROOF for your warning, otherwise it is just like warning him of bad luck if he walks under an open ladder.

      July 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  17. John

    What I see on here is some very nice accepting people. respectful and tolerant. I also see some people that stop at nothing to profess how right their views are and others are so wrong/bad/unholy for not believing as they do. I see the former as a more humane group, They are the ones that I would associate with and ignore the others.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  18. Ken

    I 'chose' atheism (was 'called' in religious terms) because I wanted to live what I considered a good life. I don't want to bother or hurt others, and I am quiet comfortable letting anyone live their life as they see fit. I feel no urge to legally force others to behave the way I believe they should.
    All the religions I've seen have, and must have, an us/them mentality. To have faith is to judge....inescapable.....and that leads to all the problems. Christians want to legally force entire nations to believe as they do. If you gay, no marriage. If your pregnant, yet other rules. And so on. The list is quiet long.
    A lot of bigotry, hate, superiority, and intolerance is spoken in solemn, thoughtful, loving tones by the 'religious'. "I don't hate the sinner, just the sin", that's why I (the religious) will do everything in my power to control your life, decision, and rights as a fellow human being. Nice.
    Plenty of people needlessly suffer because of other people's faith, and the subsequent intolerance of anyone else's faith. The only true way to be a worthwhile human being, tolerant of all, loving of all, and worth the love of the creator (if there is one) is to abandon joining organized religions (like joining a hateful gang), and only controlling YOUR actions, not those of others. If you don't belong to an organization, and don't worry about anyone else's actions, and don't try to control others.....Then, there is no one to hate and you can become the decent, loving, tolerant person that you imagine yourself to be.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  19. Housla

    Reply to Helsod: I am glad you ask. Google Frank Schaeffer one of the great evangelist in the US Christiain movement in the US who presented facts of what other Christians are doing using the internet. Moreover, I have been for the past three years receiving hate emails from mature Christians who innocently forgot to erase names of other Christians from their populated list of emails throughout the world. Surprisingly, some of the names were those I knew and I was totally shocked by their secret response thus showing that such people manage their faces so well that one would not have guessed the differences in their hearts. You may think I am generailising too much. Just ask your Christian friends, I bet majority would condone "torture" or even state that the "poor take advantage of the rich in all social issues and Government should not provide a helping hand. We use politics to justify our actions. I can go on and on. Only proper teachings by church leaders can help to follow and walk the Jesus Way.

    July 5, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  20. MrsMC

    It's not just Christians. Pagans are just as bad about it, maybe worse.

    I think the reasons given here are off-base. I think it's a culture war phenomenon. Christians– like every other religious group– are hurt and frightened by a society that seems to be hostile to their values in general and their religion (ie themselves, if they're devout) in particular. Jesus responded to fear with resignation and with love. Jesus was perfect. Christians are just people; like everyone else, they tend to respond to fear by lashing out.

    I don't like it, but I don't blame them. I do the same.

    Stop This Stupid War!!!

    July 5, 2010 at 12:52 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.