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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. bob

    All religion is intolerant. christians are no different in being jerks or in believing that it's okay because their god loves them and will smite everyone else. Pull your heads out, people: your god, your religion, and your personal characteristics are no different than anyone else's. Save me oh (fill in the blank) from faith that blinds!

    June 29, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
    • linus

      I like Bob's answer. I'd also like to point out that this is a comfortable attempt at addressing an uncomfortable issue. however, it is WAY too watered down with "niceties."
      I'd like to add a THIRD reason why "Christians are Jerks Online":
      1) Christians are self-righteous and think they have a monopoly on how one becomes a "good person" which, according to them, is only via a relationship with Jesus.
      Personally, I don't need a book or a made up religious icon to KNOW how to TREAT PEOPLE. I am NICE to people because I am HUMAN.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  2. chris Van Vliet

    Being a Christian doesn't mean your perfect. You still need your sins forgiven, but the more time we spend with Jesus, the less we want to sin. If I don't pray or read my Bible, I can be a big jerk like the best of ya.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  3. josh

    So I do agree that it does seem that Christians can sometimes be jerks. I'm one, a Christian, and I'm not perfect and sometimes say things I shouldn't. But the two points that this guy brings out are bad points. I believe that Christ was once asked who is my neighbor? In his response he pointed out that everyone is my neighbor, so that kind of eliminates that excuse. Also with point 2, pointing out peoples short comings reminded me of the story of the guy that that was giving someone a hard time about the mote in his eye when he had a beam in his own eye. So I don't really think that God wants us to focus on each other’s short comings. I pretty sure He'd rather us try to treat people with kindness and work together to better ourselves instead of saying or writing belittling and harsh things to each other. When you can overcome your own tendency to look for and find the negative it is much easier to see the more important things in life and live the way Jesus the Christ taught us.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  4. DeeDee

    We argue about tankinis and U2 because it's fun to skirt the edges. How bad can we be and still be good? If we're dieting, how many low fat cookies can we eat? The Amish girls in my area wear flip flops, lay out to get a nice tan, and buy Bacardi mixers that they drink without the alcohol. That's how they rebel against wearing the pastel dresses. Can we be mean online and still be a Christian? Is that one place we can be as snarky as we want and get away with it? Can we put lots of secular references to rappers and hiphop in an article and still be devout? We are all trying to find the balance we can live with. I too, wish there was more understanding and less judgement. Many people site "too many judgmental people" as the reason they won't go to church.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  5. chris Van Vliet

    Jerks can be nice on the internet. Watch out for the people who are overly nice that want to meet you.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  6. Chris

    This one is simple. Some people are just jerks. Your religion doesn't make you immune to being a jerk. Christians like to think they have a lock on morality so they have to make excuses for the poor behaviour of some of their fellow Christians. The usual line is, "well obviously they are not TRUE followers of Christ". In reality they are just TRUE humans. Some of us just suck. Don't over think it.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  7. Casey

    I converted to Judiasm for the simple reason that I couldn't bear being a Christian, Just the thought that anyone is judged by faith and not deeds is irrational. Jesus was a great prophet but certainly not the son of God. Christians have used their faith to justify killing, corruption, subjagation, and all manner of evil. There is not and never will be one path to God,

    June 29, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  8. Giovanna

    I have been on the receiving end of hatred and anger from Christians both online and in real life. I don't think this is limited to just Christians. I would say it has to do with your maturity level more than anything. Emotional maturity is defined as: The ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others. It's that last part so many forget when throwing an insult at someone. I will admit I was terrible at responding to posts online and often found that how I thought I was writing something gets interpreted totally different by someone else even though I had no intention of being insulting. It takes practice. The best solution I found is the old saying think before you speak and think about how you would feel if someone wrote that comment to you. It's easy to say it doesn't matter when anonymity is involved.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Lone

    What about it? Acting out on the internet or arguing over nonsense is a manifestation of other issues that have nothing to do with the focus. Christians are still people and even through salvation retain all the imbalances and faults (as so many people here and elsewhere vehemently use as proof to hang the faith on). The world today is histories most challenging arena to find peace in and the temptation (for anyone) to react is powerful. If in doubt, use some God-given sense and keep your mouth shut. It works for children and adults alike.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  10. Kitty

    You write this entire article as if Christians are not jerks OFF the internet.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  11. Ed

    Come out of the closet Already!

    June 29, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  12. KTinCA

    Remember that Jesus told the woman who was about to be stoned to go and sin no more. Christ loves all of us sinners but hates our sins. Most don't get that.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  13. Mary

    Christians aren't the only rude ones online. There is an overall general lack of courtesy and people towards others, and the smart-alecky and flippant kneejerk reactions just teach others to behave badly. I see this often in younger people who think cursing and swearing is no big deal. But for some it is. I have never gotten treated as badly by posters as I have been by anonymous postings on the web.

    The only thing I dislike that Christians do is when they threaten judgement upon other beings, or tell them they are wrong or sinful. The bible isn't the ultimate authority for everyone or even some christians. So telling people they are evil or going to hell or whatever just is completely offensive to me.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  14. Marty

    Problem is, if you hate online, you hate. Period.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  15. Roxanne Rosas

    As an atheist, I think this could apply to anyone. There are all kinds of people who enjoy the anonymity the internet provides and they use that to lash out without fear of consequence. It's a lot different for anyone to speak their mind in person and risk a slap in the face. The fact that anyone would go online and say anything hurtful shows their true hypocrisy if they call themselves a christian.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
    • Valerie S.

      I am a Christian, and I agree with you 100%.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:46 am |
  16. debbie

    good job!! we Christians are still human and still in this world, although not of this world. sometimes, most times, that's a bumpy road to walk, but we do strive to show God's love for us and others in what we say and do and walk according to His will. we definitely fail at times. being a follower of Christ does not mean we are perfect in the world's eyes, just in Gods!!!! the difference between us and the world is we are forgiven!! God knows are weaknesses – we ask for forgiveness, it is given, and we continue to ask His guidance and His wisdom for our lives. God Bless You!!

    June 29, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  17. Kaya

    Confessing Christ as savior and putting Him on in baptism does not produce a perfect person, only a saved one. We are all still imperfect, that is why Christ had to die for us. Hopefully all those that profess to be Christians are striving to be like Him, but it is a long journey, and the devil is trying just as hard to make us turn away from Christ.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  18. glenn

    What I think is that they take the message literally: Love your 'neighbour'. So they love their neighbours, but not the rest.
    They take it literally just like the rest of the bible.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Alot of people would rather just ignore what is really meant by "your neighbour" ...

      June 29, 2010 at 7:24 pm |
  19. Jesse

    The sooner religion is gone and we stop relying on thousand year old scripture from desert goat herders, the better.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
    • ard

      You're 100% right. The world will be much much much better without religion and some religious folks who are so intolerant.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
    • jimmy

      Thats so true. There is no greater oppression than organized religion. Whether it be Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Jew, there have been billions of people killed in the name of the lord.

      June 29, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  20. Albert

    This columnist failed to mention another very important point. Jesus said that his "true" followers would show unity and have love amongst themselves. So basically the "Jerk" Christians are not true Christians at all. It's that simple. In fact they have a lot of bloodshed on their hands. Look at all of the anti-christian comments on this post. They are in part because of hypocritical (jerk), Christians bringing reproach upon Gods name. All of the inaccurate, self righteous, and judgmental posts do nothing but draw people away from God. Thanks for helping Satan accomplish his goals you "Jerks".

    June 29, 2010 at 7:18 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.