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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. Michael

    Thank you for an inciteful and articulate look at where we Christians need to focus more: ourselves and the authenticity of our walk as it relates to how well and how consistently we are imitating Christ.

    Yo, you like laid it down like concrete! Like a bomb dropping down upon my brittle heart!

    June 29, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
  2. _-0-_

    I apologize, I'm a hater But only to mean people.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  3. wesjoenixon

    And this is the problem I have with Christianity. It's 100% with us you live, against us you die. Am I really supposed to believe that milllions of Muslim men women and children–who love the smae God as Christians–will burn in hell forever because they don't recognize Christ as a diety?

    June 29, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
    • XO

      Your problem is that you keep looking around you at what others are doing. Look to God, not man. Scriptures are pretty clear about this. An entire world (about 1 billion at the time) defined right and wrong based on what everyone else was doing. Go directly to God forget what mankind is doing. If I jump off a bridge, would you follow?

      June 29, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  4. Janet

    I think religious Christians can be mean because they believe they can get forgiven every week and start anew. If they did not have that option and had to live with their sins, they would probably be better people like the rest of us Christians who do not attend church every week.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  5. joe

    We all know that PEOPLE can be jerks online. The fact that the author narrows the article down to Christians implies one of two things about his opinion:
    1) possibly the author is saying Christians are WORSE than other people about this, which merits singling them out.
    or
    2) the author is addressing the belief that Christians are fundamentally more moral than non-Christians – which is why it may be news-worthy to say they can ALSO be jerks online.

    Adressing the former – Christians (and people of most religions) inherently believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. There is pretty much no way to express that sentiment to someone who you are calling wrong without sounding like a jerk to them. By comparison, someone who has not decided which religion (if any) to believe (an agnostic) may sound less jerkish.

    Given all the wars and mass murders perpetrated by christians, protestant vs catholic bombings in ireland, christian vs muslim machete massacres in africa WHICH HAPPEN, I don't think I need to dignify the latter assumption with a response.
    Christians are people. People are sometimes good and sometimes jerky. Doesn't really matter which book they say they follow.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • XO

      Cain and Able spoke and walked with God int he garden before Cane killed Able. Adam and Eve ate from the tree. Belief, faith non-belief does nothing for the underlying moral condition of mankind.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
    • ArrKay

      Really, I think he's just pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians being jerks online. That they're supposed to love their neighbors or whatever it is, and yet some turn into big jerks when they're behind a computer screen (or out picketing funerals).

      But like you said, doesn't really matter which book one follows.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  6. XO

    This was a philosophical waste of time.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
  7. Anti-Religion

    Sounds like Christians are a bunch of hypocrite's...

    FYI, just because you donate money to the church or attend service every Sunday does not make you better than everyone else.

    Get off your high horse and then the world will be a better place. Cuz guess what your poo smells just like mine.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
    • charlie

      ah, the Christian-bashing News Network strikes again. anti, be sure to bash some jews, muslims, hindus and budhists – or you're nothing but a hypocrite. you make a horrible atheist.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  8. aginghippy

    I frequent an atheist web board that is clearly named as such, yet we have had many Christians come to our discussion forums to tell us we are all going to hell, that atheists are all fools who deny the truth, bla bla bla...
    So, for the most part, I have yet to meet a Christian online who WASN'T a jerk!

    June 29, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
    • Tina

      I second that!!!

      June 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
    • ArrKay

      I'm an atheist, but I can't say I ever feel the need to connect with other atheists. An atheist web board? Really? What goes on there, cackling and links to fstdt?

      June 29, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • Amy

      Very very much agreed. Hateful people.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
    • harley

      i agree amy, i think mother teresa secretly hated the dying lepers she pulled out of the gutters. very hateful people.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:01 am |
  9. Tina

    The only true Christian died on the cross.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
  10. hank27

    This has been one of the most enjoyable reads in a long time................we are different, but there are similarites in our differences .........and in the end if the only thing we are left with ............is a shared belief that the highest principle of life is LOVE (which is supreem even to an athiest) then – let's show others that our love delivers us where we are meant to be.................. we have all come from a Bible that thaught us the struggles of the past ....we are here to create a new living Bible. We are here to live for that one word ............we are here to achieve love through the delieverance of each of us to that one word! To reach that submit – call it Christ, Allah, God, evolution..its up to us! and we need a lof of it right now!

    June 29, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  11. Bea

    "For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." Well, we are humans! I am a Christian and I strive to follow the message of Jesus knowing that it requires a lot of work!

    June 29, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  12. Rollo Tomassi

    Few things reveal a person's true inner character better than alcohol and anonymity. The social barriers that used to prevent christians from voicing their doubts, concerns, judgement and struggles were cast off when semi-anonymous social media sprang to life.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  13. wesjoenixon

    I want someone to explain what I call the casual cruelty of Christians. Christians can be nice, and they can be some of the most cruel people I' know. One example, my best friend's wife. He's working ona PhD at Fuller in Pasadena and she's teaching 3rd grade, living with Jesus in their lives. One day a stray cay poops on her front porch and she held that animal against the floorboard of her car until she got to the top of the mountains that surround the San Fernando Valley. The cat was tossed out to it's death and she happily retold me the story after church one fine afternoon. My responce was to ask her what good any God was that didn't stop one from doing something like that. "It's just an animal" she told me....

    June 29, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
    • mary

      Many will call on his name, and say they did great things in his name..And he will say "get away I never knew you"..
      Don't let the fact a person calls themselves a christian fool you..

      June 29, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • XO

      @Mary: Agreed!. And people need to look to God, not man. To God, not a preacher. An entire world (about 1 billion) was wrong once and wiped out by a flood. It's a fair gift, God offers it freely. Many will simply just not want it.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
    • ArrKay

      A population of 1 billion? Really? So, what, in 1800 or so?

      June 29, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
    • Amy

      Shocking but not surprising in the least. Most "Christians" are the most hateful, judgmental, exclusive people I know.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      WOW. And I was shaking my head when my devout, sweet little old lady Christian neighbor told me her husband always kills every snake she sees in their yard. When I said, but those kinds are harmless, they just eat bugs and mice she said "I don't care. I hate snakes." So much for God's creation, then! And others are just as thoughtless about other people.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  14. Lori

    People of every faith can be jerks... online and off. We are human and therefore, not perfect.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  15. mary

    I have found that being a "christian" on line, is like being perceived the "geek" at school .
    The anti christians seem to have large numbers of followers now, and there is the "get them back" mentality..Which is extreme.
    People..This is 2010,~! Christians don't act like they did in the old testament~! So no excuse for the anti group to lash out to 'their' extreme ..It's absurd. Christians don't follow the rules in the old testament.
    The anti christians are name calling and screaming about things in the old testament..
    If you want to complain about christians, at least know what you are complaining about..

    June 29, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  16. Jim

    "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." – What else did Jesus Say- " REPENT!" " GO & SIN NO MORE" Love warns the Wicked of their way it does not sit idly by & say It is ok to do what ever you want , Just ask for forgiveness & you'll get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said
    "You shall know them by their fruits" Why will God Judge the WHOLE earth in Revelation??? Because mankind would not repent of its murders, thefts,fornication's, lies & other deeds God feels are abominations in His sight . If God calls something wrong, evil, abomination then no mater what you think It will all ways be so. The "Church" will receive harsher judgment because knowing what God said they choose to obey their lusts & not God.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  17. LaLaLauren

    Amen!

    And yes... there are many Christians who are jerks PERIOD. I don't know what Bible they're reading or what church they might be attending but some people go around spreading the word of Jesus with hate and absolutely no compassion. I really believe – were he to show up right now and see this behavior – Jesus would grab a megaphone and climb to the highest pulpit exclaiming:

    "No no no! Y'all! this is NOT what that whole 'dying for your sins' thing was about! Let's review and I'll answer any questions you might have afterwards... and, yes, there WILL be a final exam so pay attention!"

    Until that happens, I suppose we'll just have to have compassion of our own for those whose interpretations are vastly altered from the original teachings.

    Peace, Love and Compassion!

    June 29, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  18. ryan

    you have an opportunity to contemplate a real issue here and that is your takeaway? you, sir, are the problem and not the solution.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  19. ryan

    it's not religion; it's the internet. the anonymity it provides has a tendency to make people feel unaccountable for their words. it is a very easy trap to fall into but once you recognize it for the cowardice that it is you will be more likely to catch yourself when the urge strikes to broadcast irresponsible, hateful messages.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  20. Blazes

    I love it when someone illustrates the entire article. Nice.

    June 29, 2010 at 7:38 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.