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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. ap

    i've been a jerk online, something i am convicted about, esp on hated topics where there's usually someone coming at me, i will here a voice says don't get involved in that conversation and when i ignore it, soon as you know i've said something i shouldn't have and probably hurt the feelings of the meanie person in question. thanks for this which is confirmation, i will try to do better next time

    June 29, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  2. Jon

    Seriously? REALLLY?? We have insane jihadists calling for death of Western civillization on YouTube, but let's talk about how CHRISTIANS are jerks online?

    Let me think of the last time a Christian called for my DEATH if I didn't convert to his or her belief system.

    Uh . . . . NEVER!!

    Wake up people.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
    • Liutgard

      Dude, every heard of the Crusades?And did you know that Elizabeth I had more Catholics burnt than her sister Mary had Protestants? For that matter, have you ever read about the lovely 'Christians' in the early days of white presence on the American continent? Or in the Colonies- ever read about Anne Hutchinson? Or the witch trials? Or more modernly- R.J. Rushdoony? And I suppose that Fred Phelps has been calling for hugs and kisses?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
    • Eric Cromwell

      That would be any extremist christian you admit to being pagan to. and yes christian extremists exist.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
    • Captain Nemo

      >Let me think of the last time a Christian called for my DEATH if I didn't convert to his or her belief system.

      Reverend Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church. That took me about 30 seconds, including looking up how he spells Westboro.

      Arizona pastor Steve Anderson says, "I hope that God strikes Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy."

      Imagine how many more I could come up with if I wanted to waste more time educating you.

      Don't say things that are easily proved not true if you don't want to look stupid.

      July 7, 2010 at 1:23 am |
    • peace2all

      @Jon.....In addition to the examples that @Captain Nemo offered.......but, also recently, I believe in Michigan(militia) who were going to assassinate many, many people that did not agree with their beliefs. They had high-powered weapons, including but not limited to automatic weapons.....and yes....they were spouting off all kinds of bible versus including the NT...and real heavy on the book of revelation.

      Also, wow....If you are an abortion DR. look out....hey....have any of them been killed...?

      Jon....Please lose your dilusion of the christian holier than thou....stuff...

      Good try though.....thanks for playing...

      July 7, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  3. Imbecile

    It's simple. Christians are jerks online because they also tend to be jerks offline. Judgmentalism is the Christian calling card whether it's yelling at gays, women outside planned parenthood clinics, or muslims. You can pretend that there are hipster Christians out there, but no one believes you, except the hipster Christians.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
  4. Andrew

    Excellent! Love every word. You have a unique way of cutting through all the clutter. Keep it up!

    June 29, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
  5. Tom

    I have been guilty of being a jerk online but not to other Christians but to the liberal atheists that are very intolerant of those who believe in a higher power. Unfortunately, there are many godless and egoistic people out there that love to troll the belief blogs and start stuff. Go the the Facebook page of the bible and see how much these people attack. Regardless, I am wrong fro attacking these people eventhough they spew venom.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
    • ArrKay

      If you think Christians are any more tolerant of us "non-believers" than we are of you/them, I suggest you try spending some time trying to read comment boards as objectively as you can muster, and see if you can still come to that conclusion.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
    • Tom

      I'm sure there are people that claim they are Christian attacking atheists online and it is wrong too. My point is that many people will attack back when attacked and the better thing to do is not to fall into that trap.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
    • Damiana

      So your version of Jesus is okay with the fact that you act like a schmuck, as long as you only do it to atheists (who, of course, have it coming), and not to your fellow Christians? Whom do you think this essay was written about, anyhow?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  6. Dan

    Which came first, the Christian or the jerk? I think some people adopt the Christian religion, and particularly the more rigid and narrow-minded sects, because it gives them a sense of certainty and superiority. (That and of course the fact that their parents were of the same religion.)

    Note that "adopting the Christian religion" is not the same as being a Christian.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • Tom

      Here, here. Spot on – many like to assume labels of lots of things but do not truly live it. That being said, true Christians mess up all the time but faith without works is dead.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
  7. evensteven

    People are afraid.
    Some Christians are afraid.
    When a person becomes afraid they get defensive because they feel vulnerable.
    When they get defensive and vulnerable they can become angry like a cornered animal seeking to defend itself.
    And when they become angry they sometimes become aggressive "jerks".

    Each person needs to find a source of "peace within". For a Christian, it might be meditating on Christ. For someone else, they might connect with nature. Others might listen to music, dance, or sing. We need to respect that not everyone has the same means for finding their "peace within" and be tolerant of that. Too many people are failing to find any "peace within" right now and so we need it more now than ever.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  8. Dayna

    Thank you for your article. I have long been bothered by people claiming to be Christians while judging everyone and everything. I don't mind people expressing their beliefs;however, if they are true Christians they should do so while condemning opposing opinions.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  9. Chris

    Christians are people too? Now way!!!!

    June 29, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  10. God Loving

    The article is logically flawed. Basically the whole argument is a fallacy – fallacy of false alternatives, that is. The author explains a phenomenon, and then provides two possible explanations. By doing so he implies that there are no other possible explanations (one would assume that he has done his homework and has tried to be thorough). Other possible explanations that come to mind are:

    – Some Christians (especially the ones that live in the south and the ones that have a thick southern accent) are hypocrites
    – Some Christians are jerks
    – Some Christians have low tolerance and can't help it
    – Some Christians are narrow-minded
    – Some Christians are not very smart, and can't apply God's rules in real life situations

    This list is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  11. Chris

    The answer is really simple. Some Christians are jerks online because some of every group you choose to sample are jerks. Face it, a great many people call themselves Christians, but only a very few actually practice the teachings of Jesus all the time.

    You have pastors preaching hate and intolerance in many churches, which is directly opposed to what the Bible says to do, yet their flock absorbs it all in, acts accordingly, and still has the audacity to call themselves Christians.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all Christians are like this or even that is solely a Christian problem. It's mainly a part of the human condition and all sorts of people, of all races and religions are this way.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  12. Pope Jon

    It’s absolutely amazing how many “Christians" here sight this reason and that as to why it’s ok for them to judge others. I think this article barely scratches the truth about judgmental Christians. By no way is it limited to the internet. I see them on TV, I hear them on the radio, I see them protesting on the streets, nothing about love or acceptance but all about hate, intolerance and refusal to understand what they don’t know about. This in your face and in your business approach to Christianity turns me off to your religion like nothing else.

    I have only read about one Christian leader in the main stream modern times that preached love thy enemy and Martin Luther King proved it with his life. No one has even come remotely close since. The rest of main stream Christian leaders I see and here only preach hate for your enemy and don’t bother trying to understand anything that’s not the Christian way because its just wrong.

    I don’t want to say all Christians are bad or are up to no good. That’s just not true. But If Christian leaders and all the hateful and judgmental Christians (which seem to be the ones that make to most noise) stopped with the hate and actually lived by "Love your neighbor as yourself", people all over the world would be falling over each other to join your religion. Until then, count me out.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  13. VegasRage

    Sometimes? You see a topic where Christian's are compelled to come and save the rest of the board and there goes the legitimate discussion. Suddenly the topic changes to the relevance of the bible and how all should repent and see the light they fail to help shine. You can't debate with a person who only heeds the words in a book written some 2000 years ago, you might as well debate with a speak to me Barbie. You'll have a more dynamic conversation by shaking a Magic 8 Ball and looking at what it says on the bottom.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  14. Donna

    Just on online. ......?

    June 29, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  15. Jesse

    "No mystical wisdom that must be found on a mountain peak after growing a ZZ Top-worthy beard." Yeah. That's offensive. I know countless Orthodox Christian monastics who do nothing but pray all day. Part of their ascetic, their spiritual discipline, is to grow their beards out, and some of them sit on top of a mountain. They're as much part of your Christianity as anyone else. To belittle their efforts is off putting.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
    • Pieter Strom

      "To belittle their efforts is off putting."

      There are people who spend their entire lives collecting rare Coke cans and bottles. Just because someone invests large effort in something does not mean it is worthy of respect. Given that there are several hundred major religions, if god exists then a lot of people on the planet are wasting huge efforts worshipping non-existent gods. Is yours real? Are you sure?

      June 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  16. Jason

    Wow, you hit this one on the head. I am a Christian and am a real jerk online. I play a lot of online poker and feel free to rip anyone who strikes my fancy. If I think sombody raises a little too much for the hand they have I call them stupid and then continue to pick on them all session. In fact last night I had a 2 hour argument online that I would have never had in person. You brought up some very valid points and have made me reflect. I will make an effort to be nicer online and think of this article before I let the insults go.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
    • ArrKay

      Why rip when you can just take their money?

      June 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  17. Robert

    I don't think Christians are any more rude online than anyone else. It's a significant part of the way we all interact with strangers online. It wouldn't be as fun otherwise. If Christians tried to be nicer simply because they think they are different than everybody, hypocrisy would significantly increase.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  18. edobner

    Just a -few minutes ago surfing the internet, a came upon your blog, and I am glad for it. The words of Christ that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
    Our answer automatically is, of course I love myself, it's just so hard to love some of my neighbors. That is precisely where the key to this problem is, I don't think that it is given everyone loves himself or herself. I do not think that is a given, I don't think we love ourselves. If we did, we would not be in the mess we put ourselves into individually and collectively. I am convinced we can love our neighbors only to the degree we love ourselves.
    http://www.gincomes/6689

    June 29, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  19. Reason

    Religious people are jerks on line because it follows with their natural characteristic of being pretentious, which is required when is involved with organized crime (oops I meant "Organized religion." Organized crime has so much in common with organized religion I easily confuse the two). Organized religion involves people who are more worried about appearances than true character or living a faith. If their true character reflected their religion, they would not be jerks on line. It fits with everything else about them.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  20. Frenulum

    Christianity - it's a cult, just like all other religions. The joke's on the believers, and they'll never, ever get the punchline. Too bad those of us who are rational have to live with them.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:11 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.