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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. LaJollaRich

    I'm having the same problem.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:58 pm |
  2. Fiona

    Christians can be amazingly un-Christlike jerks in person, too. The very idea that they can or should be above acting like jerks online - where the standard of behavior is so very low for all - is a sign of arrogance, Mr. Acuff. You say it can be hard to love your neighbor because he may "hate" God, or because he is "actively and violently opposed to everything I believe." Well, why SHOULD he believe what you do? How can you assume that he "hates" God, when it's your God you are talking about, and not his? Even with your "apology," you are demonstrating the main reason the preaching and judging and ranting of so-called Christians online is so abhorrent. It is because those of us out there - good people, intelligent people, people of faith, ethical people, people who may or may not believe that they will earn a happy place in the afterlife (your "heaven") - who do not call ourselves Christian, have to read the rants we would normally close our ears to. Because when you "Christians" commit your thoughts and spoken words to a visual/print medium, they are so often not very Christian at all. Perhaps you should take more of a lesson from that. Your two possible explanations for The Christian Troll do not go deep enough. They don't even make a dent. (I was baptized, confirmed and educated in the Catholic Church, and was involved with a fundamentalist congregation for years. I do know what I am talking about when it comes to fundamentalist "Christians.".)

    June 29, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  3. Christopher

    Here's an idea: Christians are jerks online because they're people. Lots of people are jerks online. Christians don't have magic Jesus power that makes them extra-nice or courteous. I don't see why it's especially interesting that Christians behave just like everyone else does.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
    • Fiona

      That's pretty much what I posted below. But what gets me is the assumption that they could or should be above it. The sin of pride.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      But Christopher...shouldn't they be expected to be extra nice and courteous? I mean, part of claiming to adhere to a moralistic religious faith is that you're to be held to a higher standard, be able to demonstrate the moral precepts of your faith (e.g. turning the other cheek)...otherwise aren't you pretending to believe something you're not living? And let's not forget that Christians in America expect very special political treatment (if not outright authority to dictate things to those of us who aren't).

      June 29, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • LaJollaRich

      Aren't they holier than thou? Praying for everyone like we're all demons.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
    • W0lfman

      Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.: I don't believe your questions are sincere.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    • Jim

      Christians are human and fallen as everyone else – this is true. BUT, we are told we have the Spirit to guide and convict and we have told the King that we will follow His teachings and expectations and when we do not, we are blaspheming the same King we said we would follow. We have the ability through the Spirit to be more and more like Jesus and if we refuse and act like jerks, we are calling God a liar. Jesus said the world will know we are His by our love for one another. Too often we are known for our stupidity and self-centered-ness instead.

      Grace and Peace,
      Jim

      June 29, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      Wolfman - they are absolutely sincere...these are things I honestly wonder, as there's much in the actions of those who profess to be Christian that seems to belie the moral code they claim not just as a shield, but more often as a sword as well...

      June 29, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
    • W0lfman

      Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.: Do you feel that we Christians should water down our beliefs to be politically correct then? To make room for you guys? I'm afraid life IS a battle, the lines are being drawn, and it's going to get a lot worse, because you won't realize that you are part of the problem as well. You would outlaw Christianity, since you blame so much on us Christians.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      Wolfman - absolutely not! I would never say that anyone's religion should be outlawed - that, to be honest, is religion-based thinking - I don't see there be any necessary war or battle lines between anyone. I simply wish to live me life with my beliefs and my freedoms unimpeded by anyone else's beliefs and quite honestly wish the same for you. Atheists are not against God or Christianity or Christians...we simply don't believe in God or that any religion has any more claim on the truth than any other...and yes, it IS easy to point to atrocities done in the name of God and by the religious, but why let that cast aspersions on YOUR belief or what your religion means to you? You certainly didn't lead any inquistion, fly a plane into the twin towers, etc...I do get aggrieved at THAT kind of behavior cloaked in misguided interpretations of scripture, but so do I get aggrievied at any criminal regardless of motive. I suppose it's that religion often is used to shield or excuse the impure or even the downright evil...to the detriment of all, more so to those of you who gently and honestly believe in your own quiet way.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  4. SteveL

    This is a test message.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  5. Ren

    As an Atheist, I encounter wayyyy too many hateful Christians, and Muslims, and even some Jews here and there. 15% of the American population is either Agnostic or Atheist. Please start accepting the fact that we're here to stay, and that our numbers are growing and will continue to grow. We have the same rights that you do. With that being said, I wish peace to all of you.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
    • marilyn

      and peace to you, ren.
      may the Lord pour mercy and grace on you and your friends.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
    • W0lfman

      I am Christian as they come, yet I love Brahms, who was (I think) an atheist, or worse. But you as an atheist possess something very valuable that you are not taking care of properly. What are we who believe in the eternal soul supposed to say, oh, Ren's a great person – too bad (s)he just believes in her(him)self?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
    • marilyn

      replying to wolfman, fellow Christian. what are we supposed to say? how about...yes, you are made as a wonderful creature...i pray that the Creator opens your eyes to His love.
      16"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

      17"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3)

      June 29, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  6. AJ

    I think all the points in the article are valid and Christians should definitely learn from them. But, the question does remain, why does CNN feel liberty to so regularly "correct" the errors of Christians disproportionately compared to other religions and sociocultural or special-interest groups. When is the last time they published an article "correcting" Muslims – just casting all offensive behaviors committed by individuals as those committed by "Muslims." CNN has published about 20 pro-gay articles in the past week. Any frinedly corrections for the "gay" community?

    June 29, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
    • Tom

      We should feel blessed than CNN allows articles about religion to be published since they are very liberal and will throw out the "christians are not being tolerant of our reporting" card.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      When a group makes assertions about itself and then does not live up to those assertions, it becomes a great target for the media. The media loves to point out hypocrisy since that gets readers. Maybe we should find support in the notion that others hold us to high standards, especially when it is the standards we have selected for ourselves.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • Damiana

      Ahhh, another plankster going on a mote hunt. What were the odds?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
  7. LaJollaRich

    G-D did not get a woman pregnant. There's only one way to get pregnant on this planet. Only one.

    If the premise is a lie, the entire story is a lie.

    Do you honestly believe a women got pregnant by G-D? Do you honestly believe a woman got pregnant and was still a virgin? Bwaaahahahaha!

    June 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
    • Tom

      This comment forum is baout how to not be an online jerk regarding beliefs. It is not a forum to debate beliefs, you should go somewhere else if you want to do that.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
    • W0lfman

      I believe that you have a filthy mind.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
    • nels d

      Jesus forgive her, she knows not what she says

      June 29, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
    • harley

      you could pray that nels, without letting everyone on the blog know...

      June 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
    • sellman

      Half of the New Testament is written by Paul of Tarsus and Mark– neither EVER met or heard the man Jesus speak. The real apostles of Jesus were driven out of the Isreal area by the Roman Empire. The "Christianity" being taught today is NOT the real Christianity. Roman Emperor Constantine had the Bible compiled and voted upon- this is the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church. All other Christian groups were outlawed and destroyed.

      Jesus never claimed to be the creation of God impregnating Mary (neither did Mary) all of that was created after Jesus died. They had to compete with the Romans and most other civilizations who had kings claiming Divine Rule.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
    • W0lfman

      sellman: This is only your belief – I have heard so many from scholars.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  8. marilyn

    if people judged Beethoven by bad pianists' performances, it'd be a bleak day in Beethovenland.
    sometimes you can just barely hear the genius behind some plunking...
    it's really a tragedy that alot of us Christians so blur the beauty of the God we love. and yet...maybe, just maybe, there are some days when some of us DO let Him shine through.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
  9. Gene

    Here are two shocking possibilities for some (not all) of the online bad behavior by Christians:
    1. Some who claim to be Christians may be lying.
    2. Some who claim to be Christians may really believe that they are. However, the sad truth is that many who think they follow Christ have been grossly deceived.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
    • Tom

      Only God can judge the heart as whether someone truly applies effort and succeeds in their journey to honor Him. As humans, I we can do is address poor behavior and spare the judgements.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  10. nels d

    Sweet Jesus, forgive their blasphomy. Watch over them.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  11. Surthurfurd

    I have found it frustrating that I can be called a unAmerican, Communist, Socialist, and all sorts things by people who are Christians when I use Christ's words to question if we are acting like Christians. It seems to be a defensive response. It also makes me wonder how well we understand the religion we claim. Even worse, we have a terrible habit of casting not noticing the log in our own eye and still assuming that Samaritans (at least the modern version of them) are by culture inferior to us even if they are the only ones who stop to help the wounded.

    I fear we have developed a social club and we call it 'Christians' and assume that is the same as being Christian. In this club we are expected to hold others to standards but not ourselves. We are asked to do better. We can do better. Jesus will help us. Fellow Christians will help us. Being Christian is hard... very hard... often even lonely feeling hard... lets at least get back to using the Bible to guide ourselves and away from using it to bash others.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • W0lfman

      You may view it as a social club, but the reality is, it is the Body of Christ.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      W0lfman, I may have not been clear then. I do not think Christianity is a social club. I just fear that far too many people do and many of them act like they have a "Get out of Hell Free" card.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:51 pm |
  12. LaJollaRich

    The concept of G-D existed millenia before jesus was confused as a god.

    Jesus Christ = Christianity.

    G-D does not = Christianity.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • Tom

      Jesus is God to Christians, so what do you believe?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
    • LaJollaRich

      Jesus prayed to G-D (he called him 'Father').

      Christians are confused.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
    • harley

      lajolla- holla holla holla, read John 14:9

      June 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • Tom

      I am not being a jerk but only stating a fact. You do not know what you are talking about. Jesus a new god 1200 years ago? You really should educate yourself on Christianity – est 33 AD (that's almost 2000 years ago) initially a Jewish sect until conversion of pagans and the Council of Nicea in 325 AD defined the Holy Trinity

      June 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • W0lfman

      LaJollaRich is Jewish.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • Tom

      Even if LaJolla is Jewish, he could still educate himself on a timeline.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Interesting comment, W0lfman. And so was Jesus. So what? I think I know what you're trying to imply.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  13. Jeff

    People like Christians to be soft and meek because it makes it easier to push them around and bully them.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
    • LaJollaRich

      One word...Inquisitions. Christians aren't weak. Never have been. They'll kill you if you don't believe.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
    • W0lfman

      Yes, then when the Christians get angry, they say, Oh, they are not a very good Christians!

      June 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
    • W0lfman

      LaJollaRich: Was our Savior killed by Christians?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  14. Jason

    I'm an atheist. People hate because they hate. Even Jesus was reprimanded by his followers for withholding his "healing powers" from those of a different group.

    Frankly, just as most religious folks, I too believe everyone should think like me. I think we would be a happier, more peaceful planet. But I am also a realist, and know in my heart that not everyone can be as enlightened as me (...yes, thats sarcasm...). Regardless, I just wish somehow, some way, we could look at one another and see the flesh and blood, and the innate beauty of that flesh and blood, and not stop at the belief system.

    One way or the other, Christians need to know one thing about me. I love you.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
    • harley

      i love you jason, i wish there were more like you.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • marilyn

      jason, you speak kindly. the grace (unconditional kindness) you give is beautiful. may the Lord bless you.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  15. nels d

    Jesus, help me love my enemies.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  16. harley

    boston fans are obnoxious.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  17. LaJollaRich

    Believing in jesus as a deity is Christian.

    Believing in G-D has no religion.

    Don't confuse jesus with G-D. They're not the same concepts.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
    • Tom

      Your post makes absolutely no sense.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
    • LaJollaRich

      Allow me to put in small words...

      Only those that believe Jesus is the Christ (The Anointed) are Christians. Jesus is a new god circa 1200 years ago. Read a history book.

      Those that believe in G-D only are not Christians.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
    • Tom

      I am not being a jerk but only stating a fact. You do not know what you are talking about. Jesus a new god 1200 years ago? You really should educate yourself on Christianity – est 33 AD (that's almost 2000 years ago) initially a Jewish sect until conversion of pagans and the Council of Nicea in 325 AD defined the Holy Trinity.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  18. LaJollaRich

    Christians are obnoxious.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  19. Rob

    I was born a Christian and have since founded my own religion. I call it "You don't have to believe in a god/God to be a good and moral person." In fact I find myself to be a better person than most of my christian friends who preach one thing and do another. And yet they have condemned me to their hell simply because I don't believe in god. But if they were to simply exercise some introspection, they would find themselves smothered in hypocrisy. Which gets me to my point – hypocrisy. Responses in places like this often quickly turn to name-calling and rude comments. And my far from scientific analysis (and perhaps biased opinion) of these responses is that it is the conservative right who tend to go down that path first. Maybe it's born of passion about beliefs. I think it's rude and hypocritical. We'd all be better off keeping it to heartfelt, intelligent, insightful, constructive debate. I need a beer.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
    • madatmyselfforevenleavingacomment

      Everyone knows you don't have to believe in God to be a good person. The Bible (both Old and New Testament) provide us with many examples of what happens to bad people, good people, why we should love our neighbor, not be judgmental, etc. It's a learning tool. I challenge any non-believer to read the book word for word from beginning to end. I suggest starting with Proverbs – you'll be amazed at what you read....

      June 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
    • Tom

      Alleluia! Proverbs is awesome and are lessons for anyone of any belief at any given time.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      Um, madatmyselfforevenleavingacomment...I've read the bible cover to cover (twice), the Quran, the Bhagvad Gita, and a few other books here and there...there's much in the bible that demonstrates laudable precepts, but there's FAR more that demonstrates petty, tribal, murderous, misogynistic, xenophobic barbarism, including, most notably, but its supposed author. I'm curious (honestly): do you just ignore all those parts?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
  20. Benjamin Al-Cohan

    Hey Bro,
    We may, or may not miss you in heaven. What's that ting say about the "log" in your own eye. I sure hope the good Lord
    is a lot less judgemental that you seem to be ( I know, a judgement too). Good luck with this, and make lots of money selling out the faith (another judgement). Shalom

    June 29, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
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