In case you have been living under a rock, social media is a thing – and it’s a BIG thing. I have nothing new to say about how we have become a society of instant gratification and instant communication. It has all been said by folks who say it better than me. However, I wanted to take just a moment and speak to the issue from a Christian perspective. You might want to buckle up for a moment…
The term “moral outrage” itself gives us a sense of nobility. “Hey, I’m just making people aware of a moral wrong. That means I’m right.” There are some occasions when outrage is warranted. Recent (May 2020) events in Minneapolis represent good reasons for outrage. Most outrage, particularly on social media, does not represent those types of issues. Rather, it is outrage for the sake of outrage. My friend, Bishop Bill Woodruff, suggested I listen to a couple of brief lectures by Jonathan Haidt. I recommend that you listen to him. He discusses the idea of being stuck in a “moral matrix” and how we vehemently, often aggressively, disagree with those in another matrix simply because their opinions differ from our own.
Our technology allows for this outrage to be instant. It is constantly at our fingertips. I can publicly proclaim my outrage in seconds. It turns out that research suggests that, at least on social media, outrage is motivated by one of two things: 1. a feeling of being virtuous (i.e., a good person) or 2. publicity.
Now, before you write me off, read a little farther…
If I am outraged because I believe someone has done wrong, is doing wrong, or is going to do wrong, I am left with a feeling of being right. In fact, I am more right than the person I am outraged toward. From this idea, we can easily see this type of outrage has a personal motive of feeling superior more than anything else.
Now, let’s be clear. There are times when it is very clear that something terrible has been done. Outrage may very well be warranted at that point. I said I was going to speak to Christians, so I’ll do that now. What is the purpose of that post, tweet, or share? Are you trying to bring attention to a real issue or are you using it to feel better about your own perspective?
Again, this is not suggest your perspective is wrong. Not at all. Rather, it is a question of motivation. Why am I posting this? What is my purpose? Am I denigrating someone else for the purpose of feeling better about my own morality? I’m reminded of Romans 12:3:
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think
The truth of the matter is, we are all wrong about something. In fact, we are wrong about many things…
Publicity is an issue that extends far beyond the desires of celebrities. You know that Instagram photo that 100 people “liked”? That’s publicity. What about the one you thought was amazing but no one “liked” or commented? That’s a publicity issue as well.
Many social media posts, especially “outrage” types of posts are made for the sake of publicity. The post is made. Everyone of your “friends” that agree with you respond. You are instantly reinforced for posting the outrage. The cycle repeats.
If you are a Christian, I encourage you to ask yourself a couple of questions. First, does this post honor God? If the answer is no, delete it and move on. The second question is similar to the first, is my motive to honor God, lift someone up, or bringing attention to a genuine issue? If the answer is no, delete it and move on.
“Publicity” is addictive. Outrage produces publicity from half (likely) of your acquaintances. It is a trap. If you want some actual scientific data on how much of a trap this is, check out this article from Trevor Haynes.
Ephesians chapter 6 teaches us that Christians are continuously in the process of spiritual warfare. Paul reminded us in verse 12 that our enemy is not other people. Rather, spiritual wickedness. Yet, we spend a lot of time attacking people. We do so, often, in hypocritical ways.
For example, I was reading some random posts from individuals who say they are Christians. I saw their outrage at a particular politician being called derogatory names. At the same time, they were using equally derogatory names toward their politician’s rival. Another example is I recently saw one Christian attack another with no real information. Instead, instant outrage took over and one jumped to conclusions that did not reflect reality at all.
The devil wins in both of those. Satan is described as a spiritual enemy. He has schemes (Eph. 6:13). It appears that in 2020 instant outrage is one of his schemes. When we get focused on things other than the mission that Christ gave the church, he wins. Instant outrage via social media has shown to be an easy way for him to get us distracted. Not only do we get feelings of superiority and publicity, we also get a divided church.
Pray first. Ask God if He would like for you to respond and how He would like you to respond. Be honest. If we did this, a lot of inflammatory, instant outrage social media posts would simply disappear.
Second, resist the temptation to feel right or to gain publicity. Make sure you aren’t trying to convince yourself you have a more noble motive than the person who would disagree. Remember what Jeremiah 17:9 says:
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?
Next, remember that we all have a tendency to say (and type) things that are thoughtless and destructive. James 3:6 reminds us:
And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.
Fourth, be sure you are not jumping to conclusions. Do you know the whole story? Are you going off of second, third…25th hand information? We often bear false witness (Ex. 20:16) because we do not actually know the details. The devil is more than willing to fill in the details with things that cause outrage. Don’t assume you know the other person’s motives.
Finally, don’t put yourself in the position of a victim with every little thing that happens. Carly Simon sang “You’re So Vain” in 1972. The modern version is, “You’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you.” Well, it was. If you have conflict or even questions, contact the person directly. A simple misunderstanding, jumping to conclusions, or desire to be right can permanently destroy relationships.
It’s time that Christians refocus on the right things. That is, living the way Jesus instructed us to live and engaging in the mission He gave us to fulfill. Constant outrage over this and that is an easy way for the devil to rock the church to sleep. It doesn’t feel “sleepy.” In fact, it feels as if we are actively engaged in a spiritual battle.
It might feel good to believe we are taking the morally superior route. It might feel even better to get all the “amens” (likes, shares, comments) from others. However, that feeling of superiority and all the amens are little more than the devil’s spiritual lullabies for a church that has lost it’s focus on the Gospel and the Great Commission.
Lord, help us to refocus our churches and our very lives on the mission that You gave us. Remind us of what You have called us to do. Help us to grow beyond ourselves enough to see that reaching people with Your Truth is the mission you gave the church. Amen!
A Gentle Answer by Scott Sauls
Christians in the Age of Outrage by Ed Stetzer