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What To Do with Christian Leaders Who Condemn People via Tweet?

Long-distance condemnation of people via Twitter posts makes a mockery of real, godly ministry.
| Jan 22, 2019 | 3 comments

At World Magazine, Megan Basham gently but firmly calls out Christian leaders for their eager participation in a social media mob.

She doesn’t name them or shame them. That’s more gracious than some of these leaders, who were willing to consign their targets to guilt before God and man: the slandered Catholic high-school students at the March for Life.

Prominent pastors, theologians, and Bible teachers quickly expressed outrage. “Let’s be clear, this isn’t simple hate, it’s demonic activity,” tweeted one pastor. Another publicly wondered if college admissions offices would post their pictures with the message “Do not admit.” A theologian commented, “This is white supremacist terrorism.” Others posted videos that showed a still image of the student’s smiling face next to pictures of smiling Nazi youth and young civil rights era segregationists.

Finally, a leading Bible teacher with nearly a million social media followers tweeted, “I cannot shake the terror of adolescents already indoctrinated in enough hate and disrespect to smile that chillingly and jeer without shame or fear of God. Uncurbed, this utter glee in dehumanizing is what humanitarian horrors are made of.” She added in a later tweet, “It reeks of the vomit of hell.”1

Out of curiosity, I looked up each quoted phrase to see who said it. Only one can still be located. It was that of the “leading Bible teacher with nearly a million social media followers.” Unlike the others, her tweet stands un-recanted. However, even that tells us nothing other than, at best, she hasn’t been paying attention to updated news reports.2

This all started with an edited video.3 But it was blown up by two other sources.

First, of course, were news outlets. As one friend of mine remarked, they may as well have said, “Hey, we just pointed out the accused and passed out rocks! We didn’t know anyone was gonna THROW them!”

Second, the people threw rocks. Including the above-quoted Christian leaders.

Stunning plot twist: this all goes down on (sigh) Twitter

What’s the common denominator in all of those quotes?

In this case, these Christian leaders have been expelling their judgments into the location that increasingly resembles Hell’s spittoon—Twitter.

At best, this is so perplexing. Who has bewitched them?

In short, this not an example of godly Christian leadership. Ever.

Not at a distance, not in 280 characters or fewer, not without having been there with that person, in person, and having had some clue about what was happening.

“Demonic activity”? “The vomit of Hell”? Excuse me, yesteryear’s cultural fundamentalists just called. They want back their scholarly criticisms of Beatles records.

And not with this kind of gospel grace-less rhetoric. “Demonic activity”? “The vomit of Hell”? Excuse me, yesteryear’s cultural fundamentalists just called. They want back their scholarly criticisms of Beatles records.

I’m afraid I’ve already been hearing examples like this. It’s particularly bad when Christian leaders, including big-name pastors, get into wars about “social justice” issues over Twitter. Assuming the best about these spats, few participants act as graciously they would if they were together on a panel at some conference someplace. Or in the same pew at a local church under (mostly) godly leadership. On Twitter, their accusations fly. It’s worse than the apocryphal(?) accounts of Southern church grandmas who shun one another over different preferences for the building’s new carpet.

In fact, this kind of long-distance condemnation of people via Twitter posts makes a mockery of real, godly ministry.

It shows lack of discernment about the ways rumors spread in secular and social media. In this case, you don’t even need to agree with the accusations of “left-wing media bias.” You need only understand that people are gonna people. If provoked, they will form a moralistic pile-on before they even know what guilty or innocent body is pinned at the bottom.

Why do Christian leaders keep doing this on Twitter?

Why does this keep happening? And without hint of awareness of the Apostle Paul’s command (1 Timothy 3) that teaching elders must not be quarrelsome?

My only working theory (again, trying to presume the best) is that some of these Christian leaders might end up leading sheltered lives.

I don’t mean they haven’t seen hard times. In fact, some of them may have seen a lot of hard times.

But perhaps they’ve undergone their worst pushback, in their lives and ministries, from very limited sets of evangelical groups.

I can easily imagine being, say, a popular Christian leader—even a gospel-teaching leader—with a conservative audience. Imagine the kinds of opposition I would face every day. But a lot of it would likely come from subsets of my own audience, always complaining about something or other. Sometimes the complaints are legit. Other times, not so much.

Either way, I can imagine, over time, I would become achingly familiar with this opposition from “my” group. And, by contrast, I might start to think far more positively, even naively, about people who are not in that group.

I might fail to discern their nastiness as well as I can discern my own people’s nastiness.

Such as progressivist activists. Or media reporters—or advocates from competing religions.

Mix this with the ever-present temptation to be the “good cop” Christian, among the faith’s critics, and that’s a disastrous brew.

And mix this with another potent ingredient—”I’ve found moral truths that church has (maybe) Forgotten About!”—and the consequences could be worse.

What I can do

I can try to empathize with Christian leaders, pastors, and their followers. They’re people too. They’re not perfect.

On social media, as in real life, they’re going to sin. They’re going to repeat slander. Sometimes they may even cause slander.

There, but by the grace of God, go I. And again, I can’t imagine the pressures and temptations these leaders face every day.

But I think that perhaps not issuing moral edicts via Tweet, like a KJV-only pastor railing against beer from the pulpit, may help them avoid another temptation.

Well, if I encounter one of these folks in person, I’ll suggest it. But I certainly won’t suggest this to them over Twitter.

Anyway, several of these folks have already withdrawn their tweets. Others have issued apologies. Good for them. That’s how we do things in the Church. Unlike the heathen “justice” mobs, Christ’s people actually believe in overlooking some offenses and being willing to forgive a repentant person’s worst and most repeated offenses.

However, if any leader or pastor just keeps doing this, or has not retracted and/or apologized for his or her (at best) rash behavior on Twitter, I think we need to reconsider how much credence we give their ministries.

No, we should not rage at them. We should not commit the same sin at them in return.

But I’ll be wary of that person’s influence. Just as I would be wary of any Christian leader, who might correctly teach gospel of grace, but in too many areas, shows a glaring lack of basic discernment.

  1. Megan Basham, “Joining A Mob,” World Magazine, Jan. 21, 2019.
  2. Lord willing, my “quarrelsome discernment blogger” days are behind me.
  3. EDIT: apparently that video was first shared on—where else?—Twitter. CNN reports that Twitter has since suspended the account, which already appeared suspicious.
E. Stephen Burnett explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Travis Perry
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There’s many factors at play but a format that limits output to 280 characters tends to shut down reasoned nuance, while allowing plenty of space for strongly-worded emotion. I have no enthusiasm for Twitter.

Autumn Grayson
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I think another reason we get people reacting like this is social pressure. Some of that social pressure is good, but other times it might make people react too immediately, for fear that if they don’t, people will denounce them/the church/their cause as racist, etc.

It’s probably OK to comment on those things, but to do so calmly and in a way that seeks to educate, rather than tear people down. A lot of times it might be better not to participate in social media firestorms at all, though.

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