April 16, 2013

Facebook friends and sin

by Jesse Johnson

thumbs upIf you are a Christian and you are on Facebook, eventually you will ask yourself this question: “how am I supposed to respond to my so-called friends who promote sin on their wall?”

The examples are legion. Maybe one of your old friends from high school is clearly not following the Lord, and takes every opportunity to publicize exactly how drunk he got last night. Perhaps you are friends with someone from your church who “celebrates marriage equality” on his page. The most common example for me is people that I used to coach in soccer, whose lives (if Facebook is any indication) revolve around partying.

Here are some principles I apply in dealing with this:   

1) Don’t be the truth police.

In some sense, many of these scenarios often fall under the heading of “someone is wrong on the internet, and I must do something about it!” Our lives are filled with enough actual relationships—and by actual, I mean people we know and talk to and see—that it just isn’t possible or wise to patrol Facebook for error. Remember the irony of the internet age: many of our friends are people we don’t even know. So don’t over react if you see the celebration of sin on-line.

2) Unfollow people that glorify evil.

If you are friends with people on-line, and their life is one that either causes you to stumble, or their content is just not glorifying to God, simply unfollow them. I’m not saying this as a word form the Lord (as it were), but simply as my advice. My presence on-line is designed for edification and encouragement. If I can’t open my Facebook page without being confronted with sin, then it stops being either edifying or encouraging to me.

3) Consider how well you know the person.

If a friend you haven’t seen in years posts that they are in favor of marriage equality, hitting their inbox on the proverbial head with Al Mohler links is probably not going to be effective. But if this is someone from your church, or someone that you actually know, then a conversation would be helpful.

4) Be on the look-out for evangelistic opportunities.

If a distant friend is going through a trial, I might message him, tell him I’m a believer, and ask if I can pray for him. I’ll follow that up by asking if I can call him, to hear how he is doing, and look for an opportunity to explain the gospel to him. If someone that I haven’t seen in a while seems to be drifting away, I’ll call them or message them. I don’t plan on confronting them (“exactly what kind of public place could you possibly have been that drunk in?”), but rather simply check in with them. With that said, I don’t pretend I haven’t seen what is on-line. If someone tells me that everything is fine, nothing is amiss, they are growing in their love for the Lord and memorizing Psalm 119—yet their on-line life seems to undercut that, I’ll ask about the discrepancy. Again, I’m not trying to be the truth police, but am simply trying to express genuine concern for them. After all, they are the ones that posted those pictures.

5) I avoid all political arguments like an on-line plague.

I just don’t want to burn any bridges to the gospel because I got into a debate with someone about what the most effective tax-rate is, or exactly what amount of guns it should be legal for a person to own. It’s better for me if I stay focused on the main thing, which is loving people and pointing them to Jesus.

What about you? Are there any principles you apply in these scenarios?

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Excellent thoughts, Jesse.

    I also use the “pearls before swine” principle as a check before I decide to engage. Basically I’m asking myself, “What am I able to accomplish?” If someone just seems to be misinformed about something, I’m more likely to engage than if I know they just don’t want to hear it. I’m always asking myself whether my involvement will be any practical benefit to them. If I come off sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher, I do neither of us any good.

    There are other times, though — less about posting party pictures than about religious/ideological/philosophical posts that are in error — where I push back even when I know the person isn’t going to budge. That’s usually (a) when they’ve misrepresented something about Christianity or Scripture and rejoiced over it, and (b) when I’m sure I have a sound rebuttal to their point and I think those who will read it will benefit from it. This is that situation, kinda like on a blog comment thread, where you respond to the belligerent commenter not because you think you’ll change his mind, but because you hope you’ll help someone who’s reading but not commenting.

    So those are a couple of principles I apply. Thanks for the post. Very thought-provoking and very helpful for those of us who hope to steward the gift of FaceBook well. 🙂

    • Mike, I like your “pearls before swine” principle the best out of all of these. I’ve grown weary of engaging hostile unbelievers on FB. I’ve adopted Tony Miano’s FB philosophy: “unfriend” any “friends” that do nothing except provoke anti Christian dialogue. In other words, my FB page is a way for me to encourage others and share my family’s life with real friends and family; not a way for pagans to attack and slander what I believe. Thoughts about “unfriending?”

  • Franco

    Proverbs 18:24 “A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

  • Michael Coughlin

    Good thoughts, this is worth sharing! 1 & 2 are spot on. I think there’s room for error on 3. And you’ll see I combine 4 & 5. Here’s my $.02.

    1. I deleted my FB account. This has relieved all the tension mentioned above. Now read 2-5 assuming I actually had FB at one point. 🙂

    2. Truth police aside, if a person of influence allows you to post on their wall, might be worth doing in the hopes that a person sees it.

    3. Sometimes, other people violate your above rules. I have found I can encourage a brother or sister who is diligently trying to share the gospel and defend the faith by jumping in once in a while.

    4. As far as your #5 goes: I like the spirit of the rule, but not the application (although this is certainly an area where Xians are free to act differently). Instead of avoiding all political argument like the plague, use it as an open door to sharing the gospel.

    AND

    5. Don’t get your feelings all hurt and let it ruin your day when you conscientiously post scripture and other thoughts of yours in what you thought was a friendly online discussion and find out that you are accused of all sorts of evil such as “having a bad tone,” “being unloving,” or “sounding angry.” Irrational response must be expected and your time with your kids and spouse will be more enjoyable when you are not fretting over whether you communicated love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…all in 140 characters or less to a person with a dissenting opinion.

    🙂

  • I think the political one is huge. i have to restrain myself regularly from posting things that are very true about our current government and how abysmal some of their decisions are, but I don’t want my image to the world being one of politics. If my lost friends on there always see me rant about abortion or gun control, I will just get lumped in with the Republican party and possibly be ignored when I post things pertaining to eternal truth. Thanks for the post Jesse.

  • My basic rules/reminders of Facebooking.

    1. My Facebook wall is an extension of myself, my beliefs, and what I want others to know about me.

    2. Behind most every screen name, or Facebook profile, is a living, breathing human being who can hear the Word of God and be evangelized.

    3. Everything that I do, say, post on Facebook is recorded in databases and documented.

    4. When I click the “like” button on something, then I am supporting whatever that thing stands for, and I am co-signing that message, and that ‘like’ is recorded on my profile and posted in my information for others to see.

    5. Facebook is not merely a social networking site, it is a documented representation of who I am, what I believe, and what I stand for, therefore, everything I post on Facebook challenges my integrity, character, and belief systems.

    6. If I post material that is vulgar, offensive, lustful, or if I openly participate in anything that would be distasteful to Christ it is documented and obvious to everyone.

    7. I cannot possibly be a practicing Christian, and post nothing about Christ on my Facebook. My Facebook wall absolutely will be a shining evidence and insight to that truth. If I am posting nothing but football, then that is a message I send to others. If I am posting hateful comments, then I am probably hateful. People who truly believe in Christ do so in word, and actions. Facebook is nothing but words and actions!

    8. The inbox is better than a forum if I want to help someone out or offer advice. Typically I try to never publicly challenge someone directly. There are rare exceptions to every rule, but for the most part that is standard procedure.

    Basically, I treat people exactly the same as I would anywhere else. Facebook is real life, just as much as people sitting right in front of me. The bible is text. Early Christian literature is text. I have seen people both lose relationships through text and also begin relationships that ended in marriage via text. So, the people on the other end of the messages I post are as real as they get. There are so many opportunities to evangelize online.

    Ask gty.org! I found abundant direction and information I needed to hear when I stumbled across gty.org. Now, I try to set as many trot-lines as possible. Posting links to gty or some other relevant resource in random group chats (you know the ones where there are 2000+ comments), even in places I would not suspect to have success. It is surprising how much of a positive response follows. I have received many inbox messages thanking me for a well placed link/quote combo.

    One important thing to remember is that I never respond publicly to anything after I post a link or quote or opinion or whatever in a large forum. It always gets weird when we try to go back and forth with critics. I just set up the trot line, and then leave. The most important thing is just to be wise, and use common sense. These situations online are not much different than situations anywhere else. Just we have techniques and strategies we can use since the only way we can be confronted is if we respond.

    As far as friends, I have a hard time deleting anyone who is openly sinning off my Facebook friends list, because they need to hear and see what I post more than anyone else. So, I just take them out of my news feed, and pray that one day one of my posts catches their eye.

    So many people think that God only works in face-to-face situations, but that’s not true. God works everywhere. The supernatural is always involved, so I never give up hope that some status or comment I make might lead someone to invaluable information, like when I stumbled across gty.org. The more trot-lines out there, the better the opportunity for the truth to be spread.

    • Michael Coughlin

      Next time post a blog and then just share a link, LOL. Good thoughts.

  • A few have emailed me and said they don’t know how to unfollow someone on facebook. Its actually quite simple, and is explained here: https://www.facebook.com/help/104941232944896/

    • Matt Waymeyer

      Jesse: What exactly is Facebook?

  • I concur completely, but would add a twist to your last point. I personally don’t hesitate to engage culture and present a biblical worldview on news and political commentary…to an extent. When doing so, we must be respectful and never quarrelsome (2 Timothy 2;24). I find that in discussing the government and politics is an easy way to engage an unbeliever to understand the sinfulness of man, and our need for the Savior. We must also be humble and not seek to “win” a debate, but rather persuade men towards the gospel.

  • Suzanne T

    Ah yes, Facebook. That virtual tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    That Fellini-esque circus where all manner of human nature (both in and outside of Christ) careen and collide and twist and confuse and distort all across our “newsfeeds”, inter-mingling in day by day / moment by moment increments. That place where some of us too often found ourself staring at our monitor consumed in disillusion and speculation at what we just saw or read–not necessarily from the predictable offerings of an unbelieving world, no, but the occasional status, comment, Like, shared photo/s, showing of lack of discernment and whatnot of those we know (or thought) to be fellow believers.

    (Notwithstanding: the ever-renewing revelations of some well known and respected ministry person, or group, gone awonk. Whether by association or outright demonstration. (card carrying member of Club Frustration..here ye)

    So much consternation (using that word in it’s truest form now, Jesse 🙂 before 10:am was not good for my heart, in that I mean I was not guarding my own heart from self-righteousness, judging others, and other forms of idolatry. My own engaging with FB hindered growth in Christlikeness, of which I am low low low on the pole. So consequently, for all the goodness and beauty, encouragement and edification, camaraderie, sharpening, and the Humor (!) that FB brought to my day I chose to take down my account. And a great weight was lifted 🙂 Ultimately, I could see people in my real life without the filter of facebook, I needed that. God is so merciful to us!
    ~
    Such excellent and sorely needed points, Jesse, thanks for putting this together. (Superb addition from Matthew Hagen as well!)

    Ultimately this tool known as Facebook (indeed the inets in general) is God’s tool, rightly to be used by the disciple of Christ to a watching world.

  • scatcatpdx

    I have to deal with this all the time. I am part of the fandom that are fans of anthropomorphic animals in art, literature and costuming, in other words I am a furry. As such and a lagre population of furres are homsexual and bring thier ideas ideas into the fandom. In onces I fred one on facebook while not displcting sexal activity he was frank about his homosexuality in art .I simply remove him from my feeds.

    other than than you are spot on I pray for any opportunity to share the gospel with them, they know I am a devout christian.

  • Jeff Smith

    Respectful but truthful. Jesus didn’t hold back and neither should His followers. Unless you’d rather conform to the world and its political correctness.

  • doreen

    I don’t do facebook. Never have. Can’t see the point in it.
    But, it’s out there…

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  • Chad

    One thing my wife and I have discussed – there really seems to be very little reason for maintaining any sort of relationship with someone from your past of the opposite sex who is not currently part of your family’s life. This seems to be just asking for trouble. If they are not part of your life and will not be so, what is the point of “friending” them or contacting them or having a conversation? This seems to be an area where we should “flee” from sin.

    I understand there are probably scenarios that others could bring up in which it would be okay, so we cannot make a hard and fast “rule”. But wisdom seems to speak loudly here.

    • At my age, 67, it is very important to engage with all persons from my past. Gleaning the renewed friendships via gender makes no sense anymore. In fact I have made new friendships with the wives of old friends just because they are not on facebook themselves and their wives have become some sort of surrogate 🙂

  • Leaving out the political arena leaves fully 1/3 of your witness under a bushel ! ! !

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  • Wait a just a second, Jesse?! You mean you don’t believe in the 2nd Amendment? 😉

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