The Christian’s Guide to Talking about Marriage Equality (or any moral issue) on the Internet
This past Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that marriage equality must be legalized in all fifty states. I returned from a lovely eight mile run out on some of Seattle’s finest trails feeling spiritually refreshed and grateful for God’s gift. This mood, however, was dampened when I checked Facebook and saw Christians from all political leanings angrily posting and bickering with each other about the SCOTUS ruling.
Each morning, after my run, I read the morning’s lectionary on the USCCB website. Many of this week’s Gospel readings led me to reflect upon how we as Christians should behave on social media and the comment sections of blogs, especially with highly-debated issues that divide our universal church.
Wondering how to engage about hot-topic moral issues on social media and the internet? Consult this Christian’s Guide to Talking About Marriage Equality (or any other issue) on the Internet.
Are you without sin?
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. (John 8:3-9, NRSV)
Are you without sin? Even with Christ’s grace through the sacraments, none of us are without sin in this life. So, can any of us really cast stones on others for their sins? This woman committed adultery, a very similar sin to homosexuality. Yet Jesus makes it clear that none of us should be the ones to judge and condemn her; likewise, none of us have the power to judge and condemn others for their views on gay marriage.
Are you practicing Christian charity?
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. (John 13:34, NRSV)
Christ did not suggest that we love one another; he commanded it, just as he commanded we have no other gods before the Holy Trinity. There are two ways in which we express our love for our neighbors, strangers, and enemies: through our words and actions. Yes, that includes words we tweet, post on Facebook, and share on a blog or in the comments. Are your words expressing the love of Christ to even those with whom you disagree? If there is any doubt, please refrain from commenting.
Are you evangelizing?
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35 NRSV)
Our Christian faith should be evident through the charity expressed in our words and actions. Whether or not this quote is appropriately attributed, the words of St. Francis of Assisi bear pertinence here: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Our actions have the power to draw non-believers to the faith. In fact, living a life full of love and joy of the Gospel proves a far superior form of evangelization than judging and condemning others. So when you engage in online discussions, act in a way that will invite people into the Christian faith, rather than drive them away.
Are you taking care of your own moral life?
When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:1-3)
Unless someone’s life or livelihood is being directly threatened by murder, theft, rape, etc., you should be more concerned about your own moral life, because at the day of judgment, you are responsible for your own actions. In this story from the Gospel of Matthew, the leper asked for himself to be made clean, not for Jesus to make clean another. When you go to confession, you do not confess the sins of others, but only your own sins. So, before you angrily condemn others for their moral choices, consider this: is there something others could condemn you for? Repent, and go before Christ to reconcile your own sins.
Do you have the authority to judge?
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
This passage bears two sharp warnings. First, if you are quicker to condemn others, to search their lives for sin, and to judge their every word, you are setting yourself up for similar judgment. Second, to emphasize the point made in the first question, only judge when you are clear of sin. It is so much easier to see the speck in the eye of our Facebook friend or Twitter follower than to acknowledge the log in our own.
I am not writing this out of judgment of those who debate on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs. Sometimes, gentle words of reprimand for the concern of our brothers and sisters are needed. Rather, though, I am suggesting a path of charity, a little way (to use the phrase of St. Therese of Lisieux) to practice Christian love on social media.