Michael Patton has posted a couple of great posts on how to conduct yourself as a Christian while debating issues online, especially the 2nd post, where he quotes from 2 Timothy 2:
“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition …”
and 1 Peter 3:
“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”
He also includes an interesting paragraph about who the worst offenders might be:
Sadly, many times this attitude is found more in my own conservative Calvinistic circles than in any other. For this I am sorry and ashamed. Sometimes Calvinists make the worst Calvinists. But, of course, it can be found in any group. Baptists have a knack for it. Even emergers can display the most angered, discounting, and arrogant spirit that I have ever seen.
It would be interesting, I think, to do a study on a variety of blogs to see which theological positions generate the most Christ-like comments. As I read a wide variety of blogs, including many with a very mixed audience, I have some of my own thoughts, but don’t know that my experience is broad enough to be accurate. I will say that in general, the most humble and loving responses seem to come from the various Eastern Orthodox folks, although that may be because they don’t tend to analyze issues and argue the same way that other Christians do. Lutherans also seem to be quite respectful, even when discussing some pretty intense internal issues. While I don’t want to provide my list of the worst offenders, I will say that I think Patton is quite perceptive.
I have found that fundamentalists of any stripe, including atheists (although they would bristle at being labeled fundamentalist), tend to be more antagonistic and offensive, often resorting to ridicule rather than entertaining any reasonable discussion.
It is possible for those of differing opinions to discuss issues respectfully. One of my occasional visitors actually admitted that he couldn’t comment respectfully; I now moderate all of his comments, but if he actually deals with an issue, I will let the comment through. My friend Mike disagrees with me more often than most, and we’re still friends; in fact, I appreciate him immensely. I can count on him to hold me accountable to any stupid things I say, even though I think he’s usually wrong. 😉 I can count on others like Quixote to challenge my thinking in other areas. I appreciate these challenges, even if I get frustrated at times.
Occasionally I will subscribe to a particular discussion if it’s interesting, as is often the case on Michael Patton’s blog, Parchment & Pen. However, I usually have to unsubscribe after a day or so, as the discussion tends to get sidetracked or turns into bickering, which I expect is what motivated his recent posts. There’s hardly anything worse than Christians fighting over theology, which is probably why so many Christians consider it evil. It’s not evil, it’s the people… many of whom don’t understand the issues to begin with. Patton offers this possibility:
Maybe it is because we are so insecure in our position that we think the louder we are the more true our words are. As I tell students, if you are not confident about what you are saying, you can first speak deeper, second speak louder. And if both of these don’t work, speak with a British accent!! In truth, I have found that the most fundamentally uninformed folk believers are often the most polemically militant because they, deep down, don’t really know why they believe what they believe. Their only recourse is not a gentle engagement, but a raised voice.
I think this rule is at work in areas other than theology – just listen to Hillary Clinton (cheap shot, but I couldn’t help it). She hasn’t resorted to the British accent yet, but just wait. Then, of course, there’s Richard Dawkins … but of course, he comes by the accent honestly. (Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the cheap shots.)
Anyway, thanks to Michael Patton for some good thoughts about getting along online.