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Finding Justice, Grace, and a Civil Blog Community

I’ve been following the revival meetings that started in Huntington Beach last month. We who have tried to make Jesus Lord want to see others embrace him. Presumably most of us also want people to stay healthy. Our country and much of the world is struggling with the virus. So, it seems to many …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I’ve been following the revival meetings that started in Huntington Beach last month. We who have tried to make Jesus Lord want to see others embrace him. Presumably most of us also want people to stay healthy.

Our country and much of the world is struggling with the virus. So, it seems to many that these two desires are in opposition.

There were a number of comments on this post and I deleted two (plus a third comment on this post) that I found to be rude. Given the timing and nature, I incorrectly assumed they were all the same person. In 15 years of writing this blog, I have let the comments fly. At times people have been rude and I have just let it go. 

I owe you this

So I figured that, if most of my readers are trying to get closer to Jesus, I owe it to you to take this issue head-on. How do we have a digital conversation with grace?

I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read a post and the guts to comment. I’ve developed a number of deep relationships through this community that have gone from this virtual space to face-to-face interactions.
These relationships help me see where I am not just opinionated, but wrong. They help me to love when it’s hard. At times I’ve got serious detractors. Some may struggle to be civil. I want them to have a place to honestly express what may be an emotional issue for them. I’ve seen blog readers with a difference of opinion help one another.
Jesus fought too
It probably doesn’t help us find common ground that Jesus was himself a polarizing figure. Luke shows him as an adult fighting the devil in three successive scenes (chapter 4). First we see him go mano-a-mano in the wilderness. The devil tempts him to compromise his calling and Jesus resists. 

We next see him offending his listeners, who respond rather extremely by trying to kill him. And finally, we see him casting out demons – fighting the evil that had taken up residence in people.

With a debut like that, you’d think that Jesus is just a contentious person. But then as he articulates his program to his followers (we call it the sermon on the mount), you see that the code of behavior he prescribes is very different.

“You are blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution….Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down,” he says.

How should we respond? “When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer….Live generously and graciously toward others.” Jesus is calling us to civility.

How do we walk it out?

So my question is, how are we Christ-followers doing at that? And how should we walk it out on this blog? 

I want to be a part of a community that both sharpens and encourages. I’m hoping some of you do too. When I started writing it in 2005, my hope was that this blog could help.

I personally need other perspectives. Often it’s those who disagree with me who help me to see the things I’m missing. And honestly, sometimes comments will ruffle my feathers. I will want to debate a point, even if I know that debating will be counterproductive. I need others help me find the balance.

My objective with this blog is to spur people on toward love and good deeds. So when I write, whether it’s a blog post or a comment on Facebook, I try to examine my words to see if they’ll accomplish that. If they don’t, I scrap it and start over.  

A civil conversation may help blog readers get to a better place. And if they can’t find that here, then there are other ways to get to greater civility (for example, this resource).
Our situation doesn’t help
Our current situation doesn’t help. Every time we tune into the news, we hear fighting. And depending on what social media channels you click on, you’ll see brickbats flying. People saying things they would likely not say to your face.
We want to better understand how to live in the world and multiple perspectives can be helpful, but can we find a balance between justice and grace? Can we create an environment where people feel safe in expressing views without resorting to anonymity? 
The problem is that what constitutes civil conversation is no longer taught in our schools or families. Our politicians are more contentious than ever. Wherever you look, we as a society seem polarized.
People are looking for places where they can talk. We used to have our “third place” – a coffee shop or club where we could hang out and exchange views. Currently many of those places are shuttered.
Have you noticed how rude behavior in a public place makes people want to leave? People are looking to exchange of views while being respected. A public place is a shared resource. We clean up litter in parks. We can probably do better in social media.
Guidelines for a respectful community
So, here’s where I land. I want a conversation, which means comments. But I want it to be respectful, balancing civility with courage. 
On this blog, I’m going to follow the guidelines established here by the Washington Post. I am going to begin deleting rude comments that make readers doubt whether it is safe to post a comment, especially if a person won’t sign their name. 
I will try to do this sparingly and always with accountability. If I see what I or other consider to be a rude comment, I’ll get the opinions of others before I delete it. For practice, I got others to review the three comments I mentioned before, and they agreed. For example, one said, “these comments are uncivil, unhelpful, unbiblical and should be deleted.”
On the other hand, there were several comments on that same blog that I chose to leave even though they might be viewed by some as contentious and even criticizing me personally. It is possible to criticize while not being rude.
Along the way, I’m hoping that we can be a gracious blog community – a place to hear from others who are trying to work out how to live better as Jesus’ disciples. 

Comments (9)

  • I affirm your decision to delete anonymous, rude comments. Just please don’t stop writing. I don’t comment often, but I’ve been reading your blog for at least twelve years. I love your heart and your wisdom.

  • Seth – well spoken. Civil and respectful conversation is needed so much in our culture. As followers of Christ we should lead the way in thoughtful, grace-filled speech. So important that we listen and consider those with differing views not just trying to win arguments with the loudest or most threatening dialogue and actions.

  • I think media outlets like the Washington post give a false impression of the absence of bias. Their motive is profit not truth. Censorship from them amounts to propaganda. In contrast we Christians we are admittedly biased. Your deletion of posts was completely valid on biblical grounds.

    While my own attitude towards those who want to shut me up and shut me down via ad hominem attacks tends toward that of Paul in Lystra in Acts 14, I realize I am an anomaly. The reality is that the poor spirited person with the perspective that could bring correction to all might be shut down.

    We all need to remember that ideas are not identities even though the current deconstructing Critical Theory based culture says otherwise. Mixing two world views will always lead to confusion and confusion to conflict. It seems clear to me that Mat 10:5-39 is the operative paradigm in the coming days.

    All that being said, Titus 3:1-11 might be a good template for regulating posts. Keep the dialogue going. Love ya brother.

  • A few thoughts:

    Mt. 10:24-25 = Disagreements are to be anticipated.
    Pro. 27:6 = Wounds caused by a friend can be faithful.
    Mt. 12:34-35 = Key is the direction of the heart.

    I applaud you using discretion with the intent to foster exchanges that speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)

  • Your commitment to continue in grace even when you are attacked straight out of the blocks is exemplary. Thank you.

    We live in such a contentious online world where somehow people feel the lack of a face-to-face conversational connection allows them to throw civil discourse to the wind. I appreciate your ‘taking it on the chin’ attitude even when it’s a smear effort and a reflection of the immaturity of the responder.

    Obviously for those who don’t know Christ, I don’t expect restraint or the checking of one’s intentions/meanings before attacking. But for those who follow Jesus, it seems like ‘the tongue needs to be tamed’ so that it can unleash blessing rather than cursing. It’s not that there can’t be disagreement and an effort for change (change is needed), but sadly the Biblical way to do it seems in our present times to be cast to the wind.

    I appreciate you taking the high road. This is discipleship in action, whether it’s recognized by some of the dissenters or not.

    2 Timothy 2:23,24 But reject foolish and ignorant speculation, for you know that it breeds quarreling. And a servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and forbearing.
    Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness–without it no one will see the Lord.

    • Great passages, Melinda. Jesus sure does things differently than we do! I’ve still got such a long way to go.

  • Seth – Keep “sharpening and encouraging”. I for one, benefit greatly.

    Our youth are growing up and forming in these times where opinions are presented as “news” and “fact” and personal attacks on those who think differently are common place and encouraged by many. If we boomers don’t walk our Christian talk, the results could be devastating. Delete the personal attacks, encourage civil discourse, and leave up any post in honest pursuit of truth and understanding. We all have more to learn.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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