Reflecting the Light of Christ in our Digital Lives
For many of us, the technological advancements of the past decade have engendered a seismic shift in the way we live our daily lives.
We are inhabitants of a digital world; technology is now so seamlessly woven into our everyday experience that we could say that we live ‘hybrid’ lives – switching effortlessly between online and offline realities. This kind of hybrid living calls for consistency in the way we follow Jesus – our online and offline lives must match up. As disciples, we are called to reflect the light of Christ in the whole of our lives – this is what we mean when we talk about being Lights for Christ.
This blog series is for all who are living hybrid lives.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers,Matthew 5:9
for they will be called children of God.’
Recently I have felt unnerved by the amount of conflict I have seen online. I notice it everywhere – Twitter threads, Instagram stories, even on my neighbourhood Facebook group. This is nothing new of course, but given the many crises that have happened and continue to happen in recent times, the atmosphere online seems unusually charged.
It’s understandable that when controversial issues arise, differences of opinion will occur. For example, the current debate about human sexuality and the Church of England’s response (prompted by Living in Love and Faith) has seen a multitude of responses. Respectful debate and honest discussion is necessary; vitriolic attack is not.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the value of peacemakers, and notes this quality as being a hallmark of the children of God. We who are his followers are called to be peacemakers in every sphere, even in that of online conflict. As Lights for Christ, we have the high calling to be digital peacemakers, speaking (or typing) words of love and reconciliation even in the most heated of arguments.
Here are three ways in which we might put this calling into action:
Steer Clear of Personal Attack
At university I had a Christian friend who was very active on social media. When he posted stories about his faith online, he often attracted questions and criticism from others. However, no matter how personal or unkind his detractors were in their comments, he always replied with a calm and respectful tone. Most noticeably of all, he only ever criticised the other person’s argument, never the person themselves. There’s a big difference between ‘your argument is flawed’ and ‘you are ignorant.’
Defuse, don’t escalate
Following on from that, as digital peacemakers, our aim should always be to defuse tension and conflict, not to escalate it further. If, in the heat of the moment, we feel tempted to respond in an unkind way, it might be best to take a step back and come back to the conversation at a later time. When speaking into conflict, we must take care not to use inflammatory language – in our responses, are we making generalisations? Overstating or omitting information? Confusing fact and opinion? Consider how our words might be different if every comment was signed off with the epithet ‘- Follower of Jesus’. The way we choose to communicate online should align with our calling to be Lights for Christ.
Resolving conflict quietly
There may be times when it is necessary to hold someone to account for the things they post online. Although Jesus didn’t give us specific guidance for dealing with problematic online posting, I think we can use his teaching on dealing with conflict more generally to help us navigate this kind of situation in a way that is befitting of a digital peacemaker.
In Matthew 18, Jesus says:
‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along…’Matthew 18:15-16
Perhaps we can take from this that if one of our fellow Christians is behaving online in a way that is not befitting of a follower of Jesus, a first step could be to speak to them gently and privately about our concerns. It might be tempting to call them out publicly in the first instance, but this is not what Jesus asks of us. If our initial conversation does not provoke change, then there may be a time to involve more people, but such things must be treated with the utmost care. In dealing with the sins of others, we must not engage in sinful behaviour ourselves.
Being a digital peacemaker is difficult. It requires patience, thoughtfulness and at times, self-restraint. However, digital peacemakers can play a vital role in today’s hybrid world: according to BankMyCell, almost 84% of the global population has a smartphone – 6.648 billion people carry the internet in their pocket (How-many-phones-are-in-the-world?). What an incredible opportunity to be a Christian presence in a space shared by so many; what a privilege to reflect Christ’s light throughout our hybrid world.
This Lights for Christ Online blog series has been co-produced by Hannah Sandoval, the Diocese of Sheffield Lights for Christ Enabler, and Elliot Hyliger, the Diocese of Sheffield Digital Mission Development Advisor. We’d love to hear from you so do share your thoughts in the comments below or get in touch directly.