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Welcome Others: Practicing Hospitality In The Digital Space

Jul 28, 2022Blog, Culture

It’s 5:30 PM on a Thursday and you’re making your way from your office on the west side of town to your home in south Nashville. To your dismay, the ramp from 440-E to get onto 65-S is backed up half a mile. You roll your eyes even though you knew that this would be the case, as it always is this time of day. While you’re patiently waiting to creep onto 65, a minivan that has clearly been having a bad day flies down the left lane and cuts in front of you and the 20 cars ahead of you. This goes on to happen 5 more times before you ever get to 65 and by that time you are screaming, honking and calling people all sorts of names.

Unfortunately, this is my story. For whatever reason when I am behind the wheel of a car I don’t always view the people in the other cars as, well, people. Perhaps it’s because they are in a vehicle and I can’t see their face, or perhaps the likelihood of never having to have a real conversation with them is low. Regardless, God has been doing a work on my tendency towards road-rage. 

While this confession is not my proudest, I believe the principle underneath it translates to another aspect of society: social media. 

Ever heard of the term, “keyboard-warrior?” According to Oxford dictionary a “Keyboard-Warrior” is a person who makes abusive or aggressive posts on the internet, typically one who conceals their true identity. In the seven years I’ve worked in social media management, I have encountered many keyboard warriors. 

Keyboard warriors forget that there is a person on the other side of their comment. Someone with a life, family, friends, feelings, insecurities and a story. Someone who will probably be hurt by the words they are ferociously typing.

At its core, social media is an extension of the real world and has the ability to affect the real world in both good and vile ways. It’s a place where relationships are built and broken and where people are celebrated and canceled. Keyboard warriors are simply evidence of the need to practice biblical hospitality within the metaphorical walls of social media. 

While other areas of life require a hospitality that invites others in, practicing hospitality on social media probably looks a little more like practicing self-control. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he details what it looks like for followers of Jesus to love one another and these principles can and should inform every aspect of our lives, including how we use social media. Romans 12:16-18 says, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” 

Notice Paul didn’t say, “live at peace with people who share your political stance” or “people who look like you” or “people who don’t post annoying things on the internet.” He says, “everyone.” It takes self-control empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in harmony with one another, to reject pride and conceitedness, to not retaliate against evil and to live at peace with everyone.

This is a difficult charge, but not an impossible one. As I’ve navigated these waters over the years, I’ve found some basic principles to help guide my social media use. Maybe they can be of help to you too. 

Learn the power of the mute button: On every social media platform there is a setting that allows you to mute someone that you follow. This essentially means that you remain “friends,” but you no longer see their posts. If the people you’re following on social media are posting things that lead you to think poorly of them or to compare yourself or just lead you to general frustration, mute them. In Matthew 5, Jesus makes himself explicitly clear about having anger in your heart towards another person. Verse 21 and 22 say, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”

Chances are, when you stop seeing posts that evoke anger, you’ll find it much easier to love that person in real life.

If possible, move conversations outside of the digital space: If you feel the need to respond to something that someone posted on social media with correction or question, use discernment on how to go about that conversation. Proverbs 9:7-8 says, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” It takes prayer and discernment to know whether or not to correct and how. If it’s possible, take it off-line. Seeing someone face to face, or even hearing their voice helps us remember that we’re all people. It’s amazing how much more empathy and patience seeing someone’s humanity will give you. When that person is not someone that you have the ability to see face to face or call, try the DMs and communicate in such a way that corrects but does not shame, which leads me to my next point.

Understand that other people are influenced by your actions: You don’t have to be an influencer to have influence. As a follower of Christ you have a responsibility to represent Christ in your relationships, both online and offline and God takes it seriously when our words or actions cause others to question Him. Matthew 18:6 says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

When in doubt, give people the benefit of the doubt: When someone posts something online that offends you or even posts something that is blatantly wrong, remember Jesus’ work on the cross, which offers radical forgiveness. As believers our response to His forgiveness is to offer forgiveness to those who hurt us. James 2:12-13 says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” The most hospitable thing you can do in that moment is to do the work of forgiving those who offend you. This looks like both immediate forgiveness and on-going forgiveness, a daily surrender of the offense in your heart. This frees you from living in bitterness and honors God’s gift to you. It does NOT permission people to walk all over you or disregard boundaries, it simply means doing the work in your own heart to protect yourself from bitterness and resentment in the long run.

Whether it’s behind the wheel or behind a screen, every human-being deserves to be viewed as such. As followers of Christ we are both commanded and empowered to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. In a space saturated with fear, bitterness and anger, social media is prime training ground for practicing self-control and radical hospitality.