Contact without fellowship in an Internet age

Apr 14, 2015 by

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Jesus told his disciples “Don’t give that which is holy to the dogs, neither throw your pearls before the pigs, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

The other day I had a conversation with a friend who questions the value of sharing writing on the Internet. Why lay out tender matters of the heart in a place strewn with rude anonymous comments?

This was a hard conversation because I have been having the same thoughts lately. So many online forums smell like virtual pig sties. Would it be best for those who love Jesus to just stay away? Certainly, there are forums so toxic that they should be avoided altogether. One must be discerning about which conversations to join. I sometimes wonder if Internet communication is toxic in and of itself. Without any apparent investment in one another’s lives, what motivation is there to be kind?

I have been told, “Just don’t read the comments,” but I do it anyway. Inevitably, I am flooded with feelings of hatred, frustration, righteous indignation, hurt and confusion at that which spews from the fingers of strangers to people who have dared to put their thoughts into words. Often not only the ideas but also the character of the writer or commenter are challenged and trampled. Insults are hurled. And I’m just describing the Christian websites. After reading some comments I walk away feeling angry and discouraged — and not just at what I have read. I also struggle with the feelings of rage I am tempted to express to strangers.

I don’t think I changed my friend’s mind, but I entered into the conversation with him hoping as much to convince myself that I am not just throwing words into a pit. I write to people. I am writing this to you, dear reader, because I know you are there on the other side of the screen, seeking truth. And I am asking, please, that we not let these screens become the muddy walls of our own self-made pig sties.

Are the raging fires of unfettered e-cruelty a refining fire that will burn away the dross or just the destructive fires of hell? Toughening up or giving up would only hasten our collective demise and give power to forces of evil.

Howard Thurman gave a series of talks in 1948 about a remedy to what he called the hounds of hell: fear, deception and hate. That remedy which has not lost its potency is the love we see in Jesus Christ. Thurman’s speeches became the book Jesus and the Disinherited, which influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders to walk in love in the face of hate. Though Thurman was writing specifically about Jesus-centered, nonviolent resistance to racial oppression, I believe that his book has a prophetic word to the rise of hatefulness that has grown like wildfire online.

Thurman acknowledged that when we feed the dogs of fear, deception and hate, even in the face of extreme cruelty, our own souls are utterly destroyed. Christian love in action, which transcends our natural instincts, is a means of radical resistance and survival against those destructive forces.

In his chapter called “Hate,” Thurman names the problem of “contact without fellowship.” He describes white and black people interacting regularly while playing their expected roles of oppressed and oppressor while never really knowing one another. He goes on to say:

When we give the concept a wider application, it is clear that much of modern life is so impersonal that there is always opportunity for the seeds of hatred to grow unmolested. Where there are contacts devoid of genuine fellowship, such contacts stand in immediate candidacy for hatred.

Online encounters with strangers can be natural invitations to hate.

Imagine the impact if, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we all refuse to accept that invitation?

Instead of hurling insults or allowing poisonous words to infect us, we can release the antidote: the strongest four letter word, love.

Though we cannot nurture deep, personal relationships with every Internet contact, we can honor each encounter and choose fellowship. We can act like we belong to one another, like we believe that our eternity of fellowship with Jesus and one another begins today — because it does.

Jesus invites us to step out of our mucky pig sties and walk in the light — not of a glowing screen, but of the one who fashioned us in his image. We can look up from our screens and choose to love the people in our midst. We can see our own faces reflected back to us on our screens and pray for our enemies and ourselves. And if we have something to say, we can choose our words carefully.

Jesus offered the sweet pearl of his life and ministry and was mocked and tortured to the point of death on a cross. But he was not destroyed. I am assured that the same power that raised Christ from the dead can be at work in the words we choose.

Then, perhaps, someone seeking good news in this hateful world will dare to read even the comments and know that we are Christians by our love.

Josina Guess, mother of four, is striving to follow Jesus and love beauty alongside her community at Jubilee Partners in Comer, Ga. She blogs at josinaskitchentable.blogspot.com. This post is provided thanks to our partnership with Red Letter Christians.


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