Grace Over Grit: Responding to Online Jerks and Bullies

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Culture & Society | 0 comments

In our increasingly digitized world, the nature of discourse has shifted dramatically, often for the worse. The rise of argumentative, narcissistic social media agitators is a significant development—one that carries with it troubling implications for our communal life together.

These individuals often display a constellation of behaviors that are at once unsettling and sadly compelling. They tend to stir up controversy, present issues without context, refuse to acknowledge opposing viewpoints, and cannot concede when wrong. Such personalities often prioritize provocation over truth, value personal brand over constructive change, and consistently fail to recognize the good in those they oppose.

These traits are concerning not merely because they are disagreeable but because they represent a fundamental departure from the principles of reason, maturity, and understanding. They undercut the Christian ethic of engagement, replacing it with something antithetical to empathy and constructive communication.

In the Christian tradition, the fruits of the Spirit—a scriptural term denoting characteristics such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are central to personal character and communal integrity. The behavior of these online provocateurs stands in stark contrast to these fruits.

combative spirit, the promotion of oneself at the expense of others, and a lack of empathy for those affected by one’s words are entirely out of step with the path laid out by scripture.

Furthermore, such behavior diverges significantly from the examples set by the prophets and Jesus. Prophets, though often speaking uncomfortable truths, did so with an eye toward righteousness, compassion, and justice, with the ultimate goal of drawing people back into a right relationship with God and one another. They did not seek personal glory but rather pointed beyond themselves to the Divine. Jesus’s ministry was characterized by a radical love that sought the welfare of others, a willingness to engage with all members of society, and a humility that led him to the cross. Claiming to speak truth without embodying these virtues does not make one a prophet in the biblical sense.

So how, then, should we respond to such behavior online? Several pathways show character and integrity and align with the Christian ethic:

First, we must be discerning about when and how to engage. There are moments when silence is the most potent statement—when responding would only give unnecessary attention to the contentious and disrupt the potential for peace. Yet there are also times when truth must be spoken, or a voice must be raised for those who cannot speak for themselves. Wisdom lies in knowing the difference.

When we do choose to engage, we must do so with grace and maturity. We can focus our efforts on the issue rather than the individual, avoiding the personal attacks that are too common online. We can exhibit patience and restraint, modeling the sort of discourse we hope to see. We can approach the conversation humbly, recognizing that we have much to learn from others—even those with whom we strongly disagree.

It’s also critical to foster environments that encourage healthy dialogue. This might mean creating structured spaces to promote constructive engagement or participating in existing forums with an attitude that elevates the conversation.

Additionally, in the face of combative or manipulative behavior, setting boundaries is vital. This can include private messages to address concerns directly, reporting abusive behavior to platform moderators or appropriate organizations, or publicly maintaining standards of respectful discourse without succumbing to provocation.

The Christian response should also involve praying for those who engage in harmful behaviors online, recognizing that they, too, are created in the image of God and are not beyond the reach of grace. This does not mean condoning harmful behavior but instead refusing to let it go unchecked and seeking the transformation of hearts and minds.

Finally, disengagement is a legitimate and often necessary response. To walk away from an unproductive conversation with one’s integrity intact can be a profound testimony in and of itself. It echoes the wisdom that teaches us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

In sum, we are called to a higher standard of engagement—one that reflects not only the character we profess to have but the One we profess to follow. As we navigate the challenging waters of social media, may we do so with the grace and wisdom that bear witness to the transformative power of the gospel in our lives.

Graham Joseph Hill

Rev. Dr. Graham Joseph Hill OAM serves as Mission Catalyst for Church Planting and Missional Renewal with the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, Australia. Previously, he was the Principal of Stirling Theological College (Melbourne), the Vice-Principal of Morling Theological College (Sydney), and an Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, Australia. Graham is an ordained and accredited minister with the Baptist Churches of Australia. Graham received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2024 for “service to theological education and to the Baptist Churches of Australia.” He has planted and pastored churches and been in ministry since 1988. Graham is the author or editor of 15 books. Graham writes at grahamjosephhill.com

Graham's qualifications include: OAM, Honours Diploma of Ministry (SCD), Bachelor of Theology (SCD), Master of Theology (Notre Dame), and Doctor of Philosophy (Flinders).

See ORCID publication record: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6532-8248

 

© 2024. All rights reserved by Graham Joseph Hill. Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites, or in any other place, without written permission is prohibited.

Subscribe to my blog

Buy graham’s books

Contact me

For speaking engagements, permissions, and other general enquiries.

Subscribe to the blog

Join my mailing list

Never miss a blog post, I'll send you an email when a new one comes out. 

You have successfully subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This