Online Arsony

The tongue has the power of life and deathProverbs 18:21

Firefighters are describing conditions out west as a hectic situation on a scale they have not seen before. People are losing their lives, homes and businesses to forest fires.

Our speech, according to James, can be destructive like an uncontrolled fire. Scroll down a social media page and you can easily find the latest fire: emotionally charged political debates, the newest uproars and the biggest controversies. Online debates are becoming increasingly hostile, and we have to take this seriously. The metaphor of arsony is not an exaggeration, as we see in James’ letter:

“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).

Nastya Nudnik has inserted a social media symbol into Edward Hopper’s oil painting “Conference at Night.”

James’ teaching is not just a warning, it is also a description of the wounds we experience on social media. How many wounds come from words that “pierce like swords” (Proverbs 12:18)? How many regrets come from words we have said?  Rather than be contentious and harsh, through our speech (spoken and typed) we can clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12-13). 

This does not mean we never confront error and contend for God’s truth.  It does mean that our online conversations must “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

To use a different metaphor, social media gives everyone a platform, and it’s hard to resist the opportunity. What will we do with our microphone (or keyboard)? 

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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