I’m a social media fanatic because it supports my goal of being a bridge-builder. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have connected me with amazing people from diverse walks of life. I have formed incredible relationships with people from around the globe. From where I stand, the internet is a gift. I connect with many of these internet friends on a daily basis, but there are also folks I only hear from after I share a post about social justice, racial inequality, or affirming the LGBTQ community. My recent blog post, in response to the hateful Nashville Statement, brought the internet trolls out of the woodwork. I muted some, ignored many, and even blocked a few. Being a bridge-builder isn't easy.
I’m not talking about people who simply disagree with my views. There are plenty of those. When you’re a progressive Christian and a Southern Democrat, it comes with the territory. As long as someone wants to disagree respectfully, instead of turning it into a personal attack, I’m glad to continue to engage.
What is an internet troll?
According to Wikipedia, an internet troll is, “a person who sows discord on the Internet with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response”.
After three days of my Facebook page being overtaken by trolls, my stomach was in knots, and I was exhausted. That’s when I posted this on Twitter:
[clickToTweet tweet="I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls." quote="I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls." theme="style3"]
Josh Powers responded with this great reminder:
[clickToTweet tweet="'Jesus even had trolls.' @powersj_tx" quote="'Jesus even had trolls.'" theme="style3"]
I think my friend Charlie, from The Neighborhood Liturgies, said it best:
[clickToTweet tweet="Wherever somebody's trying to build bridges it's bound to attract trolls. @charlieporterr" quote="'Wherever somebody's trying to build bridges it's bound to attract trolls.'" theme="style3"]
140 characters of love and goodness.Thanks, Charlie.
Even Jesus had Trolls
Each time Jesus stood up against the social and political norms of his day, the Pharisees were there to call him on it. If he healed on the Sabbath or embraced someone caught in “sin”, it further ignited the fires of fear and hatred from the other side.
Jesus defined the trolls of his day like this, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” He goes on to warn against legalistic, closed-minded religious people who focus on small matters like tithe and religious titles, but neglect, “the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.”
If you’re focused on being a bridge builder, just remember that there have been trolls since the days of Jesus. It can be exhausting. To be honest, there are times when everything in me wants to fight back. I want to defend myself, my views, and my friends against mean-spirited, angry people. But Paul challenges my human nature when it comes to dealing with trolls:
Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them...
Never pay back evil with evil...
Never try to get revenge...
If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink...
Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.
My friend Ed Bacon describes it in contemporary language, as living in the House of Fear or the House of Love. Ed says, "The opposite of Love is not Hate, but Fear. Love and Fear are two competing energies in the wisdom and life of Jesus."
I think Jesus recognized how powerful Fear had become as he grieved Jerusalem, saying:
How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.
The House of Fear seems to control much of social media these days, and sometimes it feels like the House of Love is more abandoned and desolate than ever. This just means we have to keep doing our part to build bridges and invite people over.
We know that Love casts out Fear, so don't give up! Even in the face of adversity and senseless anger, don’t stop sharing conversations like #EmptyThePews. Be persistent in telling everyone you know that there is room at God’s table for them, exactly as they are, no matter what the trolls say.
Steve Austin is a life coach, speaker, author, and host of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Steve's goal is to help clients and audiences create a lifestyle of focused emotional health and clarity. Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter and get Steve's Amazon best-seller, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, absolutely free!