There’s a public figure in the church, someone whose work I have admired greatly, although some of his recent decisions and statements have started to concern me. I have been blessed by his written words and spoken addresses, and his impact influenced some of my decisions regarding my seminary education.
He made the decision to take part in a few ecumenical gatherings focusing on cultural issues. This just didn’t sit right with me. Rather than going into such a meeting to preach Christ or elevate the distinctiveness of Christian faith from the other religions being represented, he chose the path of hand-holding, as a “co-belligerent” in the culture war. This seemed to me to miss the point.
He talked about this meeting on Twitter. I responded critically to him, questioning why he was there at all. (This was my first mistake.)
I’m no one, okay? I know that. I’m a cipher. I’m just a tick-mark on a roll among the millions of people in my church denomination, so it’s not as though I expected to enter into a dialogue with this high-profile figure. Yet something about his comments rubbed me the wrong way, so I responded, a bit rashly but I don’t think unfairly.
He replied sarcastically about my “knowing the hearts of” everyone in the meeting. On the one hand, he was right; I was guilty of overstatement in my comments. On the other hand, he was at a meeting with Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, and representatives of other faiths. My contention that his co-attendees believed a different Gospel than he did was, on the whole, valid. I still believe that.
I responded to his retort, apologized for any unfairness, and restated my concern in a fairer way. He never responded.
Others responded to me, or “favorited” his comment to me. Though I tried to “make it right” and affirm that I wasn’t simply taking a cheap shot, he never replied. And that bothered me for a while afterward. I was disappointed that he was willing to snark but not willing to engage.
Here’s my point: Social media is a double-edged sword–it gives you up-close access to the good and the bad of the people you admire. It’s a thrill to get a comment back from authors or pastors or thinkers that you appreciate. It’s fun to actually engage in brief dialogue with creatives and celebrities, 140 characters at a time.
But just as I am tempted to overreact or be flippant with others on social media, so are these people I look up to–shocking, I know, but true. As it turns out, all of these people are human beings, sinners in their own right who are capable of being just as frustrated, petty, and irritable as we are.
I’ve learned two things from this experience: First, I’ve been reminded that I need to be more careful about how I respond to criticism online. There may come a day when I’m the person someone else looks up to, so I should start learning now how to respond to critics in a mature way.
Second, I’ve learned to think twice before tweeting my heroes, unless I’m ready to see that they’re sinners like me. And when I get a snarky response or a dismissive jab, I should be ready to show grace and compassion to them, just as I need grace to cover my own failings.
Your Turn: Have you had a run-in (whether in-person or online) with someone you look up to, only to find that they’re a sinner like you? What did that experience teach you? Comment below!