The Internet Is Public Space

Some Christians, churches, and ministries purposefully avoid hard or controversial issues that might offend their non-Christian friends. They will talk a long time about the love of God, but almost never about his wrath. They will mention the cross, but not the conquest of Canaan. They will preach on family, but try to avoid the topic of gay marriage.

This makes sense as an evangelistic strategy, when the plan is to find common ground and not needlessly offend out of the gate. As Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). I get it, and myself participate in an evangelistic ministry that doesn’t want to needlessly ruffle feathers.

But there are dangers. For one, we may begin to function as if there is a canon within the canon. There are some parts of the Bible we never talk about, unless they bring it up. Another danger is that we can begin to lose integrity. We have two different sorts of conversation: an open discussion with our Christian friends and a more guarded, careful communication with the people we are trying to reach.

It used to be easier to keep these two conversations distinct and discrete. But now social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, has brought these two worlds together. Both sets of friends see all your posts, likes, and favorites, and it is sometimes hard not to offend one side or the other. Recommend the story of an evangelical florist who refuses to participate in a gay wedding, and you might offend the father of a gay child who feels ostracized by the church. Link to a sympathetic story that this father might like, and you will raise questions in the minds of your Christian friends who assumed you believed that God’s Word has the last word.

I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this modern problem. Do you think about the various friends and followers who might read your tweet or post, and does that change what you say or how you say it? What steps do you take to maintain your integrity and yet not needlessly offend?

Image by Valery Kenski. Used by permission. Sourced via Flckr.



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16 responses to “The Internet Is Public Space”

  1. Matt Mitchell

    I completely resonate with what you say here, Mike.

    What I remind myself all of the time is that social media is broadcasting (even if no one else is listening, they might be). So, I need to only say things online that I would say on a radio show.

    Most people understand that there are different genres of radio, so they would expect certain kinds of discourse on certain kinds of show. (I can be goofier interacting with some people than others and it be understood by onlookers.)

    But it’s important to know your audience, and with social media, your audience could be just about anyone. So, I write (and link and share) for my *likely* audience but also remind myself of other probable folks who could be tuning in.

    If I don’t think all (most?) would profit from what I post, I don’t post it. There can always be deeper conversations offline or in more private communication. I also ask myself if I’m willing to defend and carry on a public conversation about whatever I post. Sometimes I am, sometimes, I’m not.

    Yes, that limits what I’m doing publicly, but there are always limits to what you do. This just sets some of them for me.

    I haven’t really answered your question about maintaining integrity without needlessly offending, but for me, it’s mainly being internally committed to both.

  2. Elden Stielstra

    One cannot always know the audience, so preach without fear the whole gospel/canon. Some will come to Christ and some will walk away offended. God’s choosing is his alone.

  3. neukomment

    In Facebook I set up a list of a group of my FB friends titled “Evangelical”… The criteria for putting a name on that list is pretty loose, but the intent was to be able to post matters of a more specific evangelical nature, target that group in those posts so only they see it and avoid unnessecarily antagonizing my unbelieving and pagan FB friends. I have another much narrower FB group titled “Theology” so theological matters that I do not nessecarily wish to post to the broader “Evangelical” group will on be seen only by the Theology group. (Of course Mike, I have you are in both groups, being the evangelical theologian GRTS pays you to be. 😉

  4. Reblogged this on and commented:
    In our culture today –be a BOLD witnesss!!!!!!!!!!

  5. allenada

    I recently reminded a friend of this very thing. She had reposted a “harmless” graphic, but its origin was the cite of a professional psychic and I wondered if she realized people might assume she was a follower. Her offended response was that people know her better than that. Which people?

  6. Yes! I relate to this a lot.

  7. Mamaof6

    I relate. We homeschool and I posted a link about the dangers of public school and really got blasted by some relatives! I am a coward and rarely share posts about controversial things. I figure there are enough others who post those things and I can “like” their post.

  8. James

    I basically disagree with the premise that we should not be offensive. Jesus went out of his way at times to shove people away. (I have in mind specifically where he tells people that they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.) The clear picture in the Bible is one in which the crowds are chased away so that only those that desperately desire the Word will hang around to hear it.

  9. I think about who I might offend or hurt. For instance, I shared an article about a 12-week old miscarriage with a picture of the fetus. The intention was to show the humanity of the baby, yet when I shared the article, I hid the image, because I remembered a dear friend had miscarried recently.

    When sharing articles about topics like homosexuality, I don’t go out of my way to be offensive, but I post nonetheless. I believe we are primarily called to be faithful witnesses within this new medium…if the salt loses its saltiness, what is it good for?

  10. Adam

    Evangelism is and is only sin, judgment, salvation. Everything else is extranneous. Now, as far as biblical teaching goes, to diminish, censor or truncate is akin to blasphemy as far as I can tell, looking at my bible and taking it at face value.

  11. lynndmorrissey

    I totally get this. So what’s *your* answer?

  12. Seriously? You raised the questions I already have and not answer them?

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  14. Reblogged this on greypatch72 and commented:
    Enjoy….think…then act. 1love..

  15. Great Blog!!
    My method is to say and present all truth in Love as well as the other fruits of the spirit. I realize that when truth is spoken feathers are broken, so it’s not possible to be in truth and not offend. Truth really hurts those who don’t love it or are not in it. So, I let my yay be yay and my nays be nays. I use scriptures to support all views.

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