“You’re a pathetic little fool,” the message read, “and you’re probably gay.” I have been on social media for roughly half my adult life, and I have seen it go from a niche, available to mostly college students, to an overwhelming onslaught of interaction and communication. I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter.
That said, I do not have a huge following. I have never had a post go viral or even make a measurable impact beyond an extended circle of friends. Nevertheless, if you stay around social media long enough, you will say something that will catch the attention of someone, and the likelihood is high that you will eventually be attacked. Given the circles in which I travel, the attack usually comes from someone who identifies as a Christian.
Recently, I made a comment on a Twitter thread about religious freedom. I mentioned the Murfreesboro, Tennessee, mosque controversy—an example of Christians using politics to block Muslims from building a worship space in a town about an hour south of Nashville.
That’s when I got the response mentioned above, telling me I was pathetic. Then, in the following tweet, the same commenter invited me to accept Jesus. (It is not clear if the person thought I was an unbeliever or just didn’t like the fact that I am Roman Catholic.)
I wasn’t always Catholic, and I wasn’t always Christian. In fact, until my mid-20s, I was an atheist, despite having grown up in the deeply religious Bible Belt of South Georgia. Years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, there was a senior who spent the entire year bullying and insulting me. I’m still not entirely sure why he didn’t like me, but he let me know just about every single day.
At the end of the school year, I attended graduation. I was there to cheer for several of my friends. After the ceremony, I turned around to find myself face-to-face with this senior who had bullied me throughout the year.
I will never forget the exchange that followed. He looked at me and said: “David, I’m part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I’m a Christian. I want you to know that Christ is the most important thing in my life, and I hope you will invite him into your heart.”
A moment like that might be awkward under the best of circumstances, but literally every prior interaction I had with this young man had been one in which he had teased me, insulted me, or threatened my safety. Now, suddenly, he was testifying to me about his faith. I looked at him, unable to think of anything to say. I just shook my head and walked away.
A Mixed Message
There is a quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.” It is important to evangelize. But if prior interactions have been laced with hate, violence, or calumny, we should expect nothing but indifference to the Gospel we proclaim.
This is especially true if we have the audacity to inflict pain with our words and actions one moment and shout the name of Jesus the next. In our haste to maintain the pure borders of our faith, we risk confusing God’s righteousness with our own.
There is no quick fix for the hurts and harm we cause, and it is no excuse to say we were simply being zealous for the Lord. What is required is contrition and repentance—in private if we must—coupled with a public gesture of making amends with the ones who have been harmed by our actions. That is the only bridge that will carry the weight of the Gospel.