Today I came across an interview with the editor of a new book to which I have contributed as an author. Christian Civility in an Uncivil World is a book that is needed in our day. The chapter I contributed contains what I call "The Ten Commandments for Christian Civility on the Internet." Periodically I check up on how I'm doing in relation to the principles put forth in that chapter. Not all of you may agree with what I've written, but I would be interested in your comments or opinion about the necessity or beneficiality of the commandments as listed in the book. I might also encourage you to purchase the book for the writings of other fine evangelical Christian men and women, including Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary and Jimmy Allen, former President of the SBC (1977-1979).
The Ten Commandments for Christian Civility on the Internet
1. We will seek to glorify God in all we write. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
Nothing we write, no matter the content, can be called good without God’s glory as the ultimate aim. If a person seeks recognition, his or her own praise, the applause of people, or any other selfish end through what he or she writes on the Internet, it should not be written, nor will it be accounted by God to be a good thing. There are no restrictions upon Paul’s command, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). The best way to determine if God is glorified is to ask ourselves what God thinks about what we write. Is it God’s will? Does it display God’s attributes? Is it consistent with God’s desires as expressed in the Bible? Does it honor God and God’s people? Whether our words are formed for praise and prayers, concern and correction, exhortation and encouragement, they should glorify God first and foremost.
(2). We will refuse to post anything online that we wouldn’t say face to face. “The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks” (Prov 25:23).
Unless we are in physical danger for what we would write or say, we will never write anonymously. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression are both human rights, and in those instances where governments, societies, or men seek to remove that right by force, we reserve the right to post anonymously. Otherwise, we must be as responsible and civil on the Internet as we are in person. To hide behind anonymity on the Internet is similar to backbiting and gossiping, two serious sins. We will post it, claim it, and stand by it.
3. When we are offended, we will connect privately before we respond publicly. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt 18:15).
There are times when posting differing philosophies, opinions, and thoughts will cause emotions to escalate. During these times, when offenses between brothers and sisters might occur, we will connect privately with the person with whom we have an offense before we write anything publicly. And we will keep in mind that Christian love covers a multitude of offenses.
4. We will think carefully and pray sincerely, before we post. “Let every person . . . be slow to speak” (Jas 1:19). Before we hit the submit button to publish our post, we will think twice about what we are trying to say and will ask ourselves “Is this how and what I really want to be conveyed?” Next, we will pause and ask God to give us wisdom and discernment, and reread the post for a final time. We will then ask if our words stand the test of eternity, when we shall give an account to God of everything we have said or written. If we prayerfully come to peace that what we have written honors God and advances God’s kingdom, we will hit the submit button and publish our words. We will not allow others to corrupt our writing efforts. “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil” (Prov 14:16). We are committed to enforce civility.
5. We will not allow others to corrupt our writing efforts. “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil” (Prov 14:16).
We will strive for only acceptable content on our website, and we will delete all writing and comments that are unacceptable. We will refrain from allowing to stand (a) comments that are abusive, harassing, or threatening to others. (b) comments we know are libelous and/or false. (c) comments that infringe upon any copyright or trademark. (d) comments that violate any obligation for confidentiality. Though the above guidelines are often subjective, we determine what is unacceptable on a case-by-case basis, and our definitions are not limited to the above, but could grow as our knowledge and understanding of unacceptable content matures. When a comment or guest post is deleted, a clear explanation will always be given.
6. We will not allow others to comment anonymously. Jesus said, “I have spoken openly. I have said nothing in secret” (John 18:20).
We will require commenters to follow the example of Jesus and supply their real first and last names, or if an alias or pseudonym is used, the commenter will supply to us a valid e-mail address with information about themselves before they can post. The necessity of an alias is only in rare circumstances (safety or security of the commenter), but we will always be able to trace the pseudonym to a real person.
7. We will do no one any intentional harm. “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess 5:11).
We will intentionally seek to make the people around us better by writing things that encourage and build up. When times come that call for what we feel to be correction, we will speak the truth in love. We will never seek to destroy a reputation, harm a person’s good name, or disparage a person’s character. Our focus in writing will be on a person’s conduct or actions, thinking or philosophy, but not character. The Spirit of God is able to change the heart, not us, and we will accept our brother or sister in Christ where the Lord has them in life.
8. We will be decisive over what we delete. “Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’ at the same time? Our word to you has not been Yes and No” (2 Cor 1:17-18).
We have already stated the importance of taking responsibility for removing unacceptable material from our website. We retain the right to decide what is unacceptable and will not vacillate back and forth as those whose comments have been deleted argue and debate our decision.
9. We will personally rebuke those who post unacceptable content. “But when Peter came to Antioch, I rebuked him to his face” (Gal 2:11).
When someone is publishing comments or blog postings that are offensive in nature, we will tell them privately if at all possible and prove, in writing, the unacceptability of what has been written. We will then ask them to make amends publicly, unless it is considered that doing so will only worsen the situation. Where published comments are considered threatening or libelous, we will involve local law enforcement. If the offensive material breaks no laws, and a private rebuke is not received, we will inform the public of the offense in order to create a civil online society where people feel the uncivilized are called out, just as they are in the real world. Of course, it is of highest importance that we safeguard the ability for people to feel safe in disagreement, and that rebukes never be used to silence dissent. Rebukes are used as a last resort only for those who are uncivilized in their writing.
10. We will promote these commandments for increased online Christian civility. “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” (Rom 16:17).
We appeal to all our Christian brothers who write or read published Internet postings to distribute and promote these commandments for Christian civility on the Internet. Through raising awareness of particular actions that can be taken to ensure civility, we “watch out for those who cause divisions.”