A day or two following one of the recent tragies in the news—and there’s been so many—I happened to read a reaction shared by a relatively well known Christian blogger. The gist of the post was a call to action, and specifically, to public statements of solidarity.
The writer said Christians cannot be silent, especially on social media if they maintain an active or prominent presence online. Posting a declaration of support is a Christian responsibility as representatives of the Gospel.
I couldn’t disagree more.
Now, don’t get me wrong: There’s a lot in this message that I think is exactly right. In times of grief, Christians are supposed to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
It is always our responsibility to humbly live in love toward all people, and in the wake of such a tragedy it is grossly inappropriate to qualify that love with a stab of critique.
But all that can be true without reaching the conclusion that it is our Christian duty to opine out loud. In fact, I’d suggest quite the opposite: Whether the subject is mass-shootings, Brexit, the coup in Turkey or any other item in the seemingly endless onslaught of high-profile and too-often bloody stories by which recent months have been marked, you don’t—as a Christian, or just as a reasonably knowledgeable person with internet access—need to have an opinion on everything; and you don’t need to broadcast in public every opinion you do hold.
I understand the impulse to talk. After all, I report and comment on politics for a living, so the instinct to immediately begin determining my own view on whatever piece of news I may encounter is at this point well-ingrained. Even for those for whom commentary is more hobby than job, I’ll be the first to admit the internet loves a hot take.
Pound out a quick reaction to whatever story is blowing up your feeds and the likes, comments and shares arrive like clockwork. Remark on something buzzy enough and that attention will show up even if your message isn’t constructive, unique or well-informed.
And that’s precisely the problem with this sense that public comment is compulsory on any major issue: It is impossible for any of us to have a valuable opinion on everything. The hotness of a take rarely correlates with its worth.
There is no virtue in discussing something merely because it is much-discussed.
So instead of posting out of some a Christian obligation to speak on any given event, let me instead suggest three principles for a better model.
1. Don’t assume silence equals apathy.
I write—and care—a lot about police misconduct, criminal justice reform and institutional racism as it relates to each. But sometimes I miss stuff. A video could go viral while I’m traveling or sick or offline for whatever reason and I might not be able to catch up until after the news cycle has moved on.
That silence doesn’t mean I’m apathetic, and the same may well be true for everyone else, especially those who don’t have the luxury I do of being paid to think and write about this sort of thing all the time.
Many of my friends and family members have never posted a single sentence about the death of Philando Castile, for instance, but it’s not fair for me assume they don’t care. That might be the case, of course, but it may equally be that they’re overwhelmingly busy, or worried about the saying the wrong thing, or simply emotionally exhausted after months of one catastrophe after another. I hope that my own silence will be met with grace, and I must offer it as well.
2. Don’t be a same-day expert.
After each Supreme Court decision, it seems like everyone on Facebook magically acquires a law degree, but that type of same-day expertise almost never produces anything of value.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t study up on a new issue and eventually weigh in, but the studying has to happen first, and the time it takes to collect that information and maybe even let it marinate a little has its own value. As Baylor University professor Alan Jacobs wrote while meditating on the pressure toward constantly “going off half-cocked,” “Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.”
Until you can say something well-informed, to tweak Thumper’s advice, don’t say anything at all.
3. Sometimes, it’s right to speak up.
After all these words of caution, let me equally add a word of encouragement: There will almost certainly be a time (or many times!) when it will be your responsibility to speak up, to take a stand—perhaps even a prophetic stand in the Old Testament sense of calling out injustice in the public square.
Your responsibility may not be every Christian’s responsibility, and it may not look like the way others have been called to speak; as Jacobs remarks, “Some conversations are more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street” or Facebook or Twitter.
That’s ok: “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.” And whether we are called to weigh in or not, the most excellent way is love, which sometimes must be publicly silent—and sometimes must be a bullhorn.