Proverbs 27:6 says “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.”
This is purely anecdotal, and my perception may be wrong, but it seems like within evangelical social media circles, too often the roles are reversed here. A tweet or Facebook post which is genuinely poorly thought out (i.e., dumb) or wrong only receives “kisses” from friends and “wounds” from enemies.
Part of this is is surely normal — not to say excusable — tribalism. We tend to want to defend our friends and a prominent figure we follow on social media and “interact” with throughout the week feels very much like a friend. And it seems these friends (I use the term loosely) are always unfairly under attack from another tribe (discernment bloggers). Anecdotally, this perception of being under attack from another tribe might be accurate.
But if that’s an excuse to let our friends say corrosive or foolish things on social media, then we’re part of the problem with what makes social media such a horrible place. Such behavior further entrenches the tribalism and can lead to more extremism. What’s more, as Proverbs indicates, it’s actually a failure to act as a friend.
Here’s an example: amidst the case of the Arbery shooting, there are a lot of charges of racism floating around from relatively prominent evangelicals. And these charges are being directed not just at the shooters. I saw one this morning from a relatively prominent evangelical professor who directs the charge of racism at anyone who doesn’t agree strongly enough with his assessment of the situation or have the same degree of epistemic certainty as to the details as this person does.
Meanwhile, another relatively prominent evangelical is lamenting that people are sending him racist emails are hiding behind anonymous email accounts and using proxies. They are “sniveling cowards.” I think his assessment of online racists is correct: they seem to be sniveling cowards. But what stood out to me was the context, created artificially by social media, in which one prominent evangelical makes sweeping and overblown accusations of racism while another one provides us with insight into just how evil and morally depraved racism is… which should make us hesitant to accuse people of racism without adequate evidence, right?
If a prominent evangelical figure went around online accusing women of being guilty of adultery, and this prominent evangelical figure was using really bad criterion as their evidence (say, having x number of male followers) wouldn’t that be bad? And if adulterers happened to be the worst thing you could be considered by our social mores, wouldn’t such accusations be even more morally egregious?
Yet it seems like not a single friendly wound is given in these types of situations. Instead, the wounds predictably come from those who often have a reputation, and rightly so, of not having their best interest in mind.
We see the same sort of thing in politics, where a politician surrounds himself with yes-men and the politician’s party simply circles the wagons and never admits any mistakes or moral failings of said politician. More often in the political scenario, this actually seems to be a reflectively adopted strategy — whereas in evangelical social media it appears to be an unconscious reflex. The bet of the politicians is that they can pull public opinion towards them and manipulate the narrative rather than risk the more difficult task of fessing up and the opposing political party being able to control the narrative.
But that sort of thinking should never be the case within our little evangelical tribes. And, as I said above, I don’t think this sort of thinking is consciously taking place — at least not to the same degree as in political circles.
At large scales, politicians may — unfortuatenly — be correct in the calculation. (This was a common lament of Socrates/Plato.) But I think it’s easier to avoid that cynical outcome at smaller levels — Plato apparently thought so too, which is one reason why he favored smaller city states. Thus, at a practical level evangelicals would be wrong to try and employ this consciously — not to mention, again, that it goes against biblical wisdom (Proverbs 27:6) and, in some cases, mandate (1 Timothy 5:20).