I was on a trip with the school’s high school volleyball team when it happened. We were all in a rental house watching a sports movie after a day of tournament games when a song came on.
I grew up in the era the song was first popular, and I was singing along with it and then exclaimed, “I love Creedence Clearwater Revival!”
One of the adult sponsors traveling with the team said, “That’s not Creedence Clearwater.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not. You’re wrong.”
“No, I’m not. I’ll wager the $10 in my wallet.”
As it turns out, it wasn’t Creedence Clearwater. Not by a long shot. It was The Hollies who sang “Long Cool Woman.” I hate being wrong.
I Love Being Right
As much as I hate being wrong, I LOVE being right—about anything and everything. This love/hate relationship I struggle with has been heightened and magnified with my participation in social media.
What is a person to do when they see something posted by a friend or church member that is wrong? Especially when it comes to politics, religion, or whether people sitting next to me in a church should wear a face covering?
This gets more complicated as we look at the political climate in the United States and Canada today. People in red hats are sure they have all the answers to our country’s social, economic, and moral problems. People who voted for the other guy are 100% sure that the folks in the red hats are 100% wrong about everything they are 100% right about. And then there are the folks with the BLM bumper stickers. They see a whole slew of historical and systemic injustices that, in their view, need attention now!
Add to that the divide between liberal and conservative amateur theologians in our church that have strong opinions about music, preaching, and whether a woman should be allowed to pastor.
To complicate things further, enter the first pandemic this country has gone through in 100 years, and the problems listed above come back to us 100 fold.
People post, say, preach, and shout all kinds of facts, opinions, and all sorts of “facts!” Masks do work. Masks don’t work. Get vaccinated! Vaccinated? That’s ridiculous! Take dewormer medicine and be a vegan! God will protect you from the virus if you have a little faith! I believe Dr. Fauci! What? He and Bill Gates are out to get you!
YouTubes are being passed around like Halloween candy. Churches are hosting “experts” in every field telling streaming on computer screens what to do and not to do regarding mandates, vaccinations, and face coverings.
Polarized and Divided
All of this information has saturated and polarized millions of people.
Just two days ago, I was visiting with a church member of mine who leaned in and told me, “The reason I won’t get the vaccine is because it has nanoparticle magnetism that cooperates with the new 5G technology so that the government can track you.” He then went on about how this is setting us up for being persecuted at the end of time. He went on to show me a couple of YouTubes with people who were sticking coins to their arms. (Hint: Coins aren’t magnetic).
Assuming I didn’t believe what my friend had shared with me, how should I have responded to this? How would you react to this if it was a fellow church member who shared this with you? What if you saw it on a friend’s social media post?
In an age of information-sharing unparalleled in the history of the world, a YouTube video is the truth, if you want it to be. A Facebook meme is true if you want it to be.
The Bible is clear on how we should respond to people who are speaking/posting wrong things.
Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”
There you go—right from the pen of the wisest man who ever lived! When you hear somebody say something foolish (wrong), the best thing is just to let them speak/write/post. Engaging them in a debate will drag you down to their level. You are foolish to engage.
But wait, there’s more! The very next strokes from the pen of inspiration take a sudden turn!
Proverbs 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
So maybe the best thing to do when we see somebody’s posts or say something full of error that could mislead other people is to correct them to know their wrongness and not be wise in their own eyes. Like Jesus, maybe we should say, “Are you so dull?”
So which is it? It would seem that the writer of Proverbs believes that every situation might warrant a varied and measured reaction. Sometimes it’s good to remain silent. Sometimes it’s better to rebuke and engage in a course-correcting discussion.
In this age of slinging information around like everything’s a fact, here’s how I navigate whether I should engage in pointing out errors/correcting misinformation. These are rules I’ve made for myself. I hope they can give you a starting point for how you want to cope with all the chaos.
1) I don’t argue with people that I’m not vested in. If I see a Facebook post from somebody that is barely an acquaintance and not a friend or relative, I might post something for them to consider, but I won’t argue.
2) I am involved in social media. If I see something posted conspiratorial or factually challenged, I sometimes phrase a rebuttal like this. “I know you value good information. Here’s another point of view to consider.” I follow that with a word of affirmation about my relationship with that person. I hope that what I have posted will be read along with what was initially published.
3) If a family member or a close friend about whom I care deeply is passing along what I would consider misinformation or conspiracy theories, I will challenge them on what they are saying/posting. But I will not do this publicly. I will present evidence privately and hash it out where nobody can see it. In the end, these people are deeply loved by me, and whatever their views, they will be in my life until I die.
4) Don’t make anything personal. Name-calling, insults, and mud-slinging toward the person who posted/proclaimed what you perceive to be an error, or toward any public official who you may be arguing about, is beneath a person who calls Jesus a friend.
5) I’m a pastor. If someone is passing along conspiracy theories or misinformation in my church, I will put a stop to it pretty quickly. Not that long ago, I was walking by a Sabbath School class and heard the teacher call the president a Communist who would try and steal all our identities. The next day, an in-home visit, a retraction in the next class, and a public apology.
6) Humor. When my church member told me that the vaccinations were magnetized so that the government could use 5G to track me, I said, “Boy, is some FBI agent going to be bored with my life! They will track me from the church to my home and then back to the church again…over and over and over again!”
They laughed and then got serious and said, “So you think the vaccinations are safe?”
Smooth it With Laughter
I answered and said, “I have no idea! I just wanted to follow the example of President Trump, President Biden, all the Republican and Democrat Governors! I figured if they all got it, it must be the thing to do!”
Then I broke out laughing. And he followed.
In the end, the most important thing to me is that I treat everyone with love and respect. Folks typically aren’t drawn to Jesus because they lose an argument. Treating humans with love and respect is paramount to my interactions with all people in my sphere of influence. If I can’t dispute a post or a comment with love, then I have no business saying anything at all.
If you liked this, you may enjoy, Team Kindness.
Mark Witas writes from the Pacific Northwest.