Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Let me read to you a different kind of Gospel than the one we heard a moment ago.
A reading from the anti-Gospel according to social media. Glory to me and my ego.
If your brother, or some other random person with whom you have no relationship, says or does something you find disagreeable, especially concerning politics, do not reach out to them individually and attempt to seek the full context behind their words or actions. There is no need to seek a deeper understanding behind what they said or did. After all, this is what the silly Christians do.
Instead, make an aggressive post on the social media platform of your choosing, reprimanding their words or actions for all the world to see. Make sure to call them derogatory names using as much vulgar language as possible. Slander, detraction and gossip are always the best means of winning someone over to your side.
If the person does not immediately repent of their words or actions that are contrary to your point of view, create a meme with an embarrassing image of them that has the potential of going viral so as to dehumanize them and shame them into submission. If, after blasting them with an aggressive post and humiliating them with an embarrassing meme, they still do not recant of their ridiculous words or behavior, then the only option left is to un-friend them on social media and start an online petition convincing others to gang up on them.
Do not consult others for the sake of verifying the truth and goodness of your own position. Consult others for the sole purpose of creating a virtual mob to suffocate them so that the only choice they have left is to concede. Vicious means are necessary to preserve our own world-view. Never forget, the goal is neither truth nor charity nor the conversion of the human heart, but winning the argument at all costs. This is always established by the majority vote of the online community.
Again, amen I say to you, whatever thoughts and desires arise in your mind and heart are always appropriate for immediate online sharing because they are always right and never wrong. It is completely impossible for them to be malformed in any way. The anti-Gospel of the world. Praise to me and my gigantic ego.
Brothers and sisters, the real Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20), not the anti-Gospel of the world, is quite specific about how we, as Christians, are expected to resolve conflicts. Jesus tells us plainly, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.”
Jesus’ specific instructions on this matter transcend all times, cultures, and communication platforms. The issue is not a lack of clarity concerning what to do, but the fact that our egos are often too big and our wills too weak to actually do it. Conflict resolution according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is difficult and often uncomfortable. It always feels easier to “air out” our frustrations with others through electronic means where we can hide behind our computer screen. It is a different experience altogether to sit in the presence of another, to make a personal connection with them by looking them in the eyes, seeing the unique and unrepeatable person in front of you, and humbly discussing the possibility that one of us (or both) might be wrong in how we see the world and choose to live in it.
Yet, Jesus’ way of resolving conflict is the only way that preserves the dignity of the human person because it is the only way that is rooted in actual charity. To seek to resolve our differences with someone in private first, in the context of a relationship, where we can listen to another, demonstrating our genuine care and concern for the person behind whose position or behavior we find disagreeable, is the most appropriate means of fraternal correction rooted in Christ-like love.
One of the frustrations I have experienced over the past few months in re-engaging social media has been how often I see Catholics (even some members of our parish) ignore the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ concerning conflict resolution in the online world. As Catholics, we are called to live differently. Catholics are called by Jesus Christ to live the virtue of charity in all situations and on all platforms. Although several obligations have been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic, the obligation to respect the dignity of the human person through social media is not one of them.
Imagine what the online world would look like if we all followed the instructions of our Lord concerning conflict resolution: if communication were contextualized in our common sonship in Christ, if humble listening was an essential part of our standard operating procedure, if the virtue of temperance (the virtue that gives us proper governance of our passions) was exercised in all our difficult conversations. Such a reality begins to take shape and transform the landscape around us when individual Catholics make the conscious choice to act differently than the culture - when we choose to follow the Gospel of our Lord rather than the anti-Gospel of the world.
Peace in Christ,