Increased accessibility to the internet and an influx of social media means news—any news—travels at lightning speed.
There is so much that I would never hear about if it were not for Twitter. I can’t begin to name the events, tragedies, and fights I have learned about and would never have heard about if a friend hadn’t posted it on Twitter.
I’m not advocating that we discontinue sharing news—although much of what we share could be arguably called gossip—I’m simply stating the facts: we do not have to wait until the newspaper arrives to discover that something has happened in the world, local and beyond.
Often the news that spreads the quickest is controversial—someone said something or did something that wasn’t wise, was hurtful, or was shameful. News about a ministry leader’s fall is talked about and analyzed ad nauseum. Someone shares something another group disagrees with and the pile on begins.
LifeWay social media manager, Chris Martin, shared an insightful and helpful piece about how social media algorithms, and frankly those of us who use the media, evaluate controversy. The reality of most controversies is we hear about it for about a week or so and then it goes away. But my question is, can any good come from controversies?
If we interact in any way with social media, we will inevitably see information that doesn’t directly. Here are three possibilities for how we might increase the good in a world of controversy:
Conversation and Thoughtfulness
Our initial reaction when these controversies first spread is rage and disbelief. But at some point there’s the potential for thoughtful conversations emerging from the mountain of outrage. People can begin to question motives, alliances, convictions, and even doctrinal statements. Thoughtful and helpful conversations that may have never happened can take place. There can be an increased desire for unity and understanding. Necessary rebukes can emerge. There can even be repentance and forgiveness. One thing we already see quite often is rebukes against the outrage. There can be good that comes out of our responses.
When the controversy involves someone who has fallen, it’s not often that I see men and women coming together to encourage the faith of the “man down.” As Christians who know that apart from the grace of God, we, too, might fall, we can work hard to encourage others in their shame, guilt, and, for many, suffering.
I’ve watched people be deserted in controversy. Brotherly love is also rebuke—faithful are the wounds of a friend. So, I am not calling for what Bonhoeffer coined “cheap grace.” Rather, during these times there could be a genuine display of mercy and love. We love our brothers and sisters in Christ. No one wants to see others fail—and if we do, let’s repent of such evil and pray for reconciliation at all costs.
Repentance and Reconciliation
When brothers and sisters in conflict, especially public ones, are able to repent and reconcile, it points to the work of Jesus explained to us in Ephesians 2.
Reconciliation may not mean restoration. In other words, the relationship may change or be over, but the spirit of reconciliation is forgiveness, forbearance, and grace. God is a God who reconciles. There isn’t anything greater that we need than to be reconciled first to God, and as we learn the beauty of true repentance and are reconciled to each other, it brings glory to the Lord and shines light into the darkness. We are fallen and need God. We need the gospel every day. Controversies only highlight our need, and repentance and reconciliation only highlight the gospel.
I’m sure there are other good things that can come from controversies. As Christians who will at times become entangled in the worldly muck, it’s good for us to consider how to respond, how to be a light in a dark world, and how to keep ourselves from sinning. We don’t want to join the crowd, even when it’s so enticing.
So when the next controversy rears its head, I will pray that the hope we have in the gospel will prevail. The good news is, God will win in the end. One day, we won’t have controversies—we will only have good news and love for one another.