Have We Forgotten How to Argue?

black iphone 4 on brown wooden table

Google the word acrimony, and you’ll find it defined as “bitterness or ill-feeling.” The word acrimony originates in the mid 16th century from the French acrimonie or Latin acrimonia, meaning pungent, bitter-tasting, smell, malice, and anger.

In addition to the definition provided by a Google search, you’ll find a similarly titled Tyler Perry movie. This movie, released in 2018, features a love story gone wrong. Melinda, played by Taraji P. Henson, and Robert, played by Lyriq Bend, meet and marry. Melinda plays her role as a dutiful wife only to find that Robert has been an unfaithful conman. What follows Robert’s betrayal is the acrimony for which the movie is titled.

Like the jilted affections of a betrayed relationship, much of social media possesses acrimonious musings given full expression through 280 characters. Several factors have played a role in this reality and we will unpack the various influences in this article.

The History of Social Media

Social media was born in 1997 with the website Six Degrees. With the launch of MySpace in 2003, social media had become an entity that could not be ignored. Some of you who are reading this started with a MySpace account. MySpace boasted 25 million users before being sold to NewsCorp for 580 million dollars. In 2005, social media began picking up speed when the domain Facebook launched. Soon after, on March 21, 2006, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey posted his first “tweet” on the new social media start-up, which read, “just setting up my twttr.” In 2005, social media served approximately five percent of internet users in the United States.[1] By 2019, that number has grown to about 70%, with more than 2.6 billion active users globally on social networking sites.[2]

Like the jilted affections of a betrayed relationship, much of social media possesses acrimonious musings given full expression through 280 characters.

In addition to the large numbers of people, the amount of time users spend consuming social media content is staggering. Pew Research Center reports that 97 percent of 13-to-18-year-olds spend about nine hours on social media each day.[3] While reports for the number of hours for adults (19-25 years old) vary, reports suggest a massive increase in media consumption for US adults, averaging 12 hours and 9 minutes per day.[4]

When you increase the number of people, the amount of their usage time, minimize face-to-face interactions, sprinkle a bit of anonymity, the depravity of the sinful human condition can, at times, be on full display. Multiple studies note the negative impact on mental health demonstrated with increasing social media exposure. Increases in risks for depression, anxiety, loneliness, and self-harm seem to have a corollary connection with increased social media use.[5] 

The church is not immune from these statistics. As the pandemic has separated church members, many individuals and local churches have increased their use of social media. The climate of political polarization has given way to social isolation, allowing for opinions, emotions, and outright insult to explode on your favorite social media page. In every societal category where human interaction takes place, the church should lead with the example of Christ. How are we doing? I’d argue, not well. Here’s what’s happening.

What We Argue About

Solomon, a very wise man, once wrote, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). He made it clear that what we argue about is nothing new.

At the moment, Evangelicalism’s current roster of issues setting social media pages ablaze are the following:

  • Beth Moore is publicly declaring her departure from the SBC and LifeWay. As she does, the role of women in ministry seems to be at the fore. Challenges to complementarianism, “soft” complementarianism, and egalitarianism abound.
  • With the adoption of Resolution 9 by the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the most contentious issues we currently debate is Critical Race Theory (CRT). Before the tragic death of George Floyd, evangelicals engaged in an ongoing discussion about LGBTQIA+ issues of acceptance. Both of these (CRT and the LGBTQIA+) are issues of identity and arguments associated with being image-bearers of God.  
  • Post-Covid, we continue to debate what it means to “love our neighbor” and if vaccinations should be required before returning to church. Finally, there is the ongoing debate regarding who should open their church doors, when they should open, and how they should open.

While none of the issues are sacrosanct, professing Christians should reflect good faith in our attempt to understand one another. Far too often, we engage these exchanges with a bevy of presuppositions unsuited for 280-character exchanges.

How We Argue

Students engaged in extracurricular activities like debate were exposed to understanding the logic in argumentation. Sadly, the masses of students never obtained that education. Most academic historians recognize that subjects like logic and reason were removed from high school graduation requirements sometime around 1950. The reason? It was thought that aspects of logic could be learned within the sciences and mathematics.

Arguing for Biblical anthropology, complementarianism, or Biblical marriage is often met with ad hominem charges of “racism, sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.”

As the postmodern era challenged objective truth and solid logic skills absent from students’ minds, far too many were incapable of the critical thinking required to make solid argumentation. Today, many interactions devolve into ad hominem attacks. In place of sound arguments, postmodernity has brought us feelings as the basis for truth. When we abandon objective truth, logic gets replaced with emotionalism.

Arguing for Biblical anthropology, complementarianism, or biblical marriage is often met with ad hominem charges of “racism, sexism, misogyny, and homophobia.” The second common violation of logic is how many attribute correlations as causation. Simply because someone of a specific group commits a criminal act doesn’t mean that the entire group can be painted with the same brush. If this standard were used based on ethnicity, opponents would cry “foul,” and they would be right to do so.

Arguing the Right Way

Scripture is clear, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 1:4–6). Scripture recognizes that we are engaged in a battle of worldviews. However, the believer always has a standard by which we engage in these issues, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15)

With more than 59 “one anothers” of the New Testament, believers should consider a number of them before engaging in certain remarks: “…be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50) “…love one another…” (John 14:34) “Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10) “…stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13).

We should all remember the importance of engaging in exchanges that address issues rather than those which attack a person’s character. We should abstain from the sin of slander. Scripture has a great deal to say about the sin of slander: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36). “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy…” (Psalm 101:5) “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)

Sadly, far too many willing to engage in the sin of slander in the social media space. I would love to say that I’ve been guilt-free in this area. I haven’t. When I do sin and am aware I seek forgiveness from the one I have offended and from God. I hope that someone else is encouraged to think about how we respond to one another as a result. It would do us all well to be quick to listen and slow to tweet.

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 [1] https://historycooperative.org/the-history-of-social-media/

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/

[4] https://review42.com/resources/how-much-time-do-people-spend-on-social-media/#:~:text=US%20adults%20use%20media%20for,and%209%20minutes%20per%20day.&text=South%20America%20is%20the%20continent,hours%20and%206%20minutes%20daily.

[5] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/social-media-and-mental-health.htm#:~:text=The%20negative%20aspects%20of%20social%20media&text=However%2C%20multiple%20studies%20have%20found,about%20your%20life%20or%20appearance