A few weeks ago, I was alarmed by some Facebook activity I saw. A friend had “liked” a page titled “DEAR LORD, THIS YEAR YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTOR, PATRICK SWAYZIE. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE ACTRESS, FARAH FAWCETT. YOU TOOK MY FAVORITE SINGER, MICHAEL JACKSON. I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW, MY FAVORITE PRESIDENT IS BARACK OBAMA. AMEN.” While I recognize and respect that there are a variety of opinions on Facebook, I felt this group crossed a boundary of human decency. Its supporters say it is a joke and that it is not harming anyone. I feel that it is hateful to even joke about praying for someone’s death. The “joke” began with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as its target. It is hateful, regardless of the name inserted as the final favorite. What is further dismaying is to see the age range of the group’s supporters, including many who are not yet of voting age. What gives? Where is the civility? Where is the respect for the other?
Cyber-bullying and trolling have become a real problem in this age. The Government of South Australia’s Cyber Safety Glossary page defines cyber-bullying (also cyberbullying) as “bullying which uses e-technology as a means of victimising others.” An internet troll is a person who “intentionally disrupts online communities.” Both are sad realities in contemporary life.
If you type “bullying” into the Facebook search, one of your options will be “cyber-bullying” as an activity/interest. “Internet troll” is also an activity/interest on Facebook. However, on the Cyber-bullying page, one person commented, “People who cry from cyberbullying are WIMPS!!!” One of the supporters of the “joke” Facebook group said that the person offended by her comments doesn’t matter as she cannot see the other person. In this assertion, she seems to agree that people who cry are indeed “wimps.” I do not. Those engaging in these hurtful practices do not regard the other, whom they seem not to consider real. After cyber-bullying has ended with suicides, such as the case of Phoebe Prince, how can we see this activity as innocuous? Moreover, what can we as Christians bring to the fight against this hate speech?
There is hope.
For me, my faith informs my response to such disregard for humanity. The Baptismal Covenant in The Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer contains three very important parts that make a regard for the other an essential part of our lives: loving our neighbors as ourselves, remembering Christ’s example, and finally respecting the “dignity of every human being” while striving for justice and peace among all. This covenant recalls that we’re hard-wired to be in relationship, and we will never be able to see each and every other person for whom we must have regard. Instead, we must work to show the love shown to us in Jesus Christ, one that is about mutuality and justice. What we do matters because we all matter in God’s eyes.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said it well:
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Injustice and disrespect to one shows injustice and disrespect to God’s whole creation. Because of this, we must speak out against this hate speech, especially when it uses God’s name in vain. We must live out our theology of love, modeling what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ. As the song goes, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”