Dear Christian trolls of the Internet:
We need to talk.
I think you know what this is about. Or at least I hope you do. Your passive-aggressive condescension and thinly veiled bullying have gone on for far too long. Sometimes, I wonder if you’re even aware of what you’ve become: trolls. That pains me, because everyone else seems to know. And the advice, “don’t read the comments” isn’t very helpful for those of us committed to fostering relationships, and building community online.
Is that too harsh? I don’t think so. The word, in this context, means more or less the same thing that it does in fairy tales: those who hide in safe and protected places (under bridges is a good metaphor for our purposes), attacking pretty much anyone who crosses by. Maybe those victims are sharing reflections on their own spiritual journeys, whether here, or here, or here. Maybe they’re publishing news about developments or struggles in the Body of Christ, like here, or here, or here. But you, Christian trolls, are always ready and waiting, armed with snippets from sacred texts and memories of the church in days gone by. Someone interpreted scripture in a new way. Someone used the wrong prayer resource. Someone loved too hard, or served the wrong people, or worshipped too contemporary, or invoked the wrong saint, or demonstrated truthiness too truthily.
And so you attack. And you consume.
Listen: I get it. This was never your intention. You meant only to correct fellow Christians (whether or not you still see them that way) who had gone astray. But I’m not sure about your approach, Christian trolls. You see, I’ve watched you for some years now. And while you always seem to have something to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you add anything constructive to the conversation. Why is that?
We’re all trying to figure out how to accommodate fair and healthy conversations online. That, in itself, is a lively discussion, and many people are working hard to provide guidelines for civilized discourse. But you know what? I feel like this should be easier for those of us called to lives of discipleship. Those called to a lives of love. Those called to lives that witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than ‘Jerks for Jesus.’
Of course, Christians have always been there to support and correct one another. St. Paul’s Epistles provide the perfect example: in his travels, and with his letters, Paul ministered to fledgling congregations in the early Church. And they weren’t all kittens and roses: Paul reprimanded the Corinthians for their divisions; he explained what servanthood looked like for the Philippians; he clarified the relationship between grace and law for the Galatians. But these corrections took place within the context of relationships that had been built around love and prayer:
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:3-6)
In short, Paul did not troll the early Church.
“But people are WRONG,” you say. “Wrong on the Internet!” Yes, Christian trolls, that can happen—just as people can get it wrong in face-to-face relationships. And in those circumstances, let me suggest a few options:
- Breathe. Take a walk. Eat a sandwich.
- Engage the matter, peacefully. A difference of opinion need not provoke name calling, personal attacks, or blanket statements about one particular denomination/gender/whatever. (Galatians 6:1)
- Contact the individual privately. Email them. Call them. Hear them out. (Matthew 8:15)
- Pray about it. Talk to your pastor or priest about your concerns.
- Continue to engage others in the public forum, exercising the fruits of the spirit. They may offer perspective you haven’t considered. Forgive others. (Romans 12:18, Colossians 3:12-15)
- Consider your witness: love others. (John 13:35)
- If none of that works, shake the dust from your feet, and walk away. (Luke 9:5)
Christian trolls, you are better than this. Be who you are: trolling is not the ministry to which you were called, and a troll is not the person God created you to be. Let’s live out the faith of baptism in our relationships with one another—both online, and offline.