I’ve learned that the online sphere is an unforgiving place.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen this play out in my country, Singapore, in a high-profile case which garnered nation-wide interest because of the two parties involved: a powerful leader and his family versus their lowly paid domestic worker. The turning point happened when the leader’s maid was acquitted by the High Court of stealing from his family, after she appealed a two-year-plus jail sentence initially handed to her by the country’s State Court.
As members of the public, including my own family and friends, dissected the facts of the case, my social media feeds and messaging platforms became inundated with posts, reports, and write-ups decrying the lapses in the initial investigation process and handling of the case. The public backlash got to a point that the leader decided to step down from all his corporate positions and retire early so that he would not be a “distraction”.
To be sure, not everyone around me felt so strongly about the case. While there were some who knew every detail by heart and expressed their views passionately, there were also those who had only read the headlines of the news, and were more caught up by their own day-to-day activities.
But whichever camp we’re in, living in a digital age means we all have been given access to information like never before, and will find ourselves surrounded by a culture that demands a response from us on issues that affect us—directly or indirectly. Think of the onslaught of news about the current pandemic we’re in, or the recent black lives matter movement, or even the latest entertainment news or program we’ve come across and the ensuing conversations that have arisen.
Even my meal conversations were hijacked by vigorous discussions about how the case will continue to unfold. This got me thinking of the following: How should we engage with the news we come across? Is there a biblical response we as believers should adopt?
Here are a couple of thoughts for consideration.
1. Read widely and listen
I’d be the first to admit, not all types of news interest me, and I’m especially averse to anything that has a large chunk of facts and figures. For some of us, we just don’t have the time, energy, or interest to read up on what’s going on, much less figure out what the biblical response to a particular trending political, environmental, social news is—unless it affects us directly.
Is it okay to be disinterested or dissociate ourselves from all that is happening like the popular slogan “in the world, but not of the world” suggests? Christian writer, David Mathis, gave an insightful explanation on how to understand that slogan in light of the context of John 17:
The beginning place is being “not of the world,” and the movement is toward being “sent into” the world. The accent falls on being sent, with a mission, to the world—not being mainly on a mission to disassociate from this world.
As Christians, we’ve been rescued from darkness, but it doesn’t stop there. We have to now go back in to rescue others. But how do we do so if we’re not engaged with what’s happening in the world or in the lives of others? In other words, our mission begins with taking time to read, listen, and understand what is going on in the world, what people are passionate about, and what they are struggling with . . . before we move to the next step.
2. Find common ground and share our convictions
Every piece of news presents an opportunity for us as believers to engage in discussions about love, grace, and truth. The Apostle Paul himself provided a model on how to engage culture respectfully in Acts 17:1-4 and 17:16-34, where we see him taking the time to engage and reason with the Jews in Thessalonica, Berea, Athens as well as the Greeks, Epicureans, and philosophers in their synagogues.
Just recently, my non-Christian uncle, who had been keenly following the case of the leader and his domestic helper, asked me out of the blue for my “generation’s opinion” on how the prominent leader acted towards his domestic worker. Having read up the facts of the case, I was able to share my personal view briefly, even though I did not manage to get into any deeper discussion about the reason for my conviction at the time.
Nevertheless, the opportunity to engage my uncle reminded me that if we as believers are to be “salt” and “light” of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), our presence ought to make a difference. Our words and actions should either “preserve” the moral fabric of society or “enhance” the good in this world. It will not be suffice to sit back, or sit on the fence and keep our opinions to ourselves, because our ultimate goal as followers of Jesus is to lead others to glorify Jesus (Matthew 5:14-16).
Imagine if all of us intentionally tried to engage with our loved ones on trending news or topics close to their hearts? Let’s look out for such opportunities to conduct our conversations with grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer those around us about matters close to their heart (Col 4:5-6).
3. Uphold truth and be discerning
When it comes to controversial news, one of the things I’ve noticed from observing my chat groups is that people form an opinion very quickly and are not open to differing viewpoints. And more often than not, those individuals propagate only the information that supports their viewpoint, even if what they read or hear is nothing but a denigrating opinion.
In this digital age, one of the biggest traps we can fall into is disseminating information without checking the credibility of the source. And this is especially so when we get caught up in the heat of the moment, and become blind to what is fact and fiction. When that happens, we could end up spreading falsehood unknowingly.
As believers, we need to be careful to uphold truth in all areas in our lives, even in the way we handle the information at our fingertips, as Proverbs 14:25 says, “A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.”
Let’s be discerning, exercise wisdom, and be careful to ensure that we are upholding truth even in our day to day conversations in person or over text.
As believers living in this digital age, let’s remember to exercise wisdom and Christlikeness in the way we handle and engage with the facts of the case—or for any other viral news that we may come across. Perhaps it might even be helpful to pause before we hit the “enter” button on our keyboards to ask ourselves these questions: What if the newsmaker was someone we knew? What if we were the ones in that very position? Does the way I’m responding to this case draw others to the character of Christ?
Ultimately, let’s be kind and gracious to one another, and use whatever opportunity we have to point others to the eternal and righteous one whom we’ll all ultimately need to account to at the end of our lives (2 Cor 5:10).