Dear Fr Joe: How Do I Deal With the Anger I See on Social Media?
Dear Fr. Joe: I am constantly seeing vitriolic posts about politics on social media from my friends — and even my priest. I think they would hate me if they knew my politics. How do I deal with this?
I get this question more than I should and I am so sorry. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve thought about this a bit and think that I’d like to share my experience with you and then offer some ideas about what you can do.
Sometime around 2007 (I think!), Pope Benedict indicated that he felt priests should be on social media in order to share Christ. I had avoided it up until that point simply because I didn’t understand it. A person I worked with shared Pope Benedict's thoughts with me and encouraged me to jump in, so I did.
I learned quickly and painfully that social media are not places for priests to do much outside of entertaining and trying to share Jesus. Nothing else is effective, nothing else is good for our sanity or our spiritual lives. Why?
Because people reading this column are already doing the “I hope those Republicans read this!” or “I hope those Democrats are reading this!” Many readers are, right now, trying to figure out whether I am “with them or against them” and responding accordingly.
It is deeply saddening that so many of us are justifying being faithful servants of political parties that don’t care that we are alive. I promise you — you were made for so much more than that. You were not made to simply echo what politicians tell you. You were made to shine Christ. If we actually did this, we would finally succeed in changing the political parties instead of them changing us.
As it is, when it comes to politics, people on social media simply cannot be reasoned with; they only become more deeply entrenched. I quickly realized that this is not conducive to Christ and bringing people closer to him. As a priest, I have come to see that I need to be obsessed with Jesus, not Democrats. I need to be loyal to Christ, not Republicans.
Parishioners have chastised me for this. People want me to tell people from the ambo who they should or shouldn’t vote for. Not only is it illegal of me to do that, but in a system that pretends there are only two parties, I simply will not play that game.
To all of you, priests and laity alike, who post on social media, I invite you to look at your last 30 posts and answer the following questions:
- How many of your posts are about Jesus?
- How many are about your politics?
- If someone saw just your timeline, what knowledge would they gain about what you consider important?
- Would they know you love Jesus before they knew your politics?
- If they disagreed with you politically, would they sense that you love them?
This is a challenge I try to execute for myself a couple times a year and respond accordingly.
With that, I invite you to do a few things that help me when I get stuck because of what people post on social media.
Recognize that too much social media is really bad for you. The perpetual indignation, the constant arguing, the inundation of information is not good for your heart or soul. Make a commitment that you will post or read posts once a day and then not look again until the next one. Take a few days where you simply refuse to look.
Wait to respond. When someone launches a missile, ask if your response will actually help. Do you sense that either of you are open to changing or growing as a result of your response? If not, post a sincere promise of prayer and walk away.
Block. I checked just now and I have blocked more than 500 people on Twitter alone. People who are cruel, people who are more faithful to their political party of choice than Jesus, the constant complainers, the perpetually indignant, all of it. Block, block, block. You don’t need that.
Be merciful. I’ve done it. In a moment of bad judgement, I’ve launched missiles from my accounts. People’s kind challenge or support when I realized my sin has been one of the more lovely parts of social media for me.
Please know that we all need prayer. We all need to grow and change. Jesus is calling some of us to us to enter what can be the vicious and feral world of social media and bring his light. We need to pray that our presence there lights up the darkness instead of feeding into it.
May Jesus bless our efforts, Enjoy another day in God’s presence.