Working through the challenges of the world wide web
By Dr. Michael Brown
The internet has given us worldwide, instant, connectivity, which is wonderful. But there are lots of downsides that come with us being so closely connected, and I want to share some of the unique challenges we face using this incredible platform. Can I speak openly and plainly?
First, everyone has a voice online, the mature and the immature, the wise and the foolish, the seekers and the mockers. If you open the door to the one, in most cases, you must open the door to the other. That can be frustrating and even harmful, but if you filter out all dissenting voices, your platforms become little more than echo chambers. Where, then, is the constructive interaction? Where is the debate and dialogue? Where is the ability to test and prove each other’s views?
I don’t see the vast majority of comments posted on our various websites and social media pages, but sometimes I’ll see a comment held up for moderation on YouTube. (For example, it will be held up automatically if the comment contains a link.) What should I do if the comment is totally false in content? What if it’s written by an Orthodox Jew who makes a false claim about Jesus or by an atheist who makes a false claim about the Bible? Do I approve it or not?
Unless the post is slanderous (falsely attacking another person by name) or uses profanity or repeats a hate-filled libel (like Holocaust denial) or calls for violence against others, I will approve the post. That means that I will allow something to be posted that I know is false, and in almost all cases, I will not rebut it. (Really, there’s not time to do this even if I wanted to.)
It's a bit frustrating to allow falsehood and error to be posted, but if we call for open discussion, we have to cultivate that, trusting that in the end, God’s truth will triumph.
Second, instant connectivity means lack of respect for boundaries. People talk to each other in ways they never would face to face. And many assume because they have time, you have time. “Why didn’t you respond to my tweet? Do you think you’re better than me?”
The reality is that on my different social media platforms we have millions of people involved with our posts, articles, and videos – either reading or watching them or sharing them or commenting on them. There are not enough hours in the day to read every comment and to review every article and watch every video that people want me to review. Yet they get upset with me if I tell them, “I’d love to watch the video you linked here, but time doesn’t permit it.”
It’s as if I’m telling them that they’re not important or that their concerns don’t matter, and they take it personally and get offended. Can’t people step a little higher here?
In candor, when I do find time to get involved with a particular thread, and when it seems right to do so, I sometimes regret doing so afterwards. Is it so hard to understand that I can’t respond to every question that every person asks, especially if my answer leads to another series of questions? Is it so rude when I say, “I need to end this here, since it’s 4:00 AM and I haven’t gone to sleep yet”? Is it selfish when I tell them, “I’d love to chat more, but I have a writing deadline I need to meet”?
The other day, I did my best to interact with one brother who kept posting more questions, often at length, despite telling him my time was short. I also encouraged him to call the show or send a detailed letter to our website. What was the reward for my efforts? He blasted me in a separate post, writing (in part), “And this man prides himself in being a man of humility, honesty, integrity, a man of God and a nation's conscience? Put your faith in Jesus - not this old fringe lunatic who desperately wants to be popular just so he can make a buck out of you with his merchandise. I'm now reading his books to research him and to warn people away from him. He's not what you think! If you know you're bible, you'll see he is very dangerous to those who know very little about Christianity.”
Why do so many take my time limitations as a personal slap in the face and then end up leaving the page in a huff? This can be frustrating at times, making me wonder if one-on-one interaction is ever worthwhile online. But love of people and love of truth pushes me to keep trying.
As for the man who posted the ridiculous comment, while I feel bad for him, not for me, I wonder if he was just a troll from the start, looking for trouble from the first moment and only posing as sincere. God knows, but I’ll still believe the best about people, so if I get stabbed, it will be in the back.
Third, not everything can be free. We make thousands of hours of resources available at no cost to the general public, and we do so by faith and with the help of our supporters. But not everything can be free. Yet people get offended when every book or resource is not downloadable with a click and without price.
Do you know that hardly any Christian authors make a living writing books? Yet it is a painstaking process to write a serious book (especially with serious annotation of sources), and it is a serious undertaking for a publisher to produce and market a book.
What’s especially galling is when someone will challenge me on twitter to a debate, not satisfied with my 140 character response, and completely disrespectful of my time. I tell them, “If you’d like a detailed answer to your question, check out this book I wrote. You’ll find everything you’re looking for and more.”
They respond, “Why should I have to buy your book? Why can’t you give me the answer here?”
It’s because: 1) twitter is not the place for substantive debate; and 2) I spent years researching a subject to put together solid answers to difficult questions, working all hours of the night to produce something of substance, and with minimal financial reward for writing. I write books to meet needs and serve the Body (with great joy; it’s a high privilege), so what’s wrong with telling someone, “Hey this book will help you!”?
For the record, we’ve probably given away a million dollars’ worth of books over the years (retail value), so that’s not the issue. It’s the issue of, “You should make everything available free online, and if you don’t, you’re a mercenary.”
Fourth, the critics will never be satisfied. I’ve had to block many fellow-believers on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which is really sad. They sometimes come in swarms as they launch their theological (and personal) attacks, with one critic bringing his or her colleagues with them.
Well, here’s a quick newsflash. I’m not here to satisfy or mollify the critics. I’m not here to defend every person in the charismatic movement, and I’m not here to condemn them. I’ll address error and call it out day and night whenever I’m burdened. But I will not prove my “orthodoxy” by criticizing everyone on a critic’s list, nor will I allow my internet platforms to be used for posting false charges against brothers and sisters.
There are people who have followed me for years who disagree with almost all my positions. When I do see their comments, they’re telling me why my position is wrong. Yet we’ve never blocked them for holding a dissenting view, since they do not attack me personally, nor do they seek to hijack threads for their own purposes. I’m quite glad they’re following me, and again, I welcome differing opinions. Have at it!
At the same time, there are those who will damn me (or others) to hell as a false teacher since I won’t condemn a brother or sister because of a non-essential difference in faith or practice. To say it again: I’m not here to satisfy critics, especially those who hide behind anonymous websites and are completely unaccountable. They deserve to be ignored.
I watched critics swarm during the days of the Brownsville Revival. I watched the misleading videos that were put together. I saw how hundreds of God-glorifying testimonies were ignored in favor of one bad report. I saw how people focused on the small amount of chaff and ignored the large amount of wheat. I saw double standards and selective reporting and other unethical behaviors, all in the name of “discernment.” And even now, 20 years later, when many of those saved in the revival are serving the Lord around the world, living sacrificially to lift up the name of Jesus, reaching the poorest of the poor with the gospel, some critics still won’t acknowledge what the Lord did.
As a charismatic myself, I’ve written several books addressing errors within our own camp, and behind the scenes, for decades, I’ve spoken to leaders, sometimes with warning and rebuke. But, to repeat, I’m not here to satisfy the critics, and if the only way to prove that I’m not a heretic is by damning genuine believers on a critic’s hit list, then go ahead and damn me too. In the end, they’re only hurting themselves and those who follow them. The work of the Lord will continue to thrive despite their misguided efforts. As for constructive criticism – bring it on!
Overall, I’m thrilled with the almost endless possibilities of the internet, and all of us can now reach people and places that were once inaccessible. But with the opportunities come responsibilities, and I pray that as a people, we can do better in the days ahead.
Finally, to all of you who are part of our internet community and are helping to share our messages, THANK YOU. Together, we’re making a difference!