On March 17, 2014 the Los Angeles Times was the first to report a nearby earthquake. In this age of tweets and texts, how did the news company break the story?
A robot wrote the article. Seriously. Google it.
Journalist and programmer Ken Schwencke created an algorithm that automatically generates a short article when an earthquake is registered. With this algorithm it took a robot working for the Los Angeles Times three minutes to post the article of the earthquake online.
According to some, “Robo-journalism” is on the rise in newsrooms worldwide. No, this is not science fiction. This is real life. Yet, in an age when things can be shared quickly and widely, this creates a number of problems. It becomes a major issue when it comes to civil discourse. Especially, for those who follow Jesus.
I offer few suggestions when it comes to civil discourse. This is not an exhaustive list but a few important points:
1) If you have not spent significant time praying about a topic, think twice before starting an argument or posting something online.
We are instructed to pray about everything (See Philippians 4:6). We are instructed to pray without ceasing (See 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Thus, it seems wise to avoid expressing conviction unless that conviction comes from prayer.
2) You do not speak for all Christians. Be careful in how you express opinions.
When giving your opinion it is helpful to begin sentences with “I think …” or “I believe …” because you do not speak for all Christians. You don’t even speak for every member of your church. I also suggest avoid speaking for Jesus or the Bible. Do not put words into Jesus’ mouth or create your own Bible verse. If you want Jesus to speak – quote the gospels. If you want the Bible to speak – quote it.
3) Seek to understand.
It is impossible to engage in civil discourse unless you understand the opposing position. Assumptions, generalizations, straw men, and caricatures help no one.
4) Please check sources.
This suggestion is mainly focused to those who choose to engage in civil discourse through Facebook, Twitter, and the host of other social media outlets. Check sources prior to sharing information. Your argument is not advanced by sharing a rumor, false information, or an opinion expressed as fact.
5) Relationship building is a superior method.
Jesus spent his earthly ministry surrounded by a group of disciples. He taught them. He equipped them. He corrected and rebuked when necessary. Yet, it was all done within the context of a relationship. Civil discourse is best done in relationship. It is easy to sling mud when you don’t have a relationship with your target. It is easy to name call when you don’t worry about seeing the person face to face. Yet, you do seek to understand the opposing view when it is held by a friend. You do seek politeness when the argument is taking place in someone’s living room.