Friendship in an Age of Social Media Polarization, Soundbites, and Vitriol

I have recently noticed a rash of statements along these lines, If you support (insert controversial cause/organization/political position here) then unfriend me now. It is the latest social media trend of polarization and follows on the heels of the name calling, truth stretching, innuendo flinging, and assuming the worst possible motives of others that is so common in our social discourse these days. I don’t need to give specific examples because they are so rampant that I am positive you have enough of them already. But I do have to tell you it breaks my heart and bewilders me all at once. It breaks my heart because it tells me that our view of friendship is so shallow and woefully lacking that I wonder if as a society we really understand what it means to be a friend. It bewilders me because when I push this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion it can only mean that the person most equipped to be my closest friend is the one who thinks exactly like me on every possible social, political and religious issue. I reach that conclusion because if I must unfriend a person because we disagree on an issue then where do I draw the line? If I cannot be your friend because we disagree on issue “A” then what about issue “B”? One issue at a time the friendship crumbles because it is based on agreement over issues and nothing more. I would end up only with friends who agree with me 100% on every issue. If there is someone who thinks exactly like me in every instance then one of us is unnecessary and we certainly are not helping one another grow.

As a follower of Christ I find that there are countless areas in which I disagree with people. That is true not only as it relates to people who do not follow Christ, but also to those who do. I have theological differences with lots of people. Some of them major, like whether or not Jesus is actually God and the only way to heaven. Some of them extremely minor, like whether tithing should be on the gross or net pay. There are people I admire and respect who have complete opposite positions from me on social issues like Same Sex Marriage, Planned Parenthood, Economic Policy, and Immigration. Being my friend is not contingent on agreeing with me on those issues. All you need to be willing to do is discuss them respectfully. Tell me you think I am wrong and then explain why. Do it with passion. Believe in what you are saying. Don’t hold back what you think the truth is. But do it with respect for our relationship and for me as a person. That is all I ask and that is what I promise in return.

Actually I promise more in return. What i said about respect is what I think is the minimum needed for discussing the issues of our day and should be hallmarks of our society. But I am not called to the minimum. As a follower of Christ I am called to an even higher standard. I have what I call a Life Verse in the Bible. It is a verse that I try to have guide all I do in relation to others. It is from 1 Peter 3:15 where Peter says, “set Christ apart in your hearts as Lord and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within you, and do so with gentleness and respect”. I combine that verse with what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”. When asked how to determine who your neighbor was, Jesus told that story of the Good Samaritan which made the point that even your enemy is to be loved like a neighbor. That is what sets the standard for me, not the minimum of supposedly civil society.

What Jesus has called me and every other one of His followers to, is to rise above the standards set by our culture. We are so quick to assume we are rising above in moral purity. Whether or not we actually are is debatable. But Jesus is just as concerned, if not more so, that we rise above in our love for others, even those who hold positions on things that we find morally wrong and even repugnant. You see here is the point if you are a Christ Follower. Before coming to faith in Christ, He found you and what you did and believed and worshipped, to be repugnant. Yep you just read that right. Never forget that before you came to faith in Christ, no matter how good you thought you were, based on the world’s standards, you were still woefully short of God’s holiness and were in fact at war with God. But Jesus loved you enough to go to the cross for you and love you, His enemy. Contrary to how some preachers might preach, Jesus did not hurl vitriol and abuse at you. He certainly did not unfriend you. What He did was fulfill His own words when He said, “greater love has no man than when he lays down his life for his friends”.

If someone was to do a study of friends I have on Facebook they would find gay and lesbian friends, economic socialists with a few bordering on communism. They would find rabid Democrats and out of control Republicans. They would find black lives matter people, blue lives matter people, and all lives matter people. They would even find some Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens fans of all things. The point is, the variety is seemingly limitless and they are all people I am blessed to have in my life. They challenge me to make sure I am speaking the truth in love, another Biblical command so many Christians miss. We are so quick to speak truth and forget the love part or we are so quick to love that we think it means not speaking truth. They help me think more deeply and clearly about what I believe because if I only ever talk with people who agree with me I will fast become myopic and condescending and my reasoning will get sloppy and my logic flawed. They help me live more like Jesus because there was nobody on earth who agreed with everything He said and did but He loved them so much that He hung out with them in life and loved them so much that He hung on a cross for them in death.

Is it hard to be friends with people who are so radically different from me? Sure it is. I have not mastered it by any stretch. But on the other hand, looking at it from their perspective, I suspect it is not always easy for them to be my friend either. But if I am going to represent Jesus, being the Ambassador for Christ that Paul says we are, then I must not only be a friend to those who disagree with what I hold dear, I need to go further. I need to love them as I love myself. I need to lay down my life for them as Jesus calls me to. I need to be the kind of friend to them that Jesus is to me. Only then will I become more like Jesus, and I hope and trust they will too.

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