The Internet has borne much good fruit – it enables us to connect with family and friends around the world, allows us to access more information, goods and services than ever before, and provides a mighty tool for evangelisation.
However, two incidents have been extremely troubling. In both cases, the Internet magnified public outrage and cries for vigilante justice. It showed a very ugly side of our fallen human nature.
In the first case, Jordan Hunt was filmed kicking a pro-life campaigner in Toronto last September 30. What he did was wrong, but the backlash mounted to insane proportions, with a worldwide mob eviscerating his employer on Instagram and sending death threats. Where was the mercy for a misguided youth who had just ruined his own life? This might have been the opportunity to win him and others over with Christian mercy and a measured response. Instead, it seemed like an angry pack of insatiable wolves unleashed on him and anyone who had the misfortune to be associated with him. Now with the news that he has received eight months’ probation, someone commented on my friend’s Facebook post: “I’ll fix this. Where’s he live?”
In the second case, after a misleading video went viral, boys from Covington Catholic High School who had been on the March for Life were misrepresented as racists. They too received death threats, as did their teachers. The school closed temporarily as a safety precaution.
It seems hypocritical of the social media mob to cyber-bully purported miscreants whose alleged crime was “hate”.
The principle of retributive justice, lex talionis or “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:23–25), defines and restricts the extent of retaliation. It protects against the urge to utterly destroy the person who has offended against us, and stops the cycle of revenge killings that can decimate a community.
Christ calls us to something greater and much more difficult, but a reaction which can break the cycle of violence and hurt once and for all. He teaches:
“But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will contend with thee in judgement, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him.”
— Matthew 5:38-39
One of the earliest Christian missionaries to Japan, Brother João Fernandes, was preaching in the street one day when a man interrupted his sermon and spat in his face. Without the least sign of anger, Fernandes wiped his face and continued preaching. A man in his audience, who had often jeered at him, followed him back to the mission and asked to be baptised. Others soon followed and the church began to grow.
Sometimes the most powerful sermon of all is to bear insults and condemnation with dignity. It points to an inner strength and a higher power Who sustains us beyond human understanding. It points to an everlasting Love which bears all things.
Once, when I was responding to multiple messages from a virulently pro-abortion lady on Tumblr, I did not convince her at all of the pre-born baby’s right to live, but onlookers, whom I had not even considered while replying, sent encouraging messages:
“My goodness, I just have to give you credit. You are handling those questions beautifully, calmly, succinctly. I would probably lose it under that pressure! I have always struggled with the abortion issue so I am very grateful for the facts you’re presenting. I have a lot of thinking to do. Keep it up! God bless.” (source)
“I just wanted to commend you for your thoughtful answers to this barrage of questions – I myself have learned a lot from what you’ve said – I am in the process of evaluating what I believe about abortion, and why I believe it, and you have given me a lot to consider. Peace be with you. :)” (source)
How can we humanise the Internet? By remembering that the person on the other side of the screen is a beloved son or daughter of God, probably bearing his own wounds, and just in need of the saving love of Christ as we are. We owe it to ourselves and to people around us to always honour the image of God in which we are created and to which we are restored. You never know who might be watching and learning, who might take that one step closer to Truth.