Are you slow to tweet?

Learning to weigh what you say online

January 8, 2020

“Be careful” was the cryptic text I received from a respected Christian leader and a close friend after a series of politically charged tweets I posted online in 2016. 

“I think most people agree with you, but you need to watch the way you tweet things. You could offend some people.”

He was right. So I took it down. I hope I’ve learned a few things since then. My moments of incivility online (there have been more than one) underscore how easy it is to let our thumbs engage before our minds have caught up, to allow the passions of the moment and the speed of the news cycle influence us in ways we regret. 

Since Adam and Eve’s blame shifting in the Garden, humans have been particularly adept at hurling insults at each other, which is why the Bible, from beginning to end, is full of admonitions to carefully choose our words. But today, the ease of our communication platforms erases the necessary gap between what we think and what we say in public. We can, and often do, say whatever is on our minds. And not only can our words online get us in trouble, they can unnecessarily offend brothers and sisters in Christ and, more often than not, cause us to sin against God. 

Learning to slow down

The apostle James didn’t have Twitter in mind when he wrote in James 1 that every follower of Jesus should be “slow to speak, slow to anger, quick to listen,” but his injunction to a first-century church applies to the way we conduct ourselves on the various social media platforms at our disposal. 

Slow to speak doesn’t mean we don’t ever speak. Some have recommended that perhaps Christians shouldn’t spend time at all online, while others have advocated a kind of digital fast. I think there are good arguments for both of these approaches, but we should assume that public digital platforms are here to stay. Whether we like it or not, we are not going back to a more analog time. And yet James recommends slowing down our communication. 

Christians are not only tasked with speaking up and speaking out, but with a distinctly Christian way in which we express ourselves.

To be slow to speak (or tweet or post or gram) is to pause and take time to think about the words we are using. It means resisting the urge to let it all hang out as a stream of consciousness for all the world to see. It’s the self-control to not engage in meaningless debates, even (and perhaps especially) if we think are right. 

To be slow means we weigh our words, knowing their power. James would later offer a powerful warning in James 3, comparing the power of words to a ship’s rudder, a flame, and a wild horse. Our words can bring life or death. This is particularly important, I think, for Christians who have a sizeable platform. They can lead God’s people into rhetorical temptation through their online incivility, giving unspoken permission for their followers to do the same. 

Again, this doesn’t mean we never speak. At times, we need to raise our voices online in order to stand up for the vulnerable or speak a word of truth to the church. But every time we do it, we might ask, Am I the person to speak here? Do I have all the information? Can I do this in a redemptive way? This is what it means to be quick to listen—getting all the available facts about a news story or situation before opining—and this is what it means to be slow to anger. So, before you fire off that angry tweet, slow down, listen, and hear.

Civility matters

Some might counter by asking if civility is even a worthy value, especially when our timelines are often filled with the news of much injustice and corruption. How can God’s people be silent when bad things are happening? 

But the Bible never pits civility against courage, as if these two virtues are enemies. In fact, Peter seems to think they must coexist. In 1 Peter 3:15, he urges the people of God to be ready to speak up to share the gospel and defend truth, participating in the public exchange of ideas for the sake of the gospel—with “gentleness and kindness.” 

In other words, Christians are not only tasked with speaking up and speaking out, but with a distinctly Christian way in which we express ourselves. God doesn’t just care that we speak, but how we speak. People should not just know we are Christians by our principles and propositional truth, but by our words. 

Sadly, this is not how Christians are known often enough. We have often convinced ourselves that civility is a sign of weakness, rather than strength, and that courage equals incivility. We have much for which to repent in the ways we frequently conduct ourselves online, the ways we treat our fellow human beings, and the ways we neglect the humanity of those with whom we disagree. 

The loudest person in the room isn’t the most courageous, and the angriest tweeter isn’t the one who is actually changing hearts and minds for the gospel. Jesus doesn’t need more jerks online, but winsome, humble, open-handed, brave truth-tellers. Civility won’t always earn us an audience, and even the kindest words can bring scorn and persecution. But to watch our words isn’t weakness; it’s strength. And it displays a confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit who uses the gospel to persuade and does a work greater than 280 characters could.

This article appeared in our latest edition of Light Magazine. You can find it here

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24