Skip to content

Month: June 2015

Five reasons I hate debate on social media


Recently, I broke my cardinal rule to avoid joining political debates, especially in social media. Just before heading out to see a movie with a friend—like a real, actual human in the flesh—I went online and checked my Twitter account.

And there it was: A provocative political comment at the top of my feed, beckoning me to respond. Such comments are my kryptonite, my greatest danger. They often come across as punchy and irrefutable to those who agree, but shallow and half-baked to those who don’t – and they tempt me to respond with some quick, off-the-cuff remark which I immediately regret. So I am constantly on the alert to ignore them. But this comment was especially hard to ignore; it was one of those that seemed ripe for a ready-made zinger.

Usually, I type out my zinger and then delete it when my  better judgement convinces me to let it go. But this time, my better judgement was late to the party and I clicked send. True to form, immediately I regretted it and tried to delete my reply, but the poster had already seen it and had sent me a direct question.

Like an idiot, I took a shot at an answer. The next thing I knew, we were locked in a pointless spiral of “thrust and parry” which went on for at least an hour. Fortunately, I came to my senses and bowed out. But I still felt like crap the rest of the day.

DebateBelieve me, I have opinions on culture and politics. They’re pretty strong and can be uttered with great—I daresay uncontrollablepassion (see the “Zealot” chapter in my book, Losers Like Us). But experience has taught me two things about getting myself into any debate on political topics: 1) Nothing good ever comes out of it, and 2) I feel incredibly icky afterward.

I have yet to come across an exception.

Thus, my cardinal rule to avoid such debates.

My original reason for making this rule was not simply to stick my head in the sand, away from the stresses of politics (although that is a wonderful side benefit), but to keep my relationships peaceful. As a broken person who has experienced the need for healing myself, I want to spend my time healing others, not debating them. I want to listen and help, instead of trading jabs which diminish and divide us.

But diminishment and division is exactly what happened in my ill-advised Twitter debate.

The truth is, our society has changed. In the age of social media, debate isn’t what it used to be.

So below, I share my rationale for seeking to remain as apolitical as possible, especially in online forums,

Social media has changed the goal of debate. There was a time when debate was used as a tool to change hearts and minds regarding worthy causes. For example, after the Revolutionary War, robust debate was used at America’s Constitutional Convention to persuade adamantly opposed conventioneers that the new nation needed a Constitution. The persuasion was successful, and the Constitution was adopted. Similarly, in England, William Wilberforce used tireless debate to convince adamantly opposed parliamentarians to end slavery. Again, the effort was successful.

But in social media, the goal is for the poster to shout down all opponents with brute insults, just to get “likes” or “retweets” from those who already agree with him or her. Changing hearts and minds is the least-considered objective.

Wallistweet copySocial media has also changed the strategy of debate. The strategy of official competitive debate is to start with a stated premise and examine its legitimacies and fallacies with critical thinking. But in social media, the strategy is simply to throw out an inflammatory statement, fishing for a response. When someone takes the bait and challenges that statement, the initial poster often asks a question. This is a good strategy; however, in social media it’s used not to understand others, but to sideswipe them. Asking a question casts the poster into the role of superior, nuanced teacher, and the responder into the role of defensive, inferior student who must try to give a complex answer in a short sentence or two. (Note – if you can’t think of a question, a good default is “What do you mean by ________?”)

Social media limits our words, and therefore our thinking. Great thinkers have written volumes of books debating complex political issues—yet in social media, somehow we think we can reduce these issues to 140 characters on Twitter. That’s about the length of the sentence you just read. And Facebook and other forums aren’t much better. Everything is abbreviated. No matter how hard we try, social media can never capture the essence of a person’s knowledge and experience, or the contextual nuances of her perspective.

politcaltweetSo we shoot back a reply based on one sentence, launching a quibble-fest that devolves into simplistic arguments and ridiculous name-calling until one or both parties grows tired and leaves the discussion. No one wins; yet each side typically claims victory.

Social media eliminates face-to-face contact, and thus a bit of our humanity. Online, we are reduced to little more than avatars, making it easy for us to stereotype one another. But we forget that behind every avatar and every zinger is a real human being for whom Christ died. And if that human being believes in Christ, we will be sharing the Great Feast in heaven, no matter how much we disagree here on earth.

Occasionally, a poster will try to sound more humane by calling the opposition something like,  “my progressive friends” or “my conservative friends” – but this phrase usually masks subtle mockery of, rather than true respect for, that opposing group. If the insulting stance is called out, the poster generally feigns innocence, like Miss Piggy: “Who—moi?” The truth is, when people are face-to-face, most would be too ashamed—and rightly so—to use the scathing language which is commonly used online.

Political debate tends to divide the body of Christ. Last week, when a shooter killed nine prayer warriors at the historic Emanuel AME (“Mother Emanuel”) church in Charleston, South Carolina, believers glorified Jesus in a very dark situation. Supported in spirit by the body of Christ across the country (see, the victims’ families faced the killer and told him they forgave him. From those saints and from the solidarity of churches nationwide, I learned more about forgiveness and grace that week than in all of my years at seminary. In social media, some have tried to divide the body by politicizing the shooting—but such efforts have largely fallen flat due to the unity of the churches.

thebodyofChristThe kingdom of God is about showing Christ’s light. It is about his followers caring for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed (instead of trying to get the government to do it for us—that’s just laziness). We have the resources to represent God’s kingdom on earth, but we cannot do it unless factions of believers stop bashing each other and recognize that we are part of his kingdom first, even though we may disagree on some issues.

Debate is healthy. It stimulates thought and drives the democratic process. But we are Christ-followers first. Our mission is to lift up Jesus, not a political party, candidate, or referendum. None of these can perfectly embody the kingdom of God. Cramming God’s kingdom into a political party (as if we could) makes the kingdom subservient to the party.

John 3:17 (NIV) says: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” If you are a Christ-follower who feels called into the area of politics or political debate on some level, then prayerfully follow that call. But no Christian is called to mudslinging. Instead, we are called to reflect Christ’s salvation throughout cyberspace and to the ends of the earth.

Leave a Comment

Can we be sinners but not losers?

Since the release of my book, Losers Like Us, I have argued that the Bible does nothing to hide the sins, flaws, and blemishes of the people within. They are too clueless, too full of themselves, and too ordinary to be considered spiritual giants. So I have used the term “losers” to describe them—and also to describe all the rest of us who, each in our own stumbling way, try to follow the Lord just as they tried.

But many people have objected to the “loser” label by saying: “Yes, I am a sinner—but not a loser!”

Loser-Sinner1This response shows just how much people hate being labeled as “losers.” I think they mean that in Christ, we are winners, and I agree with that. Yet I see the sinner/loser distinction differently.

I began studying the Bible characters when I went through a time of darkness and failure in my own life, because I was desperate to see how God could or would use a failure like me for his kingdom. As I studied them, they became more to me than the flat, one-dimensional flannel-graph characters I remembered from Sunday School; they became real, fallible people – just like me. So I began to use the term “losers” to describe them, because their failures and ordinariness gave me hope. I figured that if God could use them in his kingdom, maybe he could use a loser like me too.

I know the word “loser” can sound like an insult, but it is not; it is simply an observation.

Allow me to explain.

 To me, except in the case of Jesus, “loser” and “sinner” are synonymous.

The word “sinner” and the word “loser” have similar definitions. Both mean someone who comes up short, misses the mark, fails to fulfill the standard of perfection. In this sense, only Jesus was not a loser. He alone lived a perfect, sinless life, and compared to him, everyone else is indeed a loser (Isaiah 53:6, Heb. 4:15). After all, there can be only one “winner.” In the real world, not everybody gets a trophy.

This truth is affirmed throughout the Bible. Quoting the Old Testament (Ps. 14:1-3, Ps. 53:1-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20), Paul writes in the New:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one….

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

(Romans 3:10-12, 23)

So according to scripture, every person except Jesus is a sinner—and therefore, to me, a loser too.

 If “loser” and “sinner” are not synonyms, I’d rather be the first one.

Saying “I’m a sinner, but not a loser!” implies that being a loser is worse. 

But I see things the other way around. I think being a sinner is worse, because “loser” is just a human value judgment. “Sinner,” on the other hand, is a heart issue that keeps us from the presence of God.

However, neither sinners nor losers are beyond God’s grace; both are fully redeemable by him. 

And on the subject of grace…

The wonderful mystery of grace makes each of us a sinner and a saint at the same time.  We Christ-followers often misinterpret grace in binary terms, with sinners on one side, Christ’s grace in the middle, and saints (saved people) on the other side. We believe that once we move from sin through grace to salvation, we are no longer sinners.

But in truth, even after we are saved by grace, we still sin sometimes. For example, even David—“a man after God’s own heart” (I Sam. 13:14)—is shown to be a deceiver (I Sam. 21:13); polygamist (I Sam. 25:42-44, 2 Sam. 3:2); adulterer (2 Sam. 11:2-4); and cold-blooded killer (2 Sam. 12:9)—and all of these sins were committed after David’s life was dedicated to God. In fact, even in the New Testament, after receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter sinned by fearing the opinion of men more than the opinion of God—and Paul had to call him out (Gal. 2:11-21).

So even though we are forgiven and redeemed, sin is still with us.

Salvation is an ongoing process. Jesus works every day to chisel away our faults and sins as we submit to him, because following Christ is not about achieving perfection; it is about admitting our brokenness, and then being as obedient as we can so that God can build his kingdom through us anyway.

That’s why I argue that we are all sinners, and by default, losers. I can see why some might say that in Christ we are “winners”—but I say that Christ is the only winner. Compared to him, everyone else comes in dead last.

What is so amazing is that Jesus invites us into the winner’s circle to celebrate, party, and identity with him. 



Remembering D-Day: “The eyes of the world are upon you”

On June 6, 1944, on five French beaches—Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno—the U.S. and other Allies launched the largest military operation in history. Their objective was to establish a beach head, liberate France from the Nazis, and ultimately move on to Berlin to defeat Adolf Hitler and win World War II. And they succeeded. Today, seventy-one years later, we honor the 3,000[i] Allied heroes who died in that “D-Day” offensive which turned the tide of history.

landing-in-france d-day-d14a7c6587ea9286 AMERICAN%20TROOPS%20LANDING%20ON%20D-DAY%20OMAHA%20BEACH%20NORMANDY%20COAST%201944


Near the visitors’ center of the Omaha Beach Cemetery and Memorial, at Colleville-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast of France, there is a slab of pink granite with a time capsule, set to be opened on June 6, 2044—the 100th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The plaque on the slab is emblazoned with the five-star seal of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of the European theatre during that invasion and later the President of the United States.2005 Paris-England 913

According to the plaque and nearby signage, the time capsule contains original news reports of D-Day and a personal message from Eisenhower.

I first became aware of, and photographed, this granite slab in 2005, when I had a chance to visit three of the beaches—Gold, Omaha, and Utah—which were invaded on D-Day. As a World War II history buff, I was deeply honored to stand on these beaches about which I had read so much.

2005 Paris-England 896But I wasn’t prepared for the experience.

Especially Omaha.

Bloody Omaha.

Of the five beaches involved, Omaha had the highest casualties. Unlike the other beaches, which include gift shops and recreation areas, Omaha is somber—even sacred. I saw no joggers, swimmers, or picnickers. Those who hiked down to the beach from the cemetery above talked quietly, reflected alone, knelt to touch the water and feel the sand that had soaked up the blood of three thousand men during the first hours of D-Day.

2005 Paris-England 854I had read books and seen movies about that day, but it didn’t really jolt me until I stood at the water’s edge and looked up at the now lush green hills which had once been filled with Nazi machine gun nests and concrete bunkers. In the silence, I could almost hear the screams of the dying amid relentless explosions and gunfire. Eventually, many would be buried above the beach in the cemetery, where thousands of white marble grave markers—both Christian crosses and Jewish stars—now line the grassy hilltop.

2005 Paris-England 922This week, as I’ve considered D-Day—the start of the Allied invasion of Europe and the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich—I’ve spent a lot of time thinking: In the context of those grave markers and the lush green memorial lawn overlooking the now-quiet beach, what message might be in that time capsule? What did Eisenhower want to say to future generations?

He couldn’t have fathomed the directions the world would take in the next seventy years. However, on D-Day, as he faced the Nazi holocaust of millions of Jews and other victims—an example of the absolute worst human nature has to offer—and issued his Order of the Day to stop it, I’m sure he understood firsthand that real evil exists. Further, I’m sure he understood that this invasion would not stop evil once and for all, but that a broken humanity would continue to spread brutality and terror well after his time.

But now, seven decades later, most of us were born after World War II. We weren’t there; we don’t know what it was like. We seem to have forgotten that sometimes there is such a thing as a fight against evil. It is not uncommon to hear military personnel derided as uneducated hicks, bloody murderers, or both;[ii] even in the city where I live, anti-military sentiment is endemic. Though many people do respect the bravery and sacrifice of the military, I am saddened and angered by the disrespect of those who don’t.

Americans are restless, continually reinventing ourselves. We lack the focus to sit still for any period of time. We ­­­make critical decisions based on a two-minute news story or a twenty-second soundbite. Our impulsive social media posts can turn events or change lives at the speed of light, for good or ill. In fact, the only characteristic that never changes in America is our quickness to forget—and our ability to remember selectively.

So I wonder, what might Eisenhower’s message be? ­­

I suspect it might be summarized in one word: remember.

When Eisenhower visited Orhdruf, the first of Hitler’s concentration camps to be liberated by American forces, he cabled George C. Marshall of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to request a visit from prominent editors and congressional leaders. One of Eisenhower’s concerns was that if they did not record proof of the mountains of desecrated bodies and other Nazi horrors, future generations would never believe it. [iii]

And that prediction proved accurate. Today, despite all the original photographs, film footage, eyewitness reports, and other verified documentation, it is becoming trendy to downplay or deny the Holocaust. In 2014, an eighth-grade teacher assigned her students an essay to decide whether or not the Holocaust was real.[iv] Even anti-Semitism is making a comeback, again on college campuses.[v]

It’s been just seventy years, yet already we have forgotten.

2005 Paris-England 925Remember.

Remember why the men on Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches pressed forward against a wall of enemy gunfire. Remember that humanity is still broken and that people have an incredible ability to brutalize each other. Remember that evil is real; it is not simply a misunderstanding.

We are still twenty-nine years away from 2044, when we will open the time capsule and read the message Eisenhower prepared ­decades ago. I have no idea how the world will look at that time. But, given human nature, I am certain there will still be war, brutality, and terror. It’s a scary time. We are overwhelmed with all that is going on, and clearly, we have no idea how to stop it.

But the Allies did. At that time, in that place, there was almost universal agreement on who the enemy was and what needed to be done. And they did it.

So, through historical images and documentation, I remember D-Day. I remember the brave soldiers who pushed across every inch of that bloody beach, and their brave brothers who fell. I remember the stacks of Hitler’s dead victims in Ohrdruf and Auschwitz and Dauchau, and scores of other sites.

I remember so I won’t be apathetic.

I remember because, in the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[vi]

d12_06010712 D-day-normandy-in-photos-2 d_day_11_lg





[i] Exact numbers are hard to verify, but reputable sources estimate total casualties (injuries) at about 8,000 to 10,000, and fatalities at about 3,000:

[ii] One representative example is a 2012 NBC news story about “anti-military vibes” and insults directed toward college students who formerly served in the military (

[iii] See these original communications:;;


[v] For example, see and

[vi] George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner’s, 1905: 284.