Posts Tagged ‘Blogging’

A Guide to Debating Online (Without Losing Friends)

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 11.23 am

My latest piece at Relevant offers some tips for how to have online debates about theology without being totally rude. 90% of this works for politics, too.

Another day, another Facebook debate.

It’s all too common. You’re scrolling through your feed and you see someone arguing a point that you know is wrong and you’re certain you can prove it. So you type in your two cents, positive that any thinking person will see the sense in your argument and back down.

And not two minutes later, your “friend” responds—not only unconvinced, but undeterred and perhaps even angry that you don’t see her side. She responds with even more nonsense that you know exactly how to counter.

Game on.

Of course, strident disagreement, especially in the area of theology, is nothing new. The Apostle Paul wished that false preachers would castrate themselves, and the Martin Luther Insult Generator will give you an idea of how the Father of the Reformation talked about his challengers. (My favorite: “Even if your writings were from an angel from heaven I would take this horrible document, and, after having used it as toilet paper, wipe its nose.”)

But debating online doesn’t have to involve insults and farewells. We can take our stances seriously and still be on speaking terms when the debate is over.

My own history of blogging about controversial topics has been remarkably conflict-free. With 100,000+ followers and 6,000+ posts on my political blog, I can count the amount of hate mail I’ve received on two hands … well, maybe a couple toes, too. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years:

Tone Is Everything.

You can disagree vehemently with other Christians and stay (or become) great friends. The key thing is to maintain an empathetic tone and only go after beliefs, not people. As Thomas Jefferson wisely said, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

Be Open to the Possibility That You are Wrong or Haven’t Heard all Sides of the Story.

This is really cliché advice, I know, but it’s so important. I’ve had to publish corrections when readers have pointed out that my original posts were inaccurate, and it can be really embarrassing. But it happens, and I promise it’s much less of a big deal than it feels like it is. Your readers will respect you more, and even if you never end up on the wrong end of a discussion, maintaining a humble attitude will always make you more persuasive.

Pay Attention to Your Own Reactions.

Did your face get red when you read that rebuttal of your latest point? Do you feel prickly all over when you scroll through the Twitter feed of a famous pastor whose theology you don’t share? Maybe something more is going on here than just a debate on the Internet. If you find you’re unduly emotionally worked up about an online conversation, consider sitting this one out.

Read the whole thing here.

On getting started.

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 2.16 pm

Q. I guess what I’m asking is how do I gain the confidence to share my views. The current firearms debate for example. I’m so worried about the criticism and the potential hate that I don’t get involved. How did you deal with such things? — thewellman, from tumblr.

A. I’m not sure I can say anything that would cause you to feel confident—feelings are a tricky thing to produce.

That said, here’s what I’d basically suggest:

1. Say what you think.

2. Make sure you say it sincerely, as graciously as possible, and with lots of good sources to back up your claims. If you use a cold tone or don’t document your facts well, you’re inviting criticism and disagreement. It’s fine to write forcefully and make a fierce argument, but don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t say or do in person. In short: Make your personality as a writer a complement to your ideas, not a distraction.

3. Always be open to the possibility that you are wrong or haven’t heard all sides of the story. Just today I posted a correction from another blogger to a post I made which didn’t present an accurate picture in its first version.

4. If people respond to your opinions, that’s great! That means you’ve expressed yourself clearly and strongly enough to spark conversation. Read the responses as much as possible.

5. But here’s the thing: Not all responses are equal. Regardless of whether the person responding agrees with you or not, their input may or may not be any good. If another blogger responds with thoughtful criticisms of your arguments, you might want to take the time to reply. You don’t have to if you don’t have time or are feeling sick that day or just don’t feel like it, but it’s good if you do.

However, if someone responds with little more than curses and name calling, I’d advise ignoring it. If they are particularly crude or do this sort of thing repeatedly, you can even block them—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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