Sorry, Christians misbehave on the internet too


Central Europe


An illustration picture shows a person handling a mobile phone displaying the login page of social media app 'Threads'. Photo EPA, Etienne Laurent

All Facebook friends of Christoph Zehender who write posts about politicians in a denigrating tone will be un-friended. That said the German theologian and song-writer a few days ago on Facebook. Immediately, his post received likes and reposts.

Everybody sees it: the tone on social media is getting harsher. Personal attacks against people are increasing. The Evangelical German press agency IDEA asked Zehendner to explain his position. He is campaigning for more respect on social networks.

IDEA: You are convinced that the tone in social networks is becoming increasingly harsh, especially against politicians. What do you attribute this to?

Zehendner: "I have nothing against harmless jokes and jibes; they have always existed in a democracy. What increasingly makes my stomach hurt is the disrespectful, inhuman polemics against individuals that flood the net. I see a picture of a top politician as a "target" in a urinal. There are tons of emojis posted spewing green vomit – as a "comment" on another politician's quote. In an almost pubescent tone, people rant about their figure, dress style or lack of school-leaving qualifications. And women in positions of responsibility are particularly often the target. One may judge the individual case differently. Personal taste certainly plays a role. But for me, the standard is human dignity. And unfortunately, I encounter less and less of that on the net."

What could be the reasons for this development?

"In my opinion, there are many factors involved. Firstly, there are the campaigns of tabloid media –especially the German magazine "Bild"–- which are increasingly resorting to personal attacks to increase the circulation of their papers. Secondly, the apparent anonymity on the net, where any form of politeness has been lost. And thirdly, there is the blind trust of many people in self-proclaimed political commentators (above all from the far right) who spread their theses on the internet against the "mainstream" and whose business model is to shoot democracy to pieces. I cannot judge whether there is actually targeted influence from outside, for instance from Russia, which many experts assume. But I believe that if a dictator could look at how we are dealing with our democracy from afar, he would laugh in his face. Because we are busy damaging our democracy."

From your point of view, do Christians also participate in spreading the disrespectful polemic?

"Unfortunately, I observe this frighteningly often. People post Bible verses, worship songs and invitations to spiritual events on Instagram or Facebook. And then, a little later, they share posts against politicians that are indecent and disrespectful in tone and presentation and often aim far below the belt. The commandment of love of one's neighbour seems to be out of effect on the internet."

How might Christians respond – what might a positive counter-movement look like?

"I personally announced a small signal on my Facebook page two days ago: If in future I discover posts that trample on the human dignity of people in positions of responsibility, then I will delete the respective Facebook contact from my friends list. To my astonishment, my announcement triggered hundreds of reactions in a short time, and many shared my post.

But, of course, I alone will not be able to change the world, nor will the net. This Herculean task would require the participation of the leading Christian media and influential personalities in churches and the community – instead of adding fuel to the fire through the tone of their comments.

Together, we could propose, for example:

  • We Christians, even in the different media, perceive people in responsible positions from every political direction as human beings. And as creatures of God, we respect them and their human dignity.

  • Of course, we can respond to their arguments and comment on what we find wrong or dangerous. But in doing so, we strive for objectivity and avoid personal attacks, hatred and agitation.

  • When we share posts, we first check who is behind them and from which source they come. And what else this source has given away.

  • If we are unsure whether a planned post respects human dignity, we simply leave it out in case of doubt.

  • Before each post, we remember a precious word of Jesus (Matthew 7:12a): "Treat others as you would want to be treated."

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the German press agency Idea on September 8, 2023



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