The Internet and the Rise of Christian Mobs

Religious mobs have been around for thousands of years. After all, it was a religious mob that called for Barabbas to be freed and Jesus to be executed. It was a similar motivation for the mobs that called for the arrest of the disciples. And throughout history, Christian mobs have done plenty of damage in the name of Jesus. From the days of the Early Church, to the Crusades, to burning heretics, to racists and beyond, there’s always been a fringe of Christians who succumb to a mob mentality.

Today, I’m afraid it’s coming back in spades on the Internet – particularly when it comes to accusing other believers – especially when it comes to theology. There are an incredible number of blogs, social media feeds, and others – who may be well meaning – but who feel like it’s their “calling” to expose heresy or sin in the lives of other people.

The problem is, they don’t seem to be hindered by not knowing the facts.

I’ve worked behind the scenes consulting churches and ministries for four decades, and while I’ve had the opportunity to partner with amazing pastors, leaders, and causes during in that time, I’ve also seen plenty of shameful things. As a result, I’ve had to help more than a few churches and ministries recover from the revelation of leaders who were adulterers, alcoholics, liars, and even pedophiles.

Any leader exposed in sin should be dealt with Biblically and legally, but what’s disconcerting in the age of the Internet is the number of Christians who pile on – without much knowledge of the facts. During one crisis, I read a blogger who ripped into a leader but got most of the facts wrong. Then 20 other people commented, and most of them had the facts wrong as well.

I’ve recently seen a social media feed from a Christian who positions himself as a modern-day Martin Luther, another convinced he’s called to be a theology cop, and another who writes “open letters” that he publishes about leaders he thinks are wrong. But who are these self-proclaimed critics accountable to?

Jesus didn’t encourage mob behavior. In fact, he went out of His way to shut them down (remember that “He who is without sin cast the first stone” incident?)

That’s not to say leaders should not be held accountable, and I’ve called for that many times. However, a pile on by an angry online mob isn’t Biblical accountability, and it doesn’t help anyone.

While co-writing my new book: “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Our Credibility and How We Get It Back” I’ve been thinking more and more about how much the ease of technology has damaged our unity. The truth is, social media has made it so easy to simply click and comment, that it’s almost difficult not to jump in.

But no matter what the issue, or how much it may anger us, it doesn’t help to get whipped into a frenzy and accuse anyone without knowing the real story. To that end, here’s a few questions to consider the next time you feel the need to respond online:

1) What will be gained from my comment? Will this help either side heal, or am I just venting?

2) Do I know the truth here? Have I met anyone involved and discussed it with them?

3) Is my information based on 2nd hand knowledge, or a post from someone who only has 2nd (or 3rd) hand knowledge?

4) Am I sure there’s not a log in my eye before I comment on the speck in someone else’s eye?

5) Does my comment express the attitude of Jesus and the perspective of scripture?

When it comes to our witness before the world, it’s important that we take sin seriously. But taking it seriously also means that we consider whether or not our comments, blogs, and posts are helping or hurting.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Matthew

    This particular issue is so pertinent in the dying churches we see all over our land. People are so hungry to establish self righteousness, that they will take advantage of any opportunity; “especially when it is mob mentality”, to destroy another. I’ve experienced this myself firsthand as I was asked to leave the Church I grew up in. I had repented, established accountability partners and had even gone before the Church in open confession. It was my mistake for believing that Church discipline would be honored if I submitted. But I’ve since moved on to a new city and Church where a strange new discussion is being practiced. Grace, and what an Amazing Grace we have through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  • Ah, yes, the mob mentality. It can affect Christians too, because we’re in the same human conditions as everyone else. One thing with the web is the availability for anyone and everyone to have a voice. That being the case, watchdog blogs—the ones that have no accountability when criticizing other Christian leaders in their so-called discernment ministries—have used their voices quite actively.

    If more of the good ones would use their voices online regularly, perhaps we can tip the balance away from the mobs and the watchdogs.

    • I agree DJ. I think the “theology cops” are the worst…. :-)

  • Simon Dillon

    You’re highlighting a pet hate of mine – not just Christian mobs either (although they are some of the worst).

    Many of my favourite artists – from Charles Dickens to Christopher Nolan, have told stories that expose the folly and horror of “the mob”.

    The so-called culture wars also provide mountains of depressing evidence where the Bible Belt/Christian right believe they are doing the right thing, but are in fact being manipulated by precisely the same militant spirit that manipulates the so-called “liberal left”. Both sides are ludicrously polarised, yelling their entrenched positions about one another in meaningless echo chambers. In the meantime, the love of Jesus has long departed.

  • Joshua from Ohio

    These are not bad.

  • Oengus

    Correct me if I am wrong, Phil, but aren’t you talking about the “online discernment ministry” (ODM) bloggers out there on the Internet?

    But haven’t these have been in the business for many years now? The only thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a few more of them. Other than that, I haven’t seen anything much different as far as any extra special nastiness goes.

    I was wondering. Was there something special that you noticed recently that especially instigated writing this article of yours?

    • Where do I start? Perhaps you’re right – there’s just a lot more of them recently.

  • Andrew Doubleday from NZ

    Great Post Phil!
    I’d want to add another point
    6) Would you say this if the person you are ‘addressing’ is sitting right in front of you?
    Much of what we see posted is ‘keyboard courage’ protected by the wall of anonymity.

  • Richard J Fairhead

    I think Christian mobs are just following a general trend in mob ascendency. And it concerns me a lot. In these mobs truth seems to matter less than success for the cause. Whenever I see truth take a back seat I know who is in the driving seat… the person Jesus referred to as the father of lies. And then I realise that our Father is not in these mobs, however righteous they might appear!