Guest Post: How to Be a Better Facebook Debater


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
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Today I’m pleased to welcome to the blog my friend Joy Bennett.

Joy and I got to know one another well on the bumpy bus rides we took through The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Bolivia on our World Vision triplast month. I found her to be both gentle and opinionated, kind and passionate—the kind of person I could spend hours talking to in a coffee shop…or clinging to as a Bolivian bus careens a little too close to the sheer drop below. Joy is a Christ-follower, a wife, a mother, a griever, a rejoicer, a pot-stirrer, and an advocate for the poor. (You can read about her story here.)

Be sure to subscribe to her blog—Joy in this Journey. You’ll be glad you did! 

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How to Be a Better Facebook Debater
By Joy Bennett 

My husband's favorite analogy for my approach to social media is cock-fighting. He likes to call me "the female Michael Vick of the blogosphere."

'Cocks fighting' photo (c) 2008, Nguyen Thanh Long - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I must protest. Sure, I love to throw bait out, like "What do you think about a church allowing a small group Bible study to meet in a pub?" and watch the number of comments on my Facebook status explode. I don't have to feed that fire – all I do is strike the match.

But I don't do it just for fun.

Yes, I admit it. Pot-stirring is fun... most of the time. It's disheartening to see how many people abandon real debate and start name-calling and character-bashing instead. Or who paint an exaggerated picture of the other side and debate that instead of engaging with the real issues.

No, I have more noble motives.

Throwing out a statement like "Christians should give up trying to make abortion illegal & instead focus on preventing unwanted pregnancy and reforming adoption.” starts my own little presidential-style debate in which everyone gets a turn to share their positions with me (and anyone else interested in reading it). I learn far more about issues when passionate people defend their beliefs than I do reading pseudo-neutral analysis or hearing someone describe their opponent's position. So when I throw a question out there, I’m really interested in hearing you present your views.

I do this because, unless you’ve practiced (and yes, I have – I was on the college debate team and learned to defend multiple sides of an issue as if I believed them), you cannot do justice to a position with which you do not agree. You will only succeed in making a fool of yourself.

Yet I see people try to do it all the time, especially in the church and Christian schools.

I’ll never forget the high school history textbook published by conservative Christians that tried to justify U.S. policy towards Native Americans, or the book I had to read that argued the United Nations is the anti-Christ. Many Christians try to describe atheism, evolution, bioethics, and especially different theologies by relying on Straw Man techniques. They alternately over-simplify and exaggerate the “other side” until it’s almost unrecognizable. (This is cheating -- anyone can win an argument with a figment of their imagination.) Also? It is lying to misrepresent someone or something to win an argument. And that’s in the Ten Commandments.

'Straw Men' photo (c) 2010, Robin Ellis - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Let’s go with creationism for an example. I live within easy driving distance of the Creation Museum, so I hear Young Earth Creation taught by the majority of Christians in our area. But I want to understand Old Earth Creationism and Christian Evolution. (This is one reason I love reading Rachel's blog and all of your comments.) People I respect hold these other views, so there must be something to them, right?

I’ve learned that it is nearly impossible to get an accurate and honest representation of alternative theories on the origin of life by young earth creationists. It's as if they can't resist setting up their opposition for a beat-down. And this applies to pretty much every debate out there.

Only when I really understand each of those positions will I be in a position to say which one best fits what I see and how I understand the Bible.

 I do have to admit the one major drawback to this. Not everyone is mature enough or trained to focus on the issue and leave personal attacks and logical fallacies out of it. Heck, our politicians don't even stick to the issues. But it becomes a problem for me when, on my Facebook page for example, everyone is my friend. It sucks to see them go after each other's throats in my space.

It got to be too much this winter. I decided to block some people, step back, and evaluate how I interact there. I've adjusted my approach, and use filters as I learn who can handle this kind of debate and who can't.I have to admit that it’s a little less fun though.

I threw that abortion statement onto Facebook the other night and no-one took the bait.

On Twitter, however…

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How do you use social media? Do you read or start debates there or do you avoid them like the plague?

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