Several months ago a first time visitor came to our church on a Sunday morning. Also in attendance, was a homeless gentleman that had attended several times before. Our church had lovingly welcomed him in - however, he was mentally unstable and sometimes would wander in the back of the worship area muttering things that sounded threatening. We always made sure he was given something to eat and told him he would need to stay seated during the service. We also told him that he could no longer bring his backpack with him into the sanctuary. He seemed to understand and some of our staff made efforts to minister to him, be sure his needs were met and also protect everyone in attendance.
So back to that fateful Sunday morning...our homeless friend came into the sanctuary and was extremely agitated and was carrying his backpack. A few of our guys sat behind him and one of them tried to gently calm him down but he wasn’t able to. So they walked with him to the exit and explained that he would need to leave until he was calmer - no one was angry but we had to be sure that all the others in our service were safe. Our first time visitor saw what was happening and was instantly enraged. “You don’t care about the homeless! I’ll never come here again!” he said. We assured him that we very much cared about the homeless and tried to set up a time to discuss all of this with him. As you might have guessed - that never happened. He stormed out having decided that we were the bad guys without knowing the whole story.
We live in a sound-bite and click-bait world. People spend all their time and energy creating little snippets of information that are designed to do one thing: CREATE ANGER. And guess what? It’s working remarkably well. We read something or see a picture online and with zero other information the mob assembles to assassinate someone’s character. For example, after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School, a fictitious story was circulated that one of the survivors, David Hogg, was a fake - a “crisis actor”. Then the conspiracy theories started. People were saying things like, “He doesn’t even go to school there” (WRONG - he is a Senior). “Does anyone else find it suspicious that his dad is former FBI? Something just doesn’t smell right!” (WRONG again: there was no cover up, his dad had retired from the FBI due to an illness that they had wished to keep private). But no matter, enough people read what they wanted to read and now this family who is dealing with the illness of a parent and survived a school shooting IS RECEIVING DEATH THREATS.
Friends, we must do better. We have a responsibility to use the hearts and minds that God has given us and take a few extra minutes to fact check what we are reading before adding our voices to the angry mob. We all do it. I’m guilty of it too. Imagine if all of the effort that has been devoted to discrediting David Hogg and his family was used instead to care for them and find ways to encourage them. Wouldn’t that be amazing? What if we started doing that everywhere we went? What if?