Pursuing Public Justice in the Twittersphere

President Trump’s tweets have long been the subject of fame and controversy. Many world leaders, including the Pope, have taken to Twitter to stay relevant in our social media age. President Trump’s impulsive, staccato style finds a particularly welcoming home on Twitter. Many of his recent tweets have caused even congressional Republicans to implore him to stop.

His attacks on Mika Brzezinski last month, while not unusual in tone from President Trump’s past statements, were unprecedented in the media coverage and the swift, almost universal condemnation they received. In fact, President’s Trumps tweets are so frequently inflammatory that they have become a public obsession all to themselves. We’re inundated with talk about tweets and, if you’re like me, suddenly you think, “Wait a minute, what happened to any discussion of policy?” How can we navigate this new environment faithfully? As people concerned with public justice, we must carefully think through the ways we respond to each other on social media.

We could respond in full to every one of President Trump’s tweets with anger and anxiety — like many do on Twitter. Sometimes Twitter makes us feel this way, and it only takes a second to send out 140 anger-filled characters. But as Christians we are not called to anger. In fact, in James, Christians are exhorted to be, “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” In contrast, Twitter allows its users to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.

We cannot expend this kind of energy.  And we’ve already spent too much of our time dissecting Presidential tweets.  It is also a far cry from bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Chapter 2 of Titus exhorts four different groups of Christians to exercise “self-control.” Why such an emphasis on restraint? So that their witness will be as clear and winsome as possible. Put simply, it hurts our Christian witness to respond in anger this way.

On the other hand, we could ignore President Trump’s media usage. We could spend less time sucked into the president’s personal feuds and try to direct conversations back to policy. However, we must still remember that a president’s tweets are public speech, and public speech is part of politics. Tweets are not separate from diplomacy, bridge-building, and policy discourse. We have long recognized that while certain things may still be considered “private,” the public statements of public servants are not, whether they are about policya woman’s appearance, or covfefe.  Therefore, we cannot, in good faith, ignore what the President of the United States says, even if it’s on Twitter. As Christian citizens, we ought to care about what our leaders say and be informed. Intentionally ignoring the president’s tweets would be irresponsible. Senator Jeff Flake recently reflected on the same thing in a Politico op-ed

So as I layered in my defense mechanisms, I even found myself saying things like, "If I took the time to respond to every presiden­tial tweet, there would be little time for anything else.” Given the volume and velocity of tweets from both the Trump campaign and then the White House, this was certainly true. But it was also a monumental dodge. It would be like Noah saying, "If I spent all my time obsessing about the coming flood, there would be little time for anything else." At a certain point, if one is being honest, the flood becomes the thing that is most worthy of attention. At a certain point, it might be time to build an ark.

So then how do we respond?

We cannot ignore these tweets because they are public statements made by an elected official. We also cannot ignore them because they reveal a pattern of callous and even reckless rhetoric by the person holding our highest office. As Christians who value civility, depth of thought, and public justice, we cannot remain silent about this. Neither is it wise or sustainable to respond in frothy rage every time the president tweets at 2 AM.

Christians will recognize this pattern. We don’t give our full hearts to anyone or anything except Christ. It is the same call to restraint that comes whenever something begins to draw our attention away from the mission of God. Allowing President Trump’s tweets to control our emotions flies in the face of Christian trust in a God who remains Lord of all. The Christian is able to address injustice, or reckless tweeting, with anger and a desire to make things right. But the Christian is also never derailed from the work of public justice at hand. There are laws to be written, injustices to fight, and neighbors to love through our civil discourse. 

In other words, we’ve got to learn how to address the president’s speech without giving it ultimate authority.

Words matter. They have the power to build up and to tear down. Therefore, our social media use can be part of our work toward public justice. We should hold each other to a higher standard of discourse and call out those who use their words to harm. In pursuit of America’s flourishing and the love of our neighbor we must continue to demand a focus on policy. We must continue to address this form of presidential speech without being sidelined by it and without being deterred from the great and substantive causes of justice that Christians in these pages are promoting every day. 

While we were all in an uproar the president’s latest tweet, we might have missed the children left behind by the opioid crisis or the strides we are called to pursue in mental health  or the incredible work one church has done in opening their hearts to refugees. The tweetstorms threaten to blind us. Keep your eyes fixed on the goal.  

Give the president’s words scrutiny. But give even more energy to the policies and causes to which God has called you. #publicjustice 

Now that is worth tweeting. Go ahead. It’s 135 characters.

-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. Photo courtesy of Maryland GovPics