This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Digital disagreements

During the height of public reaction to the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, The Indianapolis Star ran a front-page editorial, “Fix This Now,” that asked for social media response using #WeAreIndiana in each tweet or post.

The Star urged readers to use #WeAreIndiana “to spread the message of who we are and what we want the world to know: Indiana embraces everyone, and we do not discriminate.” It brought tweets about Hoosier musicians, sports achievements, Indiana landmarks, history and more.

The hashtag may look familiar to Mennonites. Mennonite Church USA recently began sprinkling #WeAre Menno into social media profiles, quotes, pictures, history snippets and anything remotely symbolizing Mennonitism.

Will a friendly, championing hashtag make us set aside differing deep theological or political convictions? Probably not.

But during the RFRA negativity spewing from all sides on social media, the positive hashtags seemed like mostly harmless attempts to remind folks of uniting factors in the midst of animosity. A message with a friendly hashtag is far superior to the anger, defensiveness and lack of respect that tend to dominate online discussions on controversial topics.

Fairly quickly after Indiana’s backlash, the governor agreed to re-examine the legislation, proving that social media activism can add public pressure that leads to positive change. Even so, something is lacking in the way such controversies play out online. The ideal Jesus promotes in Matthew 18 is to first talk privately to one who sins against us. There’s nothing private about tweeting or making public declarations about taking one’s business elsewhere.

Indiana residents — even those who did not support the law’s passage — felt attacked. The reaction led by The Star was the most healthy online communication to come out of the ordeal. With #WeAre­Indiana, residents of the state reminded the world that they are relatable, sympathetic, friendship-worthy people.

As controversy unfolds more and more often online, grace is increasingly forgotten. Positive hashtags can seem flippant and dismissive, but they also remind us that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. The more messages we send over the Internet focused on what connects us in the midst of diversity, the better equipped we will be to exemplify loving communication and cope with conflict in a digital age.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!