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FIRST-PERSON: Digital footprints & online landmines

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner is ever in the news. After departing Congress in 2011 because he was caught sending lewd texts to several women, the married politician took some time away from the public eye to work on his marriage.

However, after he announced his plans to enter the New York mayoral race, it came to light that he has engaged in sexually explicit communication via text messages and Facebook with at least three more women in the last year.

Anthony Weiner is not the only person to get caught up using technology to indulge in the flesh (Romans 13:14). While sites like Twitter and Facebook can be used as effective tools for good purposes, like spreading the Good News about Christ, they can also end up being stumbling blocks if a person is not careful.

Because of cell phones, TV, the Internet, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, vlogs, Tumblr, Facetime, Snapchat, etc., many people spend more time each day engaged in some sort of media than they do sleeping.

Whether you spend six minutes or six hours (the average for many teenagers) each day using some form of technology, we all should ask, “Am I honoring God in social networking? Does my tweet, post, text or comment demonstrate that I love God and have a relationship with Him?”

The truth of the matter is that, while your character is built over a lifetime, it can be compromised in a second with a careless click. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to throw off the sin that easily entangles us, and this truth definitely applies to any use of technology that leads to sin.

So, what are some technology landmines that can blow up your testimony?

Tech time all the time

Isn’t it weird how easy it can be to spend hours on Facebook, watching TV or browsing the Internet but then struggle to carve out just a few minutes each day to spend time with God?

A common struggle with many believers is not spending consistent time with God even though spending time with Him can give us strength to resist temptation (Psalm 119:11). If you struggle with this, consider enlisting someone to hold you accountable about your time with God and about how much time you spend using any media form that easily distracts you.

Careless clicks

What does your browser history reveal about your walk with God? With one click of the mouse, you can expose yourself to tempting images. Proverbs 6:27 asks, “Can a man scoop fire in his lap and his clothes not be burned?” Don’t think that you can view such images and not be tempted.

A study by the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation in 2006 revealed that 7 out of 10 youth have accidently come across pornography. Revealing pop-up ads, mistyped words in search engines and spam emails are just some of the ways that children and adults stumble across sexually explicit material on the Internet.

Protect yourself by adding software to your computer that will block pornographic material and consider giving someone else access to your computer to periodically check what you view online.

Peer pressure photos

This landmine is something I have observed in a lot of teenage young ladies, though they are certainly not the only group struggling with posting inappropriate pictures online. “Selfies” at angles that highlight certain parts of your body have become popular, but just because “everyone is doing it” doesn’t make it OK.

Ladies, don’t post revealing pics of yourselves online. I hate to say it, but if the immoral woman of Proverbs 7 lived in the digital age, I think she would have been leading the charge of the seductive “selfie” pic now crowding the Internet.

Sarcasm, snarkiness and sass

I have jokingly said that my love language is sarcasm, but the truth is that my words intended in fun sometimes really hurt people, and I have to really guard what I say and how I say things. In the same vein, I think a lot of Christians weaken their testimony when they let a snarky tweet fly or post angry comments on blogs or Facebook pages — this includes things posted under the supposed cloak of anonymity.

Jesus in Matthew 12:35-37 says that a tree is known by its fruit and that we will one day be held accountable for every careless word. Just as James 1:19 encourages believers to be slow to speak, we should be slow to tweet, post or comment until we are sure what we are putting up honors God.

‘In the heat of the moment’ moments

I think there should be a warning sign on email accounts and cell phones that says, “Beware of use when angry or low on sleep.” I cringe at the memories of emails I have sent in anger; I have ALWAYS regretted them! Proverbs 14:17 warns that a quick-tempered person acts foolishly.

Sometimes it is better to wait to respond to an email when you are not in the heat of the moment. Angry emails or texts seldom accomplish any good. It is wise to step away and cool down before you type something you will regret. If you are not sure about how your tone is coming across, consider asking an impartial friend to read the email before you send it.

‘For your eyes only’ traps

Is there any part of your digital footprint you want to keep from prying eyes? When I was teaching high school girls at church, just to see how they would react, I would occasionally ask them if they would be willing for their parents to read through their text messages. The look of sheer panic on some of their faces was pretty telling.

The Bible says that God knows the secrets of our hearts (Psalm 44:21) and that nothing is hidden from Him (Luke 8:17). If you are sending texts or engaging in some type of online correspondence through email, Facebook or some other medium that you wouldn’t want your parents, your spouse or a trusted advisor to know about, then that is a pretty good indicator that something is amiss.

The best way to guard against this landmine is to have total transparency with someone whom you let have access to your phone and computer. If you are married, letting your spouse have your Facebook and email passwords or just having joint accounts can help guard against this landmine.

We all have to guard against these online landmines. In recent years, there have been a lot of stories warning people about the impact their digital footprint can have. Today employers “Google” prospective employees and even some colleges view Facebook profiles of hopeful applicants. I know of students who have lost out on scholarships and jobs because they have been tripped up by some of the landmines described above.

For believers, technology can be a great tool, but we must use it responsibly. Just as Jesus cautioned His disciples that people would know whether they were truly His disciples by the way they loved each other (John 13:35), 21st century Christians can demonstrate a walk with God by the way they text or post comments online.
Candi Finch serves as assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and is nearing the end of her Ph.D. studying systematic theology. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

    About the Author

  • Candi Finch