When Longfellow penned his classic poem, “A Psalm of Life,” his reference to leaving behind “footprints in the sands of time” was intended to be an encouragement to humanity as it persevered through the phases of life. Footprints were left from which some “forlorn and shipwrecked brother” would take heart as he journeyed to the cadence of the “funeral march to the grave.”
The environmentalists are sincerely concerned about your carbon footprint and its effect on the longevity of our planet. They remind us constantly of the reality that we are all having some effect on the environment by our style of life. National Forests usually have a sign to leave the park the way you found it, avoiding litter and destruction to the environment.
We as Christians need to be reminded that we are also leaving a digital footprint behind as we digitally make our way through the complexities of life. On every side, “causes” arise which clamor for our attention and support. Many have a genuine moral basis that appeals to our sense of rightness. Many believers struggle over involvement in hot-button issues which present themselves to us. Should I go online and add my name to that petition? Should I add my comments to a post on Facebook or a comment on Twitter? Protesting abortion, the LGBTQ+ agenda in our schools, and a host of other issues confront us. Do we shout out our support or hatred for the current leader of our country? Do we commend or condemn BLM? Are truckers who are blocking the bridge a band of extremists or merely concerned citizens voicing their rights? How far do we go with involvement, either personally or digitally?
Social media and our culture have combined to give us a sense of entitlement and even a feeling of justification in airing our grievances and viewpoints for the world to see. Everyone feels that his opinion is valid and must be heard. Though the governments of nations guarantee many of these rights, I must be controlled by higher principles.
I am keenly aware that not all will agree with my comments. Please, however, apply these principles to your conclusion.
The Test of My Testimony
I am here to represent the Lord Jesus Christ, not a particular political movement or cause. I am not only linking my name to a petition or website, but I am linking His Name as well. There are causes whose moral right is obvious and clear. Many would attempt to paint the Lord Jesus as a great social reformer in His own time. He condemned the unjust and dishonest dealings of the Pharisees; He rebuked those taking the homes of widows; He was a “reformer” in His treatment of women. But was His goal social reform or was it the spiritual well-being of all those with whom He came in contact?
He condemned the Pharisees, not with an eye to reform a system but with the goal of convicting them of sin and leading them to salvation. When Paul sent Onesimus back to his master, Philemon, he was not sent back with an emancipation proclamation from slavery but with freedom from sin and judgment. While I cannot be dogmatic, the tenor of his letter to Philemon suggests that it was the gospel and its effect on master and slave that would eventually lead to the end of slavery. The emphasis of both the Lord Jesus and Paul when confronting social issues was to proclaim the gospel.
Our longing for righteousness in our society and world may make some social protests appealing, but I must ask myself if I can link my testimony to it. Will my involvement in a cause or protest or an online blog or tweet deter someone from coming to hear the gospel? Will someone who disagrees with me and sees me on the protest march or on social media be less likely to receive an invitation to a gospel meeting because of my involvement?
The Test of Time
There are other movements where the agenda is not as clear at the onset. My involvement on social media is a permanent footprint that can be traced. We all know the damage that has been done by activists dredging up old quotations from YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere. It has led to ruined careers and, at times, being “canceled” by contemporary society. Before you weigh in to espouse a given cause or to protest someone’s contribution, give some thought to the future and how your comment may be construed. Every movement unleashes a backlash. There are times when the passage of a few years leads to a reversal in the thinking of society. Your thoughts are a permanent record of your thinking.
While the principle of 1 Timothy 5:24-25 is in the context of oversight qualifications, the principle of identifying quickly with a cause or person is also present in the Proverbs. Time often reveals truth not obvious at first impression.
The Test of the Truth of God
As a believer to whom the truth of Scripture defines my relationship to government, do I wish to become known as someone who is in rebellion against the government? We are enjoined to pray for the authorities (1Ti 2:1,2) so that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” The only exception to submission to governmental authority is when it flies clearly in the face of Scripture. We may disagree with government and its decisions, and we may align as conservative or liberal in our personal preferences, but that should never become our testimony in society, and it must never be allowed to divide an assembly or to hinder the warm fellowship of an assembly.
Our relationship to government is clearly spelled out in the various Scriptures touching on the subject: Romans 13, 1 Timothy 2, 1 Peter 2, Titus 3. Unless we are being called upon to disobey the Word of God, we cannot claim Acts 4:19 and 5:29 as the basis for our actions. We may well sympathize with those who are protesting government activity, but the truth of God limits our activism to the prayer closet (1Ti 2:1-4). Where will you be most effective – in prayer or in protest?
The digital footprints that we are leaving may not only be in opposition to the Word of God but may resurface and mar our testimony, shift our focus from the gospel to social issues, and embarrass us at a future date.
None of this is meant to legislate consciences and activity by sincere believers. What has been presented are some principles to consider as our society becomes more and more polarized, and social media becomes more and more prominent as a means of protest.