But after spending years on Facebook, I’ve seen a trend that’s both interesting and troubling: If I find a hoax in my news feed, chances are it will have been shared by an evangelical Christian.
I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. In fact, it’s so typical and intriguing, that I’ve been keeping track of the phenomenon for quite a while. I’ve often wondered why mainstream Christians (not my high-church friends, not my Catholic friends, etc.) are so quick to pass on news stories and testimonials that are untrue. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Today I want to talk through some reasons they need to stop:
1. They’re credibility killers
The Christian message is one that requires a certain suspension of disbelief. I mean, come on, we believe in a man who turned out to be God and was resurrected after he was crucified. What do you think it does for our credibility every time a Christian shares something that they could easily disprove with a simple Google search?
Paul calls the message of the cross foolishness to the gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). I have a hard time expecting people to wrestle with the claims of Christianity if they have to overlook the fact that we’ll obviously believe anything. We can’t afford to let our gullibility be the obstacle between people and Christ.
2. They spread fear
The message of Christianity isn’t that the world is a scary place where everything and everyone is a potential threat—but you wouldn’t know that on Facebook.
From CFL lightbulbs which will burn down your house to Obamacare requiring the implant of RFID microchips ushering in the mark of the beast, there’s plenty of hoaxes to wring your hands over. Sometimes it seems like evangelicals are so enamored with end-times scenarios that they’re actively looking for stories to legitimize their paranoia.
The Christian message to the world isn’t, “Hey, look how bad things are!” It’s “take heart, He has overcome the world!” We don’t have to share every sensational and scary story—especially when their truth is suspect.
3. They engender phony activism
I cycle through many of the same fake or outdated stories in my feed—sometimes with the most horrifying and heartbreaking images. Whether I’m supposed to keep sharing a story to ensure a child’s heart transplant or keep sharing a story because Facebook will donate $3 for each share to help a burned infant, my sympathies are being played upon to solicit some kind of response.
The problem is not just that these stories aren’t true, it’s that there are people in hospitals in every city who need legitimate financial and moral support. We could be encouraging real philanthropy instead of the fake humanitarianism and concern generated by these bogus statuses.
4. They elevate emotion over accuracy
Recently the story of Pastor Jeremiah Steepek was making the rounds. In the story a new pastor pretends to be homeless when he visits his new church and uses the experience as a lesson to the congregation. No one can find any proof of this pastor, and even the picture that accompanies the story is a fake.
In one discussion on Facebook, a Christian stuck up for this story because Jesus used parables to teach lessons too. But the difference is that Jesus didn’t try to pass his stories off as true when they weren’t. We cannot afford to pass off questionable stories as true just because we appreciate the message.
Knowing the truth is quick and simple
When I see a story shared in my feed, I’ll usually check the source. If I recognize the source’s legitimacy, I’m more likely to trust it. Then I’ll Google the first sentence. This will usually tell me in moments if it’s a hoax.
It really doesn’t take too much work to figure out if a story is trustworthy or not, and knowing the truth is priceless.