Is Un-Friending Un-Christian?

keyboard and handsFriend.

The word used to refer to be reserved only for select people in our lives. The word referred to people whom we trusted and shared our lives with, had many things in common with, including our values, did things for and with.

Today, this narrow definition of friends and friendship have shifted with social networks. With the advent of individual “profiles” of us users connecting with one another on profiles. Now, friends references anyone we connect with online, whether we call them friends, followers, circlers or anything else. We don’t have to live in the same state, in the same country or even on the same continent. We don’t have to know or even know about these users whom we call friends. We’ve come a long way, but to what?

What is the result of this paradigm shift?

Today, relationships have become commodities and disposable ones at that. The “Unfriend” and “Block” buttons have made it easy to minister to our tendency to dump relationships when sin complicates them, or communication goes awry because of our misunderstandings. All it takes is a few clicks, rather than hours of sharing and building up trust through conversation and doing things together.

Purging Friends

Frequently, in my own Facebook experience, I will see statuses like this: The user will announce that “I’m going to purge my friends list and get rid of people who don’t fit my criteria of what to do to stay on my list.” For many, it will be sharing the user’s passion or values, or keeping in touch with the user.

What does this mean? Why do we “add” people, in the first place, who may not share our passion for God our for our cause, who may not care if we live or die, and whom we don’t even know?

I think (at least it was for me) we fall for the online notion that the more, the better. While we “add” people, hoping that they will come to support our cause or come to know God, we need to bear in mind that, as offline, quality beats quantity. Whom we keep company with online will affect our attitudes and characters as surely as it does offline.

My “Unfriending” Experiences

I have used Facebook for about four and a half years. I have seen what I estimate to be well over a thousand “friends” come and go out of my networks. Many who had unfriended me were past or current fellow parishioners who apparently had little tolerance for my causes or my missing person posters. Some have deleted me because they took offense at my political or Christian posts. Many have dropped me because of misunderstandings and conflicts that led them to believe that I wasn’t a “friend.”

My latest experience of being unfriended was most hurtful because both parties dropped me for purely personal reasons. One called herself a sister in Christ; I had shared with this person sensitive things which I have never shared with any of my pastors or doctors. Yes, I lived in Missouri and this person lived hundreds of miles away, but I was convinced that I finally had found a real friend, and she seemed to feel the same way about me. We had shared a deep trust and friendship that I thought this person valued as much as I did. Yet a series of misunderstandings had put an end to it and the person, sadly, has chosen being right over unity, forgiveness and reconciliation.

To unfriend or not to unfriend, that is the question…

Yes, I know that there are times where it is wise to cut certain people out of our networks just as we should keep certain people out of our lives. People who pose a threat to our lives or the lives of others we touch, should be cut out of our lives. This makes sense even to us Christians. So we should hit the “Unfriend” or “Block” button on any user who is suspected or known to be predators or criminals.

In most cases, however, these do not include users who are merely annoying or offensive. When we “delete” people out of our networks, we end any opportunities to share God’s love and truth, and any needed future help and support, with them.

When we “delete” a brother or sister in Christ, we’re violating the principles of unity, forbearance and forgiveness. I have found getting “unfriended” by fellow Christians to be far more hurtful than any other unfriending. We ought to apply the same Biblical principles to our social networking that we do to our in-person social relationships.

For guess who is behind every computer screen and who Christ has called us to love as ourselves?

What are your thoughts on “unfriending?” Do you think we should treat Christians differently than others?

[Photo by Karpati Gabor]

Lisa DeSherlia is a Christian, wife, mom, and blogger. She maintains two blogs and her Christian blog is called MyChristianBlog. Her first blog, serving a general audience, is called On Life, Love and Truth.

6 Responses to “Is Un-Friending Un-Christian?”

  1. Meredith Gould Dec 10, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Just today I not only "unfriended" but blocked a "good Christian" on Facebook who was posting political spew on my page. First, I went back channel and asked him (nicely) to stop but that generated *more* spew! After two rounds of, "please don't post this stuff on my personal page," I hit "block" and "unfriend." Unchristian? Nah, self-preservation! Self-care! I periodically do the same with face-to-face friendships and relationships using the calculus, "does this relationship enhance my faith and spiritual life or does it undermine it?"

    • Meredith, you do have a point about taking care of yourself. In my case, when they post that kind of trash, I hide them in my Newsfeeds so I can't see them. Problem solved. In other cases, I just ignore it if the person does not post that stuff too often.

  2. PaulSteinbrueck Dec 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Lisa, thanks for writing this post. I don't think online and offline relationships are distinct from each other. There are simply relationships. As Christians, we ought to follow biblical principles for the way we interact with people and manage relationships with them.

    Offline relationships are fluid. We simply don't have very many lifelong friends. The same is true online.

    If you're thinking about unfriending someone, the question is why? If it's because they're posts are harmful or divisive in some way? If so, I think we should handle that according to Matthew 18. Start by going to them privately (as Meredith did above). If you've just sort of lost touch with the person and you're relationship has faded to the point where their posts just seem like clutter, then it's probably better to simply change your Facebook settings to hide their posts rather unfriending or blocking them, which could be perceived as hostile.

  3. Many of my bad experiences had come from friending virtual strangers for the purpose of advocacy. The situations I dealt with were almost an ideal set up for Facebook drama. I would unfriend anyone who indicates that they want to unfriend one, and that happened to me one time. I also think it's not smart to friend people like one's boss, co-workers, and professionals like lawyers or therapists. These could lead to very inappropriate interactions. I have learned, the hard way, that most friendships are not forever friendships, offline or online.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jan 3, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Lisa, I think that raises the issue of who we choose to "friend" on Facebook. Personally, I limit Facebook friends to people I have established relationships with – either offline or online through blogging or other social media. By limiting the people I friend on Facebook, I also limit the drama and the people I would be inclined to unfriend. But that's just the way I do it. That doesn't mean it's the "best" way or best for any one else in particular.

  4. This is mainly an opinion post, unlike a number of my own posts. Because of my purpose of Facebooking, I have to add people I have not met in the flesh. It all depends on WHY you use social networking. Many people use Facebook for advocacy or for awareness of their nonprofit or a specific cause; for that, they have to add people they don't know. But it's possible to do minimal screening of even strangers. For example, many people will not add anyone without profile pics or whose profiles don't give enough info about them, or when they don't have enough Facebook "Mutual Friends."