The tragic story of little Charlie Gard has been splashed all over global headlines for the past months as his parents, doctors and lawyers battle to do what they believe is best for him. Ethically, this has been a debate about who has authority – the parents or the state. This week we hear that the fighting is almost over and Charlie is to be allowed to die. Horrifyingly, we also heard that staff caring for him at Great Ormond’s Street Hospital have received death threats, and that Charlie’s parents have also been on the receiving end of hateful communication.
I’m sure we all have opinions on this situation. We may have made judgements ourselves as we discussed the ethical issues around the life of this little boy. Fortunately for most of us it remains a hypothetical discussion – not the life of our child. However, the current climate of social media makes it all too easy for our personal hypothetical views on this – or any issue – to become hurtful and sometimes hateful public statements. Clicking ‘like’ on someone else’s witty-but-scathing comment or ‘send’ in the heat of the moment after writing an angry email or blog post is all too easy. We see too often how social media is used to hurt, bully, mock and retaliate for offences large and small.
2,000 years ago James wrote, “No one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in His likeness.” His ancient letter acknowledges that our words reflect what is in our hearts and today those words so often come in the form of technological rather than face-to-face communication.
Most of us have learnt to moderate what we say face-to-face but social media encourages us to abandon impulse control and express our thoughts instantly and publicly. It allows us to pass poisonous comment which, because we rarely see the impact, we too easily believe is inconsequential. The reality of the human heart is so often exposed in cyberspace.
When faced with an impossible ethical conundrum – the woman caught in the act of adultery – Jesus knew he was being baited. Either he had to agree with the law of Moses and join in stoning her or pronounce himself a heretic by defying it. The hypocrisy was clear – there was no sign of the adulterous man, just the terrified woman. I imagine Jesus had all sorts of instincts, impulses and opinions but John 8 tells us, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
#Genius! Jesus took time to consider, to reflect, presumably to pray and ask for the father’s wisdom. He didn’t react but instead responded with wisdom, grace and mercy. That is a wonderful model for us to emulate – including in our online interactions.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul wrote that love is kind (among other things). It seems to me that all those involved in Charlie’s heart-breaking situation need words of kindness, and that as followers of Jesus it should be the hallmark of all our interactions, both in person and online. We need to engage kindly, wisely with God’s grace, particularly to those in unimaginable pain or doing their best in terrible circumstances. Cyberspace desperately needs those who, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, will “shine like stars in the darkness” and speak words of life not death.
This article originally appeared on Evangelical Alliance’s ‘Friday Night Theology’. It’s a weekly email in which Christian writers reflect on a current news story from the world of politics, media, sport and culture. Click here to fine out more.