Have you ever been sent an email telling you that you need to fwd it to all of your friends or hotmail will close your account leaving you a friendless leper in the digital wasteland? Or been sent “proof” that Obama is a secret Muslim, hell-bent on sending all Christians to concentration camps? Maybe you’ve gotten the one about quickly reposting some phrase on Facebook in order to maintain your salvation? While some of these posts seem harmless, these tacky messages are tragically toxic, especially when they are labeled as “Christian.”
The word tacky is defined as “not tasteful, cheap, tasteless, and crude.” That is exactly how I define a large majority of the chain messages propagated by facebook/sms. And while I’m quite sure after this post, I will never ever have to worry about receiving another chain text message (or maybe even a regular text message ever), I sincerely think these messages are harmful and I want to convince you to stop.
TYPES OF CHAIN MESSAGES
There are a few types or variations of chain messages that regularly make their way through my phone, in fact some have been disproven and still cycle back every year. The basic premise of these messages is that the recipient is stimulated by guilt, fear, shame, rage, or reward, to forward the message to as many people as they can. This is different than normal texting situations, such as when someone sends their friends faith building idea, because chain messaging insists that you must respond by forwarding (and propogates when people obey)
1. Religion simplified type
This type of chain letter offers a very simple view of Christianity. Usual themes are “God loves you, please choose to be a Christian, then prove you’re a Christian” and etc. Sounds good, right? Except that when you severely over-simplify Christianity to be based on our short term behavioral response, you often lose vital parts that are absolutely necessary, such as Jesus dying on the cross for sins, salvation by faith, being born again, joining a church, and etc. These types of messages teach the wrong thing about Christianity.
EXAMPLE: “Jesus loves you! He wants to give you joy and prosperity! Accept him into your life right now by sending this message to 10 other people within the next ten minutes! If you don’t…something bad will happen to you before the day is done!”
Wow, I am thrilled Jesus loves me! Wait a second?! What if I only have 9 friends on my phone list? Jesus cannot love me?! I can’t become a Christian? Oh man, if only I was more popular I could be saved
2. Test of your faith type
This is the really hard hitting kind, you know the ones that make you gulp back the guilt. Most often there is a very serious incitation that is sure to convince you if you’re still unconvinced, often something like “if you deny Jesus now, he will deny you in heaven.” These most often set up a scenario where our love of God and genuineness as a Christian directly correlated with our ability to message people.
EXAMPLES: “If you love God, send this fwd to 10 people and be sure to send it back to me, if I dont hear from you I will know how you really feel about God” and “God is going 2 fix things 4 u 2nite & let things work in ur favor. If u believe in Him forward to ten ppl. DON’T IGNORE. GOD COULD BE TESTING YOU. If you deny him now, HE will deny you in heaven”
Well, as much as I hate sending messages, if my eternal salvation is at stake, I guess I could click a few buttons and really, without doubt, prove I am a genuine Christian, not like those poor suckers throughout history that didn’t have cell phones, ha!
3. Process for prosperity type
To be blunt, this type is very annoying, what’s even more aggravating is knowing that somewhere out there a deceived Christian is actually believing it and feeling that God has let him down because God did not answer. The whole idea is that if you do a certain thing (fwd fwd fwd!!!!!!!) then God will react with blessing, love, salvation, or etc. This obviously misses the whole point that any good we have is not earned by given by Gods Grace; even prayer doesn’t “earn” but only showcases our complete dependence on God’s grace.
EXAMPLE: “PRAY THIS: God our Father, walk through my house and take away all my worries and illness; and please watch over and heal my family in Jesus’ name… Amen” This prayer is so powerful. Pass to 12 people. A blessing is coming to you in 4 mins A new job, house, marriage or financially. Do not break or ask questions. This is a test. Does God come first in your life?? If so, stop what you are doing n send to 12 people”
I didn’t even know it took God a whole four minutes to respond. I only wonder… for people who are already married, does this prayer really equate a new marriage in 4 minutes, what happens to the old wife, and do you really want to get married to someone only 4min after divorce? And what’s a “new… financially” anyway?
4.The crazy conspiracies type
I didn’t vote for Obama and don’t think he represent the best for America or Christians, yet he is not a Muslim and he certainly isn’t preparing secret concentration camps (then again if they’re secret, how would I know). The conspiracy type of chain message always brings some preposterous allegations against the government or organized religion, and purports that reposting/resending a message will truly solve the problem. This masks the fact that humanity’s problem is not political, but a sin problem each person has to deal with.
EXAMPLE: “It was announced that there will not be Christmas trees at the White house this year. They will be called Holiday Trees. Obama says this is no longer a Christian Country, it’s a country of many faiths. We as Americans must send the message to Obama that this Country was founded on Christian beliefs and we are STILL a Christian Country. Please re-post this and let’s stand up for CHRIST.”
Amen, because the way Christianity spread from a few hundred people to a few billion was by purely because we stood up for Christ by making sure Christian trees keep their name, instead of becoming “holiday” trees. (FYI this story is a lie, it has circulated every Christmas since 2009.)
5. The made up stories/prayer requests type
This type is the hardest to condemn or critique because the people that propagate these are often very well meaning. I really do think prayer is good. And if someone you know is hurt and needs prayer, it’s good to let others know about it so they can pray. However, many if not most of the prayer requests that require you to fwd to everyone you know are not true. Praying for hurt or persecuted Christians is good and absolutely necessary, but circulating a specific lie, is not.
EXAMPLE: “URGENT PRAYER REQUEST!!! Please pray for 22 Christian missionary families that will be executed today by Afghanistan government. Please spread to others fast.”
There was an event in 2007 where the Taliban kidnapped 23 S. Korean missionaries, killing 2, in order to try to negotiate with the hostages and to make the Afghanistan government release their Taliban prisoners. However, this viral rumor was broadly popular in 2009 and 2010, two and three years after the event, and had many of the details wrong. If I ask you to pray for a sickness that happened 3 years ago, and fabricate half of the details, is it honest, fair, or useful?
WHY YOU NEED TO BREAK THE CHAIN
While I wish the below graphic was true, there is actually a harmful effect from these types of messages.
These messages are made by mockers
A large portion of chain messages are crafted by people who do it to get a kick out of it. Most of the email hoaxes and scares have been tracked back to a geeky kid with a computer and greasy hands (don’t ask why). Many of these super conservative chain letters are made by super liberals to show the ignorance of conservative claims. Many of these Christians stories are made by atheists with the hope of mocking Christianity by showing how gullible we are. There rest are made and propagated by naive Christians that believe a lie. If a Christian starts sending false rumors out to everyone he knows, and doesn’t check on their validity, this person mocks the very nature of truth.
These messages trash our credibility
When you forward a message that is untrue, you lose your credibility. If your friend spent an hour convincing you that he is certain Obama is a Muslim, and then next week you hear Obama say he is a liberal Christian, would you trust you friend when he starts talking about another political figure? If your pastor preached that literally all Asian people are atheists and Buddhists, and then you met an Asian christian who was more humble than your own pastor, would you trust your pastor? If someone told you the world is flat, and you flew around it, would you listen to that person talk about geography? No! And so if we Christians are known for spamming the world with uncorroborated lies, myths, and urban fairy tales, how can we expect to be heard and listened to? How can we anticipate people to hear us give them “the truth” when we just sent them a chain letter filled with logical fallacies and lies showing we are not smarter than a fifth grader.
These messages deny Christ (by works salvation)
I sincerely hope that people who forward and post all of these things, don’t actually believe they will earn their salvation, prosperity, or other rewards merely for sending spam. Why then, all of Nigeria would be saved! The Bible teaches salvation is by faith in the atoning sacrifice by Jesus on the Cross, which paid fully for our sins, both starting our initial process of salvation and securing our final goal of salvation. When we turn salvation, or any kind of reward from God, into “send this to 5 friends and you will get _____” we deny the very essence of the Bible. First, as to salvation, Jesus says many people who did all sorts of great works will not be saved (Mat 7:22-23; 1 Cor 14). Second, as to prosperity/blessing, many Christians lived a life of suffering even thought they were much more pious and moral that any of us today. Yet these messages explicitly offer reward or punishment for a human action that is not faith, and deny the Gospel of the Cross.
HOW NOT TO DENY JESUS (with messages)
So now that we are not going to respond to the “if you don’t fwd this you deny Jesus” messages, are we stuck with avoiding conversations about Jesus in our social networks or sms? Are all christian messages bad? Of course not! There are many ways to use communication for the glory of God (and basically anyway you use it, as long as you avoid spam and lies, it will be beneficial)
Be real with people
Instead of forwarding a million urban tales and guilt trips, why don’t you spend all that time to communicate with someone, like a real person. If you simply talk with them, you are proving your interest and that you do really care how they feel, why they feel, and that you want to be there for them. Invest yourself into people by treating them as a real person instead of merely another link in your lengthy chain.
Be prayerful for people
Instead of spamming people with thousands of prayer requests that are likely false, talk to people you actually know exist and ask to pray for them. Talk to friends in a way that they feel and understand you aren’t treating them as a short project but instead a long time friend; this way they can be comfortable with telling you their struggles so you can help them in prayer. You can also ask some of your friends to pray for you.
Be missional to people
Instead of blindly spamming with all kinds of mixed messages, make your conduct be a message about Christ. Understand that what you say and write, in any medium or format, will likely be read, and so make messaging be on a mission to bless, teach, and or encourage whoever you communicate with. This does not mean spam people relentlessly until they run away screaming, but feel free to use any number of methods, such a sending friends a scripture that is meaningful, sharing your thoughts, inviting people to events and in all conduct showing respect, love, and dignity befitting a Christian.