Q - As Aggie Catholics who are very present on social media sites such as Facebook, we often run into our brothers and sisters who may not have the same viewpoints as we do, or choose to publicly voice their dissent of the Church and her teachings. How as Catholics can we stand up for the Church while also respectfully educating those who post about misconceptions or issues they have on Facebook?
A - Thanks for the question. I don't think there is a perfect way to approach this subject, and I must admit that over the last 15 years I have made every mistake possible in evangelization online. That being said, there are some good principles I can offer.
10 Tips For Online Evangelists
1 - Be encouraging. We have to remember that most people in our culture are not active Christians who know and follow Christ. This means we have a lot of work to do. Encouraging someone to explore the faith, seek the truth, pray, etc are great ways to introduce them to Christ and His Church.
2 - Dialogue. Don't Argue. Fulton Sheen had the motto - "Win an argument. Lose a soul." I agree. If someone loses, they won't listen to what you said. Try presenting the truth, not beating someone up with it. Our job isn't to convince, it is to be faithful in announcing what it true in an attractive way.
3 - Re-read before posting it. Try to see if what you are writing could be taken the wrong way, sound defensive, be argumentative, etc. No need to be immediate in responding if it means you could hurt someone. You will drive someone off more quickly than bring them to Christ with one comment.
4 - Step away if things get too heated. Don't feel like you can't take a break or end a conversation if things aren't headed in a positive direction. If you can come back at a later time, then do so.
5 - Don't write anything you wouldn't say to someone face-to-face. People love to re-invent themselves on the internet. No need to be the internet tough-guy and beat someone up virtually. No good will come of it.
6 - Ask good questions. A great way to understand where someone is coming from and how you might help them is to ask questions. Furthermore, your partner in the discussion will have to think about what they believe and why if you ask good questions. Getting them to reflect is a great goal any way.
7 - Know who you are talking to. If you don't know your audience, then you don't know how to properly respond to them. Rarely should you quote the Bible to an atheist. Nor should you quote Vatican II to a Muslim. A rational non-faith-based argument works for most though - unless someone has asked a "where is it in the Bible" kind of answer.
8 - Be prepared to hear some far-out ideas and strange philosophies. Don't dismiss someone just because they don't think like you do. Every belief under the sun gets equal time on the internet. Be prepared for the absurd and irrational ones.
9 - Know that sarcasm, humor, irony, satire, etc may be misinterpreted online. I do this too often still. Nobody can see your facial expressions or know the real intent behind your posts. If it could be misinterpreted, then re-write it or don't post it.
10 - Don't be afraid to speak the truth, but do so with the right intentions. In all things charity. Remember what your goal is - to help others come closer to Christ, His Church, and the truth. So, offer up what is true, but do so convincingly, lovingly, and humbly.
I hope these help.