In 2023, I did something I’d been considering for a long time: I deleted the app formerly known as Twitter from my phone.1 I’d been a regular user since 2009. Back in the day, it was a great experience in part because you could have actual dialogue. Now, not so much. Dialogue has been replaced with factionalism. Where you could once meaningfully engage with people you might disagree with, it seems the expectation is that we’ll condemn one another instead.2
It’s all so unreasonable. I don’t have much interest in that. Part of why it’s so unpleasant is that factionalism requires you to draw hard lines on virtually every issue. While Christianity has hard lines that need to be upheld, not everything needs to be a disagreement. We can agree to disagree on some matters and it’s okay. When we lose that perspective, we might find ourselves tempted to appease the unreasonable; we give them what they want, or at least try to meet them halfway, hoping it will pacify them.
A Case Study in Appeasement
And when I think of appeasement, I can’t help but think of Pilate in John 19, when Jesus had been brought to him by Annas and Caiaphas. Pilate knew that there was nothing to their charges. That Jesus had done nothing wrong to deserve being brought to him at all. The Jewish leaders were entangling Pilate in their political and religious shenanigans.
Rather than put a stop to the proceedings and let his declaration of there being no fault in Jesus stand, he attempted to placate them. So Jesus was beaten, mocked, and whipped, perhaps under the belief that this might calm the crowd that was clamoring for Jesus’ death (John 19:1–3). And when Pilate brought Jesus before them, he exercised his authority, declaring that he found no reason for an accusation against Jesus (John 19:4).
In a courtroom setting, this would be the equivalent of a judge rendering a verdict. The trial should be over at that point. Yet, this wasn’t enough for the mob. Jesus had to die. It’s no wonder that PIlate’s response to the crowd dripped with sarcasm as he said, “You take him and crucify him! Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against him” (19:7). To put it another way, “I see now—you’ll accept whatever my decision is, as long as it’s the one you agree with.”
Emboldened to Greater Defiance
And that’s the point: just as you don’t negotiate with terrorists or toddlers, you should not attempt to appease the unreasonable. While we might approach it as an attempt to calm them down, instead it bolsters their confidence. It leads them to demand more and commit greater acts of defiance.
The religious leaders, the ones crying for Jesus’ blood, did exactly that. They saw they could defy Pilate. And defy him they did. His verdict didn’t matter. His authority didn’t either. All that mattered was getting rid of Jesus. So they demanded his death—and threatened Pilate’s life in the process as they claimed he was no friend of Caesar if he let Jesus live (19:12). And this was too much for Pilate and his conviction that Jesus had done nothing wrong. If he let Jesus go, he risked having a target painted on his back. The Emperor would see him as an enemy, and his days would be numbered.
And so Pilate gave in. He sent Jesus off to die, despite declaring him innocent of any wrongdoing. The religious leaders overcame his convictions, and they used fear to do it.
Maintaining Conviction in the Craziness
That is the danger of trying to appease the unreasonable. It’s death by a thousand papercuts, and all ultimately rooted in fear. Fear itself is a powerful motivator. It molds and manipulates. And we must be cautious because none of us is immune to its power. So how do we maintain our convictions amid all this craziness? How do we not allow ourselves to be manipulated by fear in this way?
First, we need to be discerning; to listen to the messages we receive from the world, especially on social media. What are they trying to do to us? How are they trying to make us feel? What are the real or implied consequences of refusing to appease the most obstinate voices?
Second, we have to reject the idea of appeasing the unreasonable. These sorts are cut from the same cloth as those whom Paul warned about in Titus 3:9, those concerned with “foolish controversies, genealogies, quarrels, and fights about the law.” Instead, of trying to appease them, we need to follow Paul’s command and reject them as divisive after one or two warnings (Titus 3:10). (And deleting a social media app is a good start to this.)3
Finally, we need to remember that though we are all tempted to fear, we have not been given a Spirit of fear, but of love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). That the perfect love of God casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). So when we are tempted to fear, to compromise our convictions because of it, we can turn to Jesus, trusting that he will help.
Can Reasonableness Return?
I don’t know that we’ll ever go back to the days of reasonable social media interactions. We certainly won’t as long as algorithms reward bad behavior. But we don’t have to play along. We don’t have to appease the unreasonable. We shouldn’t, nor should we join them in being unreasonable. But we can be the sort whose reasonableness, or gentleness, is known to all (Philippians 4:5). And in a world that is in short supply of reasonableness, that seems like a good place to start.
- For the record, I still have an account, I just rarely use it and have to log in via a web browser. ↩︎
- Politics, theology, pop culture, and cat videos—nothing is immune from this. ↩︎
- The idea of cancel culture, an equal opportunity sin, is one of the key fear tactics used. “Toe the line or you will lose your reputation and livelihood” is a powerful motivator. ↩︎