In a June essay, celebrated Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mourned the decline of good-faith conversation, especially online. The post, titled “It Is Obscene,” promptly went viral.
“There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness,” she wrote. “People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself while not having actually read any books themselves,” Adichie continued. “People who depend on obfuscation, who have no compassion for anybody genuinely curious or confused. Ask them a question and you are told that the answer is to repeat a mantra. Ask again for clarity and be accused of violence.”
She should know. Adichie’s essay was the culmination of a feud that played out online and off, mixing personal slights and ideological debate. The substance isn’t relevant here, but the way the authors interacted is. And the result of that sort of pernicious atmosphere, as Adichie said, is that eventually, people become afraid to ask at all. They become afraid to say the wrong thing, perhaps unwittingly, in the deathless public record of social media: “The assumption of good faith is dead.”
I might qualify that a little—there are contexts, online and off, where I still assume good faith. But the assertion generally rings true.
Though it’s literally my job to air controversial opinions, I approach social media guardedly. I scrutinize my phrasing, not merely in pursuit of clarity for its own sake but also for possible lines of unfair attack. This ought not to be.
Christian engagement in public conversation should be distinguished by our thoroughgoing commitment to always speak in good faith, including when it may not be returned (Rom. 12:17–21).
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” the apostle Peter advised, adding a classic scriptural admonition to good faith: “But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).
Good faith is not the same as positivity. It’s not niceness. It’s not precisely the same as honesty, though certainly they’re related. To deal in good faith is to speak truthfully and read generously, giving grace for real confusion, because “gracious words promote instruction” (Prov. 16:21).
We show good faith when we don’t “repay evil with evil or insult with insult” (1 Pet. 3:9). Good faith makes space for people to
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