Internet Gangs

Internet Gangs August 12, 2011

I know a lot of people who turn to Oswald Chambers for their devotional material. They read My Utmost for His Highest every day. I’ve read that devotional a number of times myself, but for the past couple of years I’ve been using a book that Ms. Hazel Howell of Canton, Ms. sent to me.

It’s Madeleine L’Engle’s Irrational Season. The more I read it, the more I love it. I think even the title is fitting for the days in which we stumble about.

I can remember being in second grade and pulling L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time off the library shelf at Oahu’s Helemano Elementary School and taking it home to read. I was completely taken with the story of Meg’s search for her father — a search I would emulate myself one day, although I didn’t have an inkling of that then.

I often find something that rings so true in L’Engle’s words that sometimes I have to sit on it for days, like a hen laying an egg. Such was the case with this tidbit: “The Spirit, too, sees through the snare of avoiding pain by taking up causes.”

In the graphs preceding that statement, L’Engle said, “Jesus couldn’t have cared less about the cause of the leper or the rights of the leper, but when there was a leper in his path he did not walk around him.”

That startled me like a dog bite to the face — something I understand all too well.


I grew up in the “cause” generation. The first cause I remember fighting for was the right to wear pants to high school. I know it sounds archaic, right? But seriously, we had to wear dresses — to a public high school. Until sometime in the spring of my freshman year the school board decided we could wear pant suits. Those polyester things that were unbearable in a Georgia high school that lacked air conditioning. Still we wore them.  By the time we were juniors, things had lapsed so badly we were wearing hip-hugger jeans ala Cher style.

Integration was the next big battle. But that’s another post for another day, suffice it to say there were some rough days at school for all of us during that era. Knifings, shouting matches, protests, threats on all sides and sheer ugliness on most everybody’s behalf.  And church wasn’t much better.

Then there was Vietnam. For me, there was always Vietnam.

So I learned early about causes, about social justice, and injustices. And I have long believed that being a Christian who did God proud meant you had to fight for a cause. But then I read L’Engle’s statement and that got me to thinking about a lot of things.


In particular it got me to thinking about social media and how some people use it in such productive ways, for such great causes — like when it’s used to raise money to build schools in Vietnam, or wells in Africa, or to help those suffering in Haiti or Joplin, Mo..

Those are just a few of the good ways in which it is employed, where the cause seems important and good, for the benefit of us all.

But too much of the time social media is used in such a negative, destructive way.

People get behind a cause — or a personality — and they go completely apeshit. Seriously. It reminds me so much of what I saw as a young girl during that first year that our high school was integrated. Parents acted the fool. People said the stupidest things.

One of those that has lingered with me all these years, and I don’t even recall which adult said it to me, but they told me to be careful because black people always fight in gangs. (I wonder if black kids were being told the same thing about white kids?) Whoever it was giving me the warning must have scared me because I remembered it all these years.

I never got into a gang fight, though, until I started writing commentary online.


It’s no secret that the Internet is a double-edged sword.

I’m a big girl, who grew up actually street fighting in the trailer parks, so when I write commentary that incites the masses, I don’t go to bed bawling. I don’t get drunk. I don’t get all uppity and dismiss everyone as idiots.  I just do the very thing Professor George Venn told me to do from the very first days I began writing — Ignore all the flattery, all the criticisms and keep writing.

It’s served me well so far.

I know that when I say stuff readers like they are high-fiving me and sending readers my way.

I also know when I say stuff that pricks them, or worse yet, stuff they absolutely disagree with they are going to call me an egg-sucking dog, or worse.

Much worse.

There have been death threats.

They have cursed my children.

They often comment in an uncomplimentary way about my physical appearance — as if I’m somehow blind to this aging body.

They dismiss me as an idiot.

And when they really want to drive the knife in they attack my faith.

But I’m not the only one this is happening to.


In the past few months I’ve seen a number of high-profile Believers come under the very same sort of Internet Gang Rape. That’s what it is, you know, when we divvy ourselves up on one side of the fence or the other and begin to assault one another.

When we choose a cause — or a personality — to defend, we get all outrageously righteous. We get defensive and say ugly things about other people. We belittle them. Dismiss them as ugly or stupid or fill-in-the-blank.

Social Media has done as much to divide us as it ever did to connect us. Don’t like someone’s theology, their book, their politics, or their blog post? Use your media powers, Wizard.

Whether you consider yourself Emergent, Progressive, Evangelical or Carrot-Topped Chosen, whether you gather in a coffee shop or somebody’s backyard, or the local Tavern or a warehouse church, there is still truth to be found in Hebrews 10: 24& 25:

Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

That’s the Message version.

I used it purposely because I like the reference to being inventive in encouraging one another. I think we are failing miserably at that.

We tattoo ourselves with Jesus then…

We dress up in the gang color of cynicism and call it humor.

We dress in the gang color of self-righteousness and we call it discernment.

We dress in the gang color of exclusiveness and we call it unity.

We dress in the gang color of judgement and we call it being holy.

We dress in gang color of hate and call it the bonds of love.

Social Media has given Christians a legitimate venue for being a gang member.

We are so busy trying to defend our homies  or fight the good cause, that we are in threat of completely quenching the Spirit,  who we all so desperately need right now.

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  • Aubrey

    Thank you for this post. For years I have believed Christians have been so busy chasing after causes they have neglected Jesus and his Gospel. If we Christians would live up to our name, we would see the world changed.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I think Wormwood has found a new diversion.

  • Tarry

    I know you’ll ignore this, 🙂 but what a stunningly beautiful essay! Thank you.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Just so you know I didn’t totally ignore it. I laughed. 🙂

  • This post is why I respect you. Thank you for this piece. It is beautiful.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Missy.

  • Al

    All through Scripture we find our human characteristics presented in masculine terms.
    All but one.
    Wisdom, all through scripture, is Feminine.
    Way to go Karen. Good word here.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I did not know all that Al. Did you send this to my son? If not, would you?

      Okay, seriously. Thank you.

  • For some reason this verse has been rolling around in my brain all week. I think maybe it applies here: Jeremiah 6:16
    “Thus says the Lord: stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths; where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. Sounds like the Spirit’s asking us to stop and listen for a change.

    • Kristin

      I loved the essay….but I loved what you said even more! I’m not what others would call “Christian” as I dont practice a Christian faith, however, I believe in what Jesus was saying in his message…that we are to care for each other, not belittle each other…do what we can to help others who ask us for help…and listen to what lies in our hearts through the voice of higher power to find right from wrong.

      Just in the past year, I have found myself being challenged to “listen to Spirit” and walk away from things that deny or take away my inner peace. Believe it or not, I used to find that SO hard to do. But now that I have taken the first step, and walked away from strife, and worked at ending any new situation quickly when it gives me pause….I am at peace. I used to be oblivious to what Karen terms as “Internet Gang Rape”…and most likely I participated in it at a few points. But I am working at NOT doing this anymore. I can’t say I am perfect at not reacting in a way that could be construed as participating IN “Internet Gang Rape”….but I am aware of it, and thinking before I speak.

      • Karen Spears Zacharias


        We should all be more aware..more attune to the Spirit.

        Thanks for sharing your own journey with us.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Good word, John. Thanks for sharing it.

  • It’s always so tempting to sling mud when you aren’t looking at someone in the face and you are hiding behind a computer screen. It’s a false idea that no one is watching, but we would be wrong about that. Jesus is watching. He’s sitting behind us at the internet cafe, the home office, or Starbucks. He’s watching us type bile and wincing. When did it become that we only had to have integrity when someone was watching, when some was face-to-face? When did civility end because we could conjure up electronic anonymity?

    Integrity happens even when we think no one sees. Thanks for illustrating that fact, Karen. Christians and others need to hear it.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      And thanks for reminding us, April, that someone is always listening on the other side of this screen.

  • Man this is good.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks for taking the time to read it, James.

  • Susan N.

    I like your straight-talk, Karen. (from another girl who once lived in a trailer park 😉

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I failed diplomacy, I’m afraid.

      • Susan N.

        To engage in any conversation at all is to risk a diplomatic failure. With an audience as wide as the WWW, you and your writing style are bound *not* to appeal to some.

        Do you remember a Target TV ad that ran a few years ago? To the tune of this little ditty: “Why don’t you understand what I’m trying to say?”

        I feel your pain…

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    For me as well, Paul. Thanks.

  • Alisa Roadcup

    Dear Karen,

    Thanks for your post. While I respect your calls to action to the evangelical community, I question the appropriateness of your title, Internet Gang Rape. Gang rape is a very real, violent physical and sexual violation of an individual by a group, as in the Texas case of the gang rape of an 11 year-old girl last November, or instances of rape as weapon of war in the DRC which are happening every day. Here you compare it to internet banter or cyber-bullying.

    For the sake of those who’ve suffered such atrocities and as an appeal to the use of words that will serve and build society, not trivialize or commodify, I respectfully ask for you to reconsider not only your title, but the comparision in in its entirety.

    Alisa M. Roadcup
    Amnesty International

    • Karen Spears Zacharias


      I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and I appreciate the work you are doing on behalf of victims worldwide.

      While I understand the heart behind your comments, I think that everyone here understands that the use of the term is metaphorical.

      The post doesn’t slight or diminish the acts of physical rape, but rather heightens our awareness of how we demean and attack others.

      All evil begins first as a thought.

      I believe that the issue about which I write in this post is not one just for the evangelical community but the Internet community at-large.

      We have made it acceptable to assault others verbally, in dehumanizing and sexually explicit terminology. I’ve been the receiving end of this sort of assault (check out comments on CNN Go the F**K to Sleep post).

      Is the use of this terminology provocative?


      Is it inaccurate? Does it trivialize? Does it commodify?


      I think it is cause for reflection and makes us think about who we are becoming. And the various ways in which we hurt, demean, sexualize and, sadly, act violently towards one another.

      • Alisa Roadcup

        The language we use to describe the world around us creates our understanding of it. This is why it is important to use terms that truthfully describe reality, especially in regard to issues related to sexual violence, or violence of any kind, which is an aberration of the life God intended for his creation.

        I am aware that your use of the term “internet gang rape” is metaphorical. However, the words we choose and how they relate to others’ and to the shared experience of others’ matters. The choice of this term, in this instance, in comparison to aggressive web communications is entirely inaccurate and further supports a culture that trivializes and normalizes sexual violence.

  • Uh, what’s social media?

    Just kidding. I know. But I don’t partake.

    How different is your day from pre-tweeting? Who did you talk to before? Who do you talk to now? How did you communicate (phone, letters, person-to-person chats) without social media? Were people less bold and less mean before? — Just thinking a loud.


  • Chris Early

    Thank you, Karen. It is clear that people don’t realize how much they damage they do to the the cause of revealing the kingdom of God when they – in their passion and zeal – act in the way you describe. Recognizing and repenting of this is the only way to end the circular firing squad we call Christianity.

  • Lulu

    Thank you. I agree that though the essay is excellent aggressive web communication does not metaphorically translate to the sexual, spiritual, social violence and destruction of gang rape

  • “Ignore all the flattery, all the criticisms and keep writing.”
    Great advice!

    I think the problem comes when we focus on causes and not people. Sometimes our causes have to do with people- but that doesn’t matter. Instead of being pro-life, or pro-immigration, or pro-such and such rights, maybe we should all focus on just being pro-people. That way, we can love and help those who are oppressed without ganging up on the oppressor.

  • Terrific. Thank you.

  • Laurie Davis

    Thank you very much for this article!!

    I am so very weary of groups of people labeling other groups of people as “wrong” and “somehow less than”. God help us all from going there!! The minute any of us stereotype a group of people and then condemn them, you become part of the problem.

    If we understand that we each have value and worth, just the way we are right now, no matter the color of our skin, our religious beliefs, sexual orientation, nationality, political party, gender, income, where you live, level of education, AND so does everyone else, the world would be a better place for everyone!

    Speak the truth in love.

    It is not helpful if we can’t join into the conversation and discuss our differences while we maintain respect for each other!! I think it is a form a genocide when anyone demonizes other groups of people. It is especially cowardly when people do this on the internet because a few may hide behind a false persona, therefore avoiding any personal responsibility!!