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Father Richard Kunst: How to ‘win’ an argument on social media

Many of my brother priests are on social media, and a lot of them do great things with that form of communication. The last few popes have repeatedly encouraged the church to utilize the most modern form of communications and technologies to spread the Gospel and to evangelize, so the use of social media can be such a great thing. 

Father Richard Kunst

I, however, choose not to use it, and for a few reasons. 

First, I cannot stand technology. I am somewhere in the 16th century when it comes to technology, and I am happy to be there. Our former bishop, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, used to say to me regularly, “Father Kunst, that is willful, culpable ignorance.” I can hear his voice now. Another reason I do not use social media is that I know my own weakness. I had a Facebook account for a few months, years ago, and I quickly realized just how much of my time it sucked up. 

And finally, I don’t do social media because I really like to debate, and dare I say even argue, and there is just no good or easy way of ending arguments in the world of social media. 

We all experience conflict in our lives, whether it be with family, friends, coworkers, you name it. If you are a pastor of a parish, you experience conflict more than most! But it is social media that seems to be the new front of conflict in our modern world. It is so easy and tempting to anonymously type a comment to a post that you know will evoke a negative response. Maybe it is not so much that it is anonymous, because people can see who is doing the posting. Maybe it is easier to do it from the computer, because we tend to be more bold when we do not have to immediately face the person we are criticizing. 

Conflict, in and of itself, is not necessarily sinful, although it can easily get there. We are all different, and we all have our opinions, so conflict is inevitable. How we end conflict is the key. There is obviously a good and proper way to end conflict and a bad way to end it. 

The Scriptures, as we can imagine, are full of examples, mostly of the bad kind, and we see that right from the beginning. The third and fourth people on the earth were the two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, who famously give a bad example of conflict. The story is well known, and it is so void of details that we are left to guess exactly what happened, but as we all know, their conflict ended with Cain killing his brother, the absolute worst way to end a conflict. 

As always, the good example comes from Jesus himself. The four Gospels are full of instances in which the scribes and Pharisees try to get into conflict and arguments with Jesus. One example is particularly poignant, and that is in the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Read the following three verses closely, because they provide us a very good example: 

“The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with him. They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test. With a sigh from the depth of his spirit, he said, ‘Why does this age seek a sign? I assure you, no such sign will be given it.’ Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore” (Mark 8:11-13). 

Here is the deal about Jesus: He is God. Not only does he have truth on his side, he is Truth personified. He could win any argument he ever had, and there are times in the Gospels we see Jesus clearly winning an argument. Caesar’s image on the coin comes to mind. But there is at least the one example just quoted in which Jesus chooses not to “win” the argument. Rather, he simply ends it. 

We might wonder why he chose to leave this argument instead of engaging in it further. We are left to speculate, yet to me it is pretty obvious: The Pharisees were not open to what Jesus had to say. If one side of an argument is not open to the other side’s thoughts and ideas, then the argument becomes pointless. And argument should be a free exchange of ideas robustly exchanged but in charity. Jesus saw in this group of Pharisees no openness, so he simply got into the boat and took off. 

This is an example for all of us, especially on social media. All too often we think that if we leave an argument, we have been defeated, but that is not the case. Leaving an argument is often the best way to end an argument. 

All too often it is our pride that makes us determined not to back down, but the last I checked, pride is not a virtue. 

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].