Good faith – Bad faith

I was thankfully given an article from “Christianity Today” online, called “On Answering with Gentleness and Respect; Christians are called to good-faith interactions online,” by Bonnie Kristian (July 21, 2021). In her article, Kristian cites the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who “mourns the decline of good-faith conversations, especially online.” This was a very appropriate article, because this summer I taught the letter of 1 Peter with some friends, and we emphasized Peter’s advice, that we have conversations “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).

Adichie was the victim of an argument, experienced online and off, which finally resulted in participants who became afraid to say anything at all: “they were afraid to say the wrong thing, in the deathless public record of social media: the assumption of good faith is dead.” Perhaps it is; I have experienced the same thing. It is hard to cope with some of the evil, spiteful, derogatory comments posted on social media. However, both online and in personal conversations, I assume that people are expressing their thoughts in good faith. Perhaps I am wrong. We are currently living in the most confused, changing, deceitful, and mystifying culture I have ever experienced.

The CT author, Kristian, suggests that, “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).” Good faith is not the same as false positivity, or an unrealistic “Pollyanna” view of the world. Good faith is “to speak truthfully and read generously, giving grace for real confusion, because ‘gracious words promote instruction’ (Prov 16:21).” As Peter would say, we should not respond with retaliation; we should be “compassionate and humble,” and refuse to “repay evil with evil or insult with insult” (1 Pet 3:8-9). Our good faith online and off, “makes space” for people to explain their opinions if they are misunderstood, and to change their minds if they see that they are wrong. Good faith promotes patience and hope: “it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth….” (1 Cor 13:4-6). One can still respect other human beings, even if they hold contrary opinions. We can respond by asking questions, probing, “making space” for why they are saying what they are saying.

“There is a certain cruelty in bad faith,” Kristian says, “a dodginess, a preemptive preclusion of reconciliation.” Bad faith is the desire not only to accuse someone of being wrong, but defeat the “enemy” at any cost: “it is better to defeat the wrong person than to help them see the right.” Bad faith is the “weaponization of lies.” In effect, bad faith deliberately promotes “confusion, uncertainty and malice.” People who choose to act in bad faith do so with ignorance, prejudice, and basic insecurity. They intentionally create or repeat false misinformation in an attempt to make themselves look like an intellectual authority.

As a young college student, I was a journalism minor. I learned that truth was paramount in reporting any story. We were expected to check our sources, our references, again and again. Then, an editor checked everything again to be sure that there were no partial or apparent fabrications. Quite simply, journalism was the “who, what, where, when and how” of a story, reported as objectively as possible. Today, all of this seems to have changed. Because the media is a business, they are looking for what “sells.” Get the most incredible story, and report it as fast as you can, to beat all the other media outlets. That’s why the internet news is replacing newspapers – you can get it quickly. It may be incomplete or misleading, or just plain wrong, but you get it fast, and then you can be the first one who can spread the latest “news.” Op eds are radical and often not based on facts because the authors seem to want to be in the limelight. And, in journalism today, the assumption of good faith, kindness and compassion is dead.

Thus, Peter directs us to “repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” (1 Pet 3:9-12). Notice that God knows “deceitful speech,” even if it is veiled in our media sources. In all our conversations face-to-face and online, we should follow Peter’s directions.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me….” [because you are a conservative Christian] (Mt 5:10-11; see Jn 15:20).

Kristian concludes, “all I can do is make sure it [good faith] is not dead to me; that I have ‘compassion for anybody genuinely curious or confused;’ that I start by assuming people are trying to help and not hurt; that I’m answering ‘with gentleness and respect’ even (especially!) when I or fellow Christians are subject to bad-faith critique.”


Author: Judy

Christian educator, writer, specializing in the New Testament

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