I've used the block feature on Facebook only twice. The first time, I wanted to keep a professor at a university I had applied to from finding out about my admission process, including discussion about the program she taught in. The second time, I did it to free myself from blood pressure spikes caused by comments from a man I knew in real life.
Although I had seen and talked to this man regularly in a recreational setting for a few years and shared good times with him, we vehemently disagreed on anything having to do with race, poverty, income inequality, law enforcement and President Obama.
Before I blocked him, he accused me of being racist every time I used the word "race," said Obama had divided the country with his race-baiting, and spewed familiar one-liners about "black-on-black crime" and lazy people who would rather be on welfare than work hard. My "friend" even had something to say about art; when I posted an article about artist Ramiro Gomez and his paintings that bring the wealthy and the laborers they hire together on canvas, my then-friend noted that he was sure the laborers were glad to have the work. This was his response to me saying something like, "I really like the painting of the woman cleaning the bathroom."
The online "friendship" was an unpleasant time.
As we edge closer to the first Tuesday in November, I see more people purging their friends list over differing political views, and those political views are branching out into religious ones. I've actually been seeing Christians debate the biblical basis for unfriending, defriending, and blocking one another. On one side are the Christians who say it is impossible to simultaneously follow Christ's two essential commandments (i.e., love God and love your neighbor) and cast a vote for Trump. I think they are also asking themselves, "Why maintain friendships based on Christian principles when we see Christian principles so differently?" On the other side are those who cloak themselves in Jesus's command to "love your enemies." They say that means remaining Facebook friends with people who are supporting someone many see as a racist, sexist, money-chasing, adulterous, gambling, unrepentant bully.
Our definitions of "love" are interesting. Why have we reduced the tiny-yet-powerful word to electronic friendships? How does unfriending, defriending, or blocking someone amount to not loving them, or worse, to hate? If I were ever to see my now-blocked former friend again walking towards me on the sidewalk, I wouldn't spit on him, start an argument or physical fight, avoid eye contact, or cross the street. I imagine I would be cordial and end the conversation as quickly as possible. If he asked me why he couldn't find me on Facebook anymore, I imagine I would tell him the truth: I think his view of the world is ignorant, and I could no longer allow his ignorance into the space I curate for my recreational time. I don't hate him or wish him ill will. I just wish he thought differently, and I don't see the point of making any additional space in my life, or the tiny bit of world that I influence, for his views.
Blocking him was frustrating because it was an admission of defeat. I admit, I want -- through my writing, not so much through direct confrontation -- to convert people to what I think is a more Christ-like position on U.S. and world affairs. I want people who are "pro-life" to consider police officers' use of force as diligently as they consider an unborn child's rights. To think about how hard most poor people really work and how much capitalism exploits the vast majority of the world before they call people who receive public assistance lazy. To think about how they can love God, who they have never seen, and have no compassion for their brother/sister/neighbor, who they see on a regular basis and who is literally crying out for justice and mercy. And if they think more like Christ, I believe they will have trouble supporting a candidate who doesn't think that way.
And if they don't change their minds, I would believe that, if they do love me (because, let's be honest, it's hard to love someone when you dislike so many things about who they are), they are following Christ's command to love their enemies. (This, too, is an uncomfortable thought. Most people don't want to have enemies.) But do they have to show that love by keeping me in their space?
I say no. I would've felt more loved by Christian I had to block if he hadn't essentially trolled me by making a contrary comment to everything I posted. It felt more like harassment than love.
In such a polarizing political season, I think love first looks like saying, "Why do you feel that way?" or "Why did you say that?" And when understanding fails, love sometimes looks like "Go in peace," and then, silence.
[Mariam Williams is a Kentucky writer living in Philadelphia and pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Rutgers University-Camden. She is a contributor to the anthology Faithfully Feminist and blogs at RedboneAfropuff.com. Follow her on Twitter: @missmariamw.]
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