Culture

Courage, Caution, and Anonymity

Jonah Heuer

Christian faith and ethics are taboo in our worldly culture. For those who want to express Christian beliefs in this culture, anonymity may seem like an attractive option. With just a few clicks, you can set up an account on your preferred social media platform with a fake name and picture. From there, you can say anything you want about even the most controversial topics without catching any heat.

The freedom to speak without negative consequences is appealing, but I think there’s more for Christians to consider before we decide to trade in our names and faces for pseudonyms and anime profile pictures.

Types of Anonymity

There are two ways to practice anonymity. The type that immediately comes to mind is online anonymity, when you have an internet persona or pseudonym that you use to publish your thoughts that you fear invite backlash. From sermons to tweets to edgy memes, you can drop truth bombs all day long without anxiety. None of what you say can be traced back to you.

The second type is what I’ll call in-person anonymity. In-person anonymity is the act of masking your beliefs in a hostile or uncertain setting. For example, a person practicing in-person anonymity might avoid conversations about the Bible or certain political topics. If such topics do come up, this person might listen and nod without contributing to the conversation, or make vague and noncommittal statements rather than expressing their true thoughts. This person does not actually have a neutral position on the given subject, but from the outside, you would think that they did.

Both types of anonymity have serious drawbacks that compel me to reject the practice altogether.

1: I’m Just One Person

I am one man. I have one set of beliefs, one set of relationships, and one set of standards by which I try to live. Anonymity sets up a bizarre dynamic of two people in one, each with a different set of ideas and standards. My online persona may make statements I would never make in real life. I might refuse to share a thought at work that I would say without hesitation at home.

To me, that seems like a confusing way to live. We are not meant to live as two people.

2: Cultivating Courage

With all the stories we’ve seen of people being mocked, fired, doxed, threatened, and otherwise persecuted for telling truths that are offensive to the modern secularist, I think we can all acknowledge that telling the truth can be risky.

Even so, anonymity is a flawed solution to this problem. We may be able to avoid direct backlash under the cover of a pseudonym for a little while, but eventually, we will all be faced with circumstances where we only have two options. Either we will obey God and confess truth, or we will hide from the truth like Peter did when he denied Christ.

My greatest concern about anonymity is that, if I use it as a tool to avoid hostility, I may cultivate a habit of concealing my belief in the truth in general, especially when in uncertain or hostile territory. Instead, I want to cultivate a habit of speaking the truth boldly and calmly, no matter what circumstance I’m in, trusting that God will protect me. Even if He does permit me to endure some suffering, He will bless me for it.

The day may come when you or I will have to confess our faith in Christ to the barrel of a gun. On the one hand, maybe such extraordinary circumstances will bring out extraordinary courage in us. That’s not beyond God’s power to bring about in us. On the other hand, if we shrink from even the smallest of conflicts today with our worldly neighbors, coworkers, or relatives, how confident can we be that we will be strong and courageous in the face of death or worse? If we won’t lay down a phony peace at the water cooler, will we truly be ready to lay down our lives?
In Matthew 25:21 and Luke 16:10, we hear that he who is faithful in a little will be faithful in much. Maybe it can also be said that he who is brave in a little will be brave in much.

3: Avoiding Discouraging Others

There’s an implicit message underneath anonymous statements. No matter how boldly or beautifully put, the speaker is essentially saying “I don’t want to be associated publicly with what I just said because I’m afraid of being mistreated for it.”

That’s a discouraging implication. If I care enough about the opinions and insights of these individuals, but they aren’t even willing to claim their views as their own, how am I supposed to apply what I’ve learned from them? If I take their implicit message to heart, I’ll take whatever is valuable from their work and hide it under a bushel. Whatever truth or call to action the speaker is trying to deliver will terminate in my mind. If I share it at all, it will only be with those who I’m confident already agree.

Anonymity is a statement in and of itself. I don’t think there’s any way around interpreting it as a statement of fear.

4: Endeavoring not to Squander Gospel Opportunities

If you’re afraid of drawing negative attention from the world, the last thing you want to do is talk about sin.  Yet when topics like abortion or gay marriage come up, sin has already entered the conversation.

Christians have a couple of options when this happens. Either we can be silent, trying not to assent to the prevailing view while also not objecting, or we can look for an opening, to tell the truth about sin and the need for a Redeemer.

I’ll admit that a lot could go wrong with such a conversation. On the other hand, if handled with a little grace, a conversation about sin is easy to turn into a conversation about the gospel. If you accurately describe sin and your coworker objects, you have an opening to explain that you’re a sinner too! It’s not just the gays or the abortionists who need Jesus. Straight, married people with ten kids need Jesus too. And the same salvation that’s been made available to the straight married guy by the blood of Christ is also available to the bisexual polygamist who’s had a dozen abortions.

I know that these conversations are possible because I’ve had them. If I had been too hesitant to name sin in front of coworkers, I would have missed opportunities to share the gospel with them.

An Objection and Answer

There’s one main objection I anticipate receiving that goes like this: “Yes, we need to be prepared to suffer persecution, but that doesn’t mean we have to seek it out!” I can understand how what I’ve said so far could be interpreted as a kamikaze attitude, but that’s not what I’m advocating. I absolutely affirm the obligation of Christians to exercise prudence in all things. I try to exercise it myself, even as I try to live up to the standard I’ve laid out in this piece.

For example, I don’t add coworkers on social media, and I don’t promote my Substack to them. I don’t go out of my way to drench the workplace in social gasoline. All I try to do is respond to conversations as they naturally occur with courage and boldness, always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in me.

At the same time, if an employer googles my name, they’re likely to find things I’ve said about homosexuality, transgenderism, colonization, and other taboo subjects that might make me unappealing as a job candidate. Every article I’ve ever written has my name and face attached to it because I’m not ashamed of what I believe, and I accept the risks that come with transparency.

I hope that my Christian brothers who read this will spend time in prayer and contemplation before choosing to practice anonymity. I won’t say that there’s never any reason to use it or that anyone who does so is sinning. That would be going too far, I think. All I’m really trying to say is that anonymity is far from ideal.

If we tether our beliefs to our identity publicly, we may find that we are better able to be bold and courageous. To do so may involve risk, but I believe we will be rewarded for it.

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