What Social Media Teaches Us About Law, Gospel, Forgiveness, And Grace

Carson King is a 23-year old Des Moines man who held up a sign at a televised college football game announcing, “Busch Lite supply needs replenished.” It was a joke but people began sending him money via the Venmo appl. When he realized what was happening, he made arrangements to donate the money to a local cancer hospital. Venmo pledged to match donations and the local Annheiser-Busch distributor promised to produce cans of beer with Kings likeness on them. The local newspaper sent out a reporter, Aaron Calvin, to do a feature on King. In what the newspaper The reporter crawled through seven years of King’s Twitter feed and found him, as a 16-year old quoting the comedian Daniel Tosh. The tweet played on racist tropes. The reporter, who, though young, was experienced enough to know what he was doing. His editors, who are supposed to know better, decided to include the tweet deep in the story, in the (approx.) 27th paragraph. They reached King for comment and, to his credit, he acknowledged his error and took full responsibility. Remarkably, the editorial staff defended it’s decision to dig through his tweets and to publish something he wrote as 16-year old. Now, however, the reporter who broke this compelling news, that King has sinned, has been found to have committed sins of his own and has locked his Twitter account saying:

Calvin has been found to have committed social media sins of his own. Apparently it is “standard” practice to dig for and expose the sins of DesMoines teens but it not standard practice for the Des Moines Register to vet the social media accounts of their reporters. The editorial staff is said to be conflicted about whether the Aaron Calvin’s social media sins are great enough to cost him his job. Perhaps the Des Moines Register will do a feature on him and publish his tweets, which are more recent that King’s?

Social Media Is A Covenant Of Works

Millennials and younger generations are said to be experiencing higher rates of depression than others. One of the causes is social media. It is a covenant of works that demands perfection. We have entered into a sort of Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist phase in the evolution of social media. Any found to have been politically correct shall be exposed and shamed, no matter when the indiscretion happened.

Under Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) the Communist revolutionary conducted purges to achieve ideological purity. His successor Josef Stalin (1878–1953) conducted even more violent and greater purges. Stalin alone is known to have ordered the murder of millions. Know one really knows how many million Mao Zedung (1893–1976) murdered during “The Great Leap Forward” and “The Cultural Revolution.” To the degree that social media platforms encourage absolute ideological uniformity and social righteousness, they testify to the existence of the covenant of works.

All human beings were created in the image of God. The first humans, Adam and Eve, were in a covenant of works. Before them was promised eternal blessedness if they obeyed God’s holy law. They had every opportunity and no obstacles. They were righteous, holy, and good but mysteriously they chose freely to disobey and to plunge themselves and all humanity into corruption, death, and condemnation. The covenant of works demanded perfect and personal obedience from Adam, the representative of all humanity. Our Lord Jesus articulated the principle under which he lived this way: “Do this and live” (Luke 10:28). That is the nature of a covenant of works. Perform or die.

Aaron Calvin and the editors of the Des Moines Register tried unleash a social media mob on Carson King but, instead, the mob came for the reporter. Perhaps they will begin sorting through the tweets of the editors of the Des Moines Register next? They are now feeling the sharp edge of the covenant of works, the “do this and live” principle and Calvin has been found out to be a hypocrite.

No Grace In A Post-Christian World

When I learned journalism and broadcasting, decades ago, long before the existence of social media, I know exactly what would have happened to this part of the story in any professional newspaper. Some cynical, ink-stained wretch, would have gone through the copy and cut that line because “16-year old says something stupid” is not news. That editors agonized (they say) over including seven-year old tweets from a thoughtfulness teen, shows how impoverished the journalist profession has become.

It also testifies to the loss of mercy and grace. That hard-bitten copy editor, who had read it all, seen it all, had also probably been to Sunday School as a boy. Somewhere in his soul he remembered “do unto others” and words like “grace” and “mercy.” Those ideas would have informed his judgment. How grateful was he that many of his foibles has not been printed in the paper?

Grace is the favor of God toward sinners. Christians confess that Jesus of Nazareth earned divine approval for them. By God’s grace he grants new life to his people and with that new life he grants true faith. That faith looks to Jesus and rests in his person and righteous obedience on our behalf for our standing with God. When we are so united to Christ by faith it is as if we ourselves had done all that Jesus did for us. The Bible calls this grace, God’s free favor toward sinners.

God has also shown mercy to believers by not allowing them to receive what their sins deserve (i.e., eternal judgment). Christians are sinners who know that they have been saved from the wrath to come by the mercy and grace of God in Christ. They know that the Holy Spirit has raised them from death to life and is at work in that and all of that is nothing but grace.

As a consequence, Christians, as distinct from pagans or the self-righteous, ought to be the most merciful and the most gracious of all people since we are conscious of the greatness of our sin and misery and our jeopardy apart from Christ. Pagans and the self-righteous, however, do not know the greatness of their sin and misery. So, we might not be surprised when they, like the editorial staff of the Des Moines Register refuse to show mercy and grace, since they do not think of themselves as recipients of grace.

If You Think Twitter Mobs Are Scary

The power of the old media is frightening. The power of the new media is even more frightening. The old media can decide to ruin those of whom they disapprove. The new media, composed not of thousands but of millions, can turn on someone like a swarm of angry wasps. The intensity can be frightening.

As intense as the media can be, God is more dangerous. The writer to the Hebrews said, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Old Testament can confirm this. Ask everyone but Noah and his family. Ask Pharaoh and his armies. Ask Uzzah. Ask Nadab and Abihu. Ask the Canaanites. Think about how intensely and righteously angry we become when we read about injustices perpetrated upon the weak and defense. How much more righteously angry do you suppose the Lord is?

You and I, by nature, apart from the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, are the proper objects of that unending divine wrath. God is rightly to be feared. The Psalmist says, “For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? (Ps 89:6–7; ESV).

Sinner, flee your self-righteousness, flee to Jesus, the refuge for hell-worthy sinners and then show mercy to other sinners. Who knows what our gracious God will yet do with them? The Des Moines Register may have forgotten mercy and grace but Christians may not.


Carol Hunter, Executive Editor of the Des Moines Register published on September 26, 2019, a further explanation of the paper’s actions, including the note that reporter Aaron Calvin, is no longer with the paper. She argues that, as things actually unfolded, King’s tweets came to light before the paper published them.

Irony: Thy Name Is Aaron Calvin

Calvin, however, is impenitent for what he did to Carson King and insists that he is being “doxxed” (his private information being made public) his own tweets are being taken out of context. He claims that the senior editors at the Register fully supported the decision to find and publish Carson’s 7-year old tweets. The article makes no mention of the irony of Calvin’s complaints.

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