It’s impossible to post anything on social media these days without offending at least some people. This week, a rabid online debate ensued after a journalist uploaded a picture of a group of California high schoolers saying a prayer before their prom.
The teens had gathered at Longhorn Steakhouse to eat dinner before the dance. A photo posted by Oakland journalist Frank Somerville shows the group saying grace before their meal.
But the seemingly innocuous photo, sent to Somerville by one of the students’ mothers, garnered intense and even hostile responses from online commenters.
In his post, Somerville included this note from mother Noelle Smith:
“I want to share a picture of my daughter and her friends from prom night. Now with the stories today about teenagers and tide pods and condoms gathering headlines — this picture speaks for itself.”
“They all said Grace before eating and were all well behaved,” Smith added, saying that she was “so impressed” by the group.
“So impressed with these young people on their prom date at Longhorn.They all said Grace before eating and were all…
Others, however, were not so impressed. The photograph quickly gained traction on Facebook, with people from all over the country chiming in. Some actually began to argue over whether the kids were “nice kids” just because they were praying.
One of Somerville’s followers saw many faults with the picture:
“Saying grace over your food says nothing of your moral compass, integrity or character … Behaving well at a restaurant while in your late teens, and being considerate to people, should not be Facebook praise worthy,” the commenter said.
“I see well behaved people doing terrible things, misbehaved people who just take care of someone in need. Being a [C]hristian doesn’t mean they are well behaved,” argued another commenter.
Another used the picture to launch a political discussion, inferring that because the teens were praying, they must have certain thoughts on gay marriage, interracial families and “equal rights” that many would find objectionable.
“My guess is their opinions on gay marriage, interracial families, equal rights, and other things we hold dear might not thrill you,” the person wrote.
But the comments attacking the kids also triggered many comments in defense of the kids.
One user wrote that “not once did [Somerville] say that these kids are any better than non-Christian kids.”
Still, commenters continued to argue that the photo was unfair to those that don’t share the Christian faith, accusing the photo of being an attack on other religions.
“So now we are supposed to praise kids for praying to an invisible man in the sky for animals that were slaughtered so they could eat? Maybe they should be thanking that animal for giving up it’s [sic] life so they could eat instead. So tired of Christians pushing their beliefs onto everyone else,” wrote one person.
Another accused the teens of “arrogance”:
“I’m so tired of the arrogance many religious people display and their disdain for non-believers. If you are confidant [sic] in your beliefs then you don’t feel the need to ‘save’ everyone else.”
Somerville eventually weighed in, saying that he was extremely “surprised by how many people took offense” to the photo, which was not meant to imply anything about the character of the kids.
“What I took from the picture that that by saying grace on their prom night, it showed that they have qualities that I admire, qualities like respect and appreciation. But to be clear … you certainly don’t have to say grace to have those qualities. I should also say that i enjoy and encourage people to have honest discussions on my posts. I think that’s how we learn, by hearing different points of view,” Sommerville said.
The mother who originally sent Sommerville the picture reached out after seeing all the comments and told him that she was not going to read them. She also stated she did not take the picture she sent Sommerville but shared it with him because they’re “great kids.”
One of the grandmother’s of the girls chimed in on Facebook to vouch for each child and their character.
“My granddaughter is a senior in high school, has worked after school for 2 years, is an honor roll student, had taken AP classes for 2 years, plays softball and soccer and after graduation will be going into the [Air Force],” she wrote. “These kids were raised to respect their elders and to be the best that they could be.”