“We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus.” -Donald Trump
It should go without saying but maybe someone needs to hear it…using phrases like “China Virus” “Chinese flu” and “Kung Flu” to describe COVID are 100% racist, deplorable to God, and DANGEROUS. This is just one of the recent examples of weaponizing race. This language is a #dogwhistle and cheering for it, defending it, and making excuses for it makes you guilty by association and it reveals a lot about your character. #ConfrontRacism #BetheChurch #breakthesilence
My friend Todd Fisher wrote about this and I thought it should be shared:
“We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus.” (Tweeted yesterday by our president). He began his campaign by pledging to protect us from Mexican rapists. And I said nothing. After the Black men wrongfully charged as the Central Park 5 were exonerated, he continued/continues to double down on his years of attacks. And I‘ve been silent.His reference to “sh*thole countries” was aimed at Haiti and African nations. For this one, I did write a post–if only in my mind–and remained quiet.
So, to my Latinx, Black, and African friends—I am sorry for my silence, ask forgiveness, and repent (turn from the way I was living). Now that his racist language impacts my own wife, children, and parents I will speak up. But I do so with remorse for so many previous moments of recalcitrance.
His “China Virus” and “Kung Fu flu” rhetoric is not a reference to the geographic origins of this pandemic. And we all know it. He uses race to divide. He plays into fears, prejudices, and ignorance.
I can no longer sit by.
You’ve heard stories in the news, and perhaps some of you have wondered if they are real. Be assured, they are real. While grocery shopping just prior to the quarantine, my wife (and a dear friend to many of you) was told to “go home” by an older white gentleman she did not know. Her heritage may be China, but my wife’s home is Indiana.
My son was taunted as “Captain Asia” by a boy on the soccer field (pre-pandemic) when wearing a t-shirt bearing the logo of one of his heroes. When walking in our sidewalk-less neighborhood last week, a man driving a large pickup with an outsize American flag unfurled from its bed, drove dangerously close as my wife tried to step out of his way. He laid on his horn, shouted indecipherably at her and made unpleasant gesticulations. And she wondered if he was able to distinguish if she was Chinese or just by her complexion that she was “other.”
Racism has long been a gash in the fabric of American society. But the leader of our nation pulls at this tear, he uses this to his advantage. And so often he is given excuses by those who should know better. Especially those who also claim to pledge allegiance to the Prince of Peace. He is emboldened by the silence of people like myself. And those with their own explicit racial prejudices are now themselves emboldened.
There’s so much that could and should be said. But for now, I ask this: if you are a friend of mine or my family, and you are tempted to support or explain away the not-so-veiled racism of assigning blame (in the face of a health crisis that doesn’t seem to just “disappear”) to “the Chinese”—don’t.Because it’s not the political forces of another country who are being targeted: it is people of Asian heritage.Please don’t make excuses for those who spread such ideas. And please don’t buy into the subtle insinuations that “the real problem is to be found in that person who looks different from you, different from ‘us’.”
This rhetoric is being weaponized and serves to further marginalize all our families and neighbors of Asian descent. And they of course join so many peoples and groups who are marginalized as “other.”Now, to any of you who might say as a Christian and a pastor I shouldn’t speak thus, I’m well aware of the arguments and the scriptures. They have run through my mind in so many moments. In those moments I suppressed the even clearer command to not withhold good when it is in one’s power to act (Proverbs 3:27).
In the same passage that keeps many Christians, especially pastors, quiet in the face of injustice enacted by elected officials (you might have had it thrown at you: “honor the emperor”) we’re also told “it is God’s will you that by doing good you should silence the talk of ignorant fools” (1 Peter 2—check it out). “What is the good we are to do?” you may ask? Scripture is clear: in addition to walking humbly with God, “good” is to “do justice and love mercy” (Micah 6:8).
Justice means speaking out and acting on behalf of those who are marginalized, oppressed, threatened. It means joining God’s work of real-world action to give glimpses of a world set right. And it also means to do tangible good, even to those who, under control of our true spiritual enemy, behave as one’s enemy. So I pray, as instructed in scripture, for our nation’s leader (1 Timothy 2:3). Perhaps you’ll be moved to do the same? I pray he would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (2:5). That he would be healed of whatever deep pain haunts him, healed of whatever trauma causes him to embody the truism, “Hurt people hurt people.”
Would you also pray for my wife and children? They are strong, but they are impacted by this vitriol. Would you pray they would be physically and emotionally protected? And let’s join our prayers for all people who are marginalized in this moment. And let out our prayers turn to action to truly love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Navigating online engagement through Social Media platforms takes wisdom. All of us have seen this tool used to build and to tear down!
As I mentioned in the first part of this discussion, we need to be aware of the limitations and weigh the risk and responsibility of it. This will require careful consideration as to HOW we should represent our Christian convictions and uphold truth, while remaining mindful of the potential harm or good our words could inflict.
This is not to say that we should embrace a “careful is always better” posture; agitation has a place at the table, if we intend to be agents of change in the world around us.
Justice for All (Platforms)
In matters of Justice, we can turn to Proverbs 31:8-9,
“Open your mouth for those with no voice, for the cause of all the dispossessed. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the poor and needy.”
The scriptures tell us we cannot be silent about issues of justice!
Even with the biblical text to guide us, we will see that some issues are very clear while others take a process of careful consideration and discernment, wading through intersections of perspective, ethics, and complicated systems. Make sure you do the proper work of discerning correctly if you are going to engage online.
Once an issue of injustice has been decided (ideally in the context of a community), then you are free to utilize any and every platform at your disposal to speak out. Indeed, Proverbs implies that you have an obligation to speak out and your social media is a part of your extended reach and social influence. Of course, you should be aware, that anytime truth speaks to power, opposition will rise up. You must be ready to encounter conflict in its’ public and muted form. Again, this can result in miscommunication, passionate comment debates, and “unfriending/unfollowing.” (Still, justice issues push me to engage.)
I believe you should be committed to justice in all areas of your life including your online persona.
Every act of justice, and speaking out on behalf of the oppressed, involves risk and this may very well be the cost of seeking justice in our day and age.
For example, as a part of my biblical conviction, I have committed to anti-racist actions, such as confronting racial micro-aggressions when I see them. There is a LOT of this on social media. I have to decide to either confront or look the other way. But why would l allow the online extension of myself get a “pass” in this area of my life, when I don’t allow it anywhere else?
Looking the other way, even on social media, is still looking the other way, which shows a lack of conviction and of courage.
I encourage you not to look away when it involves issues of justice; I believe the risk is worth consideration because silence on social media, like any medium, allows injustice to be the loudest voice. While avoiding the use of social media for issues of justice allows you to avoid the tension, perhaps you are avoiding an opportunity for advocacy.
Equity For All (Platforms)
It is also important for us to remember one of the benefits of social media is that it has the potential to be a platform for opinions that would not have an outlet otherwise.
As a pastor, I have a weekly platform wherein I try to represent the Scriptures, God, and my church community well. I am remiss to believe it is done without my fallible opinions and perspective included. The overall assumption is that I have been vetted by my elders, credentialed by my ordination, and a calling has been discerned by a faith community but…I am still fallible. Additionally, this authority comes with power dynamics that can be leveraged even when I am wrong (once again Pharaoh comes to mind). Because leaders, in general, are not immune to diplomacy that can override their convictions, and they are often tempted to vie for “false unity” instead of the hard work necessary to seek Shalom and Justice.
But, social media is available to everyone and allows all to have a platform. Social media has the capacity to give a voice to the voiceless. It opens opportunities for others to hear perspectives from the margins who have been systematically barred from platforms of authority that are perceived as more credible by the majority.
At a previous church, there was a congregation member who was outspoken on social media about her disagreement with certain political candidates/positions. There was plenty of online sharing to promote the popular white evangelical assumptions, so she began posting with the intention of providing an alternative perspective. While she wasn’t rude, there was a measure of force behind her posts that she deemed prudent in order to be heard and to be able to create a contraflow against the current of the majority. She confronted racism, misogyny, and prejudice (often sanctioned by white evangelicalism) that was flooding the timelines and feeds. It stirred up a flurry of conversation, which turned into criticism, and anger. Eventually, she was told by leadership (and even pastors on staff at our church) that it was unwise for her to use Social Media to speak out about her disagreement – because it was “divisive.”
At first, I considered this to be wisdom and thought “maybe they are right and social media is the wrong place for this.” When we talked, she was kind enough to remind me that online platforms were her only form of speaking out; they were her pulpit when her opinions were not being represented in the pulpit at her church. She explained that Pastors have a public platform every Sunday wherein they inevitably give their opinions and speak out when they feel it is necessary or they fortify the status quo through their silence. While her opinion was unpopular in that context, I realized her opposing posts were factual in their claims and aligned with her biblical convictions (which were justice issues). I also realized I was participating in the oppression.
In the end, what she posted wasn’t the problem, they just disagreed with her opinion and had enough of a majority opinion on their side that they could frame her as “off-base, divisive, or unbiblical.” It was in this context that I learned how veiled forms of “wisdom” and “unity” could be used to silence minority opinions and oppress them. Even if their intentions weren’t nefarious, it was a display of “negative peace.” Just as Martin Luther King said, these leaders seemed to be “more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
It is for these reasons I cannot advise people to simply abstain from Social Media with their opinions altogether.
Is If Fruitful?
This question is difficult to answer because there is no way to measure conclusive evidence on such subjective content. Even attempts to measure the validity of “Hashtag Activism” and perceptions of “making a difference” with social media seem indefinite through Pew Research.
There will likely be a cost/benefit analysis in your mind as you process what and how you utilize Social Media, but I have seen anecdotal evidence that suggests the efforts are not wasted. I regularly receive messages, comments, and DM’s telling me that something I shared was helpful, encouraging me to continue, and thanking me for my allyship.
When I post:
- I attempt to frame my words with kindness so that, even when I say hard things, I do so with “smile.”
- I also like to ask questions that prod at people’s thought processes instead of making statements of accusation.
- I try my best to control the tone, though nobody likes to hear hard things and you won’t be 100% successful.
- I also attempt to meet offline if the other person seems willing to have deeper conversation; in doing so, I am able to reclaim some of the communication lost through Social Media.
- I choose my battles of engagement.
I have seen healthy dialogue online, and I have witnessed people move from resistance to listening.
Utilize the Tool
One thing I believe to be true – silence rarely changes peoples’ minds. As a result, I won’t acquiesce to silence especially when there is so much non-truth, sexism, and white supremacy flowing through the veins of online Social Networks.
You can’t get rid of sickness without confronting it, and the procedure to make people well often involves incision before the recovery.
Social media is the new technology in a long line of inventions that can and should be claimed for the sake of the gospel. Let’s be wise, discerning, courageous, and informed by the Holy Spirit as we attempt to utilize Social Media Platforms now and in the seasons to come!
I encourage you, again, to check out my friends at the Gravity Leadership Podcast. Their perspective on this issue is enlightening and should be considered when engaging online!
Questions to ask before Engaging in a Social Media:
- Are you considering the “public” nature of your thoughts?
- Are you working to overcome the “muted” nature of your text?
- Do you tend to engage or look the other way when you see micro-aggressions, sexism, and racism online? Why or why not?
- Have you participated in silencing or oppressing others under the guise of “wisdom” and “unity” online or elsewhere? Do you need to confess this and make things right?
- Do you believe engaging online and through social media is fruitful? Why or why not?
- For protective purposes (both you and others) do you need to take a break from Social Media?
Having lived through the birth of Social Media, I remember when Facebook was only allowed for college students and when Myspace was where you discovered the best up-and-coming musicians. A whole new world was created with fresh relational opportunities – and the invention of memes! I loved that I could be reunited with old High School friends and I could see fun pics of loved ones who lived far away. I also witnessed a turning point in the online climate during the 2016 Election and how quickly the internet and Social Media became a more rugged atmosphere ranging from strong opinions and robust dialogue to accusations and lies.
Like many of you, I’ve seen this tool used for both joy and destruction.
We are in another new era with Social Media as we continue to navigate the pressurized landscape of COVID-19, the exposed realities of a racialized nation, and see the arrival of another divisive election in 2020. Many are searching for wisdom on how to utilize Social Media as a Christ follower through all of this.
Before I continue, let me be the first to say I am not a Social Media Expert and don’t claim to know all the intricacies of social media algorithms, the emotional toll of cyberbullying, etc. There are books written on the multitude of Social Media factors that could be considered a part of this discussion. Second, Social Media is young in its development and there is a lot we have to learn about this medium to have any “final words.”
I also don’t claim to have divine knowledge outside of my discernment process for applying the scripture and Godly wisdom applied to these platforms. Much of this falls under personal conviction and I encourage you to read Romans 14 so that you are operating under conviction since, “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
All that to say, this is certainly not a comprehensive opinion on the use of Social Media as a Christian, but I would like to help by adding some ideas to the conversation in this article series.
Risk and Responsibility
According to Merriam Webster, Social Media is a form of “electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos).” Therefore, it is an extension of our living platform and represents us in an online profile for many to observe.
I believe Social Media should reflect your Christian convictions, as well as the wisdom you use in any communication platform. But consider these two unique attributes of social media…
- It’s an electronic PUBLIC SQUARE: The network reaches as far and wide as a cross-section of many variables: your privacy settings, the extent of your following/friendship, the tracking of your actions for advertisers, and the fact that someone can “screenshot” your profile and circulate it to others. So, while there are some ways to promote/restrict your platform, anything you publish has some level of public permanence and the potential for a viral spread (intentionally or unintentionally). It’s hard to know what level of control you actually have over what you post, and it’s more public than you may realize.
- It’s a MUTED COMMUNICATION: It’s often said that the vast majority of communication is non-verbal, so you lose a lot of the nuance on Social Media that is found from direct face-to-face communication. When you post text online (even with an emoji to punctuate it), remember that Social Media is a muted communication that removes facial cues, body language, and reactionary responses. The things you say and do may have different effects than you intended.
With the two realities listed above, Social Media has an added level of public engagement with added layers of possibilities (including a high possibility of miscommunication). Considering the advantages and risks, you should be aware that you are responsible for the repercussions of the way you decide to use your Social Media accounts.
In other words, there is a cost to your participation in these platforms…have you weighed that?
Truth-Tellers in an Age of Alternative Facts
Pilate struggled to understand “truth” when Jesus was standing right in front of Him and, as followers of Christ, we should understand that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” Truth is at the core of the Gospel and we should be diligent to guard our words from lies, slander, and any speech that is false.
Additionally, while I wholeheartedly believe in absolute truth, I also believe our perspectives, backgrounds, and environments shape the way we receive information. None of us should buy into the idea that we are “autonomous individual selves” who are immune to bias. We need, to the best of our ability, undergo a process to check our hearts in order to differentiate from what is actual truth and what is accurate from a particular perspective and present it as such.
With so much untruth circulating around the internet, we should stand out as those committed to protecting it and calling it out (in love) when we encounter it. For more on this, check out Ed Stetzer’s article for Christianity Today. Telling truth when you post means checking to make sure the things you say and circulate:
- Are factually true
- Originate from credible sources
- Are not just serving the tendency for confirmation bias’
- Are not just opinions being presented as facts (opinions are good just be clear on this).
Setting the Social Landscape Ablaze
Since Social Media didn’t exist in ancient times, we lean on our interpretation of the timeless wisdom found in scripture for communication but that may also lead to tension and to interpretive convictions.
Consider this from James 3:5-6 “…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it boasts of great things. Consider how small a spark sets a great forest ablaze. The tongue also is a fire, a world of wickedness among the parts of the body. It pollutes the whole person, sets the course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Pretty intense, right? Every one of us has seen Social Media set ablaze like a wildfire with lies, “alternative facts,” and racist jokes and this passage seems to ring true. We should be cautious to filter our words through James’ admonishment and consider how our words affect the world around us.
On the other hand, I have witnessed the use of verses like these being applied to silence others’ opinions. They were angry because they simply didn’t like, or disagreed with, the position being posted. Think about it, Pharaoh could have used this same logic when he didn’t like Moses saying, “let my people go.” He could also have said you are causing disunity in Egypt by speaking up about this issue – but Moses’ words spoke righteousness and were ordained by God. The work of discernment should be done behind the scenes and the problem is that pharaohs rarely know, or want to admit, they might be pharaohs.
My point is this: just because you are triggered by someone’s opinion, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been shared. The truth, at times, sears like a fire but it is not the same fire James warns us against.
As we continue the conversation, we are going to explore the place of justice topics, the platform equity of Social Media, and the big question, “is it fruitful to have these discussions on Social Media?”
Until then, consider the questions below as you navigate and engage on your Social Media platforms and check out my friends at the Gravity Leadership Podcast. They explore Social Media further and bring up some great points that you should consider when operating online!
Questions to ask before Engaging in a Social Media:
- Are you considering the “public” nature of your thoughts? Are you working to overcome the “muted” nature of text-only communication?
- Is what I am posting true? Have I looked up the sources to know that it is credible and the information is true?
- If you are confronting someone, is it done in a heart of correction or something else?
- Are you working to recognize and differentiate your opinions from facts and presenting them accurately?
- What’s your motivation for posting? Are you starting a fire and what kind of fire is it?