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?
As a Christian, I am committed to carrying Jesus’ ministry of justice for all people and to seek liberty for the oppressed (Luke 4:18). As a white Christian in America, this specifically means taking responsibility for:
the country’s racist history through slavery,
the foundation of systemic oppression established by that history (segregation, Jim Crow), and
the dangerous, racialized society we now live in today which culminates in continuous murders of people of color.
Since the roots of this systemic problem run incredibly deep with layers of overlapping injustice, the modes of dismantling the problems are difficult and oftentimes hidden. It will take endurance and forceful confrontation to uproot them. Likewise, the roots of this systemic problem are personal (i.e. I am a part of the racialized society), which requires a sustained posture of difficult self-reflection and forceful self-confrontation to dig the roots out of ourselves.
As a white person, I recognize that there is a pressure under which the black community must live but that I will never experience (and have the privilege to ignore if I choose to do so). The pressure exists merely because they live and breathe and move in America.
It’s the pressure of constantly evaluating safe and unsafe environments.
It’s the pressure of constantly paying attention to a room full of people who have a watchful eye on you.
It’s the pressure knowing that people of color must teach their children to engage law enforcement with a level of caution that is absurd.
It’s the pressure that is felt when you watch white people protest on government facilities with AR-15’s only to be met with a smile and open door, while at the same time, one player takes a knee during a sporting event which ignites a national upheaval.
It’s the pressure of knowing that generations of opportunity have been weighted against you for jobs and housing options.
It’s the pressure of knowing that you could go jogging in the middle of the day and never come home.
It’s the pressure of knowing that a public representative and enforcer of the law can put his boot to your neck and place the full force of his body weight on your handcuffed body while you plead for your life as you suffocate to death.
It is the pressure of knowing there were multiple officers on the scene who watched passively.
This pressure is what author James Baldwin was attempting to capture when we said, “To be Black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”
As white people, we must all recognize that every person of color in America bears the weight of this (ever increasing) pressure placed upon them simply because of their existence in our society. Any rational person should feel some level of righteous rage when watching the video of the murder of George Floyd. But, when you live under the pressure that people of color endure all day, every day, in America, something deeper takes place that any rational community would feel: THE NEED TO SPEAK UP.
But, as soon as someone does speak up, those in the majority dictate the voice by encouraging it to be done “peacefully.” That seems good, right?
But “peaceful” really means suppressing the voice into a medium where it cannot be heard or where it cannot inconvenience the white norms of the culture. The response is “You can speak up, but don’t take a knee! You can speak out, but don’t wear that shirt, don’t use that hashtag, don’t use social media, don’t use those words…” All of the fury of the righteous anger is compressed into a tiny, thin, voiceless box, a whisper unable to liberate anyone. As a result, adding the righteous rage that any rational community would feel in this situation with no way to be heard, more pressure is created!
As I watch the actions of an uprising in Minnesota, which are a direct result of the murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and Botham Jean, and Eric Garner, and all the way back to Emmett Till), I get it. The pressure was building for a long time, and the voice was unable to speak out so, yes, I can fully understand how the rational conclusion was an explosion.
If you have benefited from the Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party, and every other uprising that took place towards the benefit of founding this nation, you should get it too.
Civil unrest (including acts of violence and war) have been socially sanctioned instruments to secure “the good” throughout our history once a line is crossed. For those under the oppression of our racialized American culture, this line had been crossed a long time ago ,and it keeps happening over and over again. If you don’t get it, perhaps you need to recognize that you are not under the pressure (and you can’t understand the urgency or level of force deemed necessary for change to occur) or, perhaps, you are on the wrong side of the uprising.
This excerpt from MLK’s speech “The Other America” summarizes my own thoughts on this tension adequately and engages our moment perfectly:
“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve. That in a real sense it is impracticable for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So I will continue to condemn riots, and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way. And continue to affirm that there is another way.
But at the same time, it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
– Erik Thien, Lead Pastor
Questions to respond?
Are you praying AND working to alleviate the pressure placed on black people in racialized America?
Are you standing on the wrong side of the uprising?
If you “can’t condone” the tactics of the uprising, do you understand the pathway and urgency?
Are you hearing the voice? What is it that “America has failed to hear?”
Are you suppressing the voice or adding to the volume? How?
L.B.E. Cowman has been a friend of mine for about 7 years. Though I have never met her in person, the devotional she published in 1950, called Streams in the Desert, was delivered to me in a dusty box full of books. I don’t know who donated the box to our church but I am thankful for the Lords provision through it.
Cowman (who published the book as “Mrs Charles E Cowman” – her husbands name) served God overseas and served God as she cared for her ill husband. The difficulty of this wilderness moment – and the pain she felt – turned into a wealth of wisdom which she recorded and shared through these writings.
She is caring at times and curt at others…like a grandmother who has seen more years, seasons, and trials than you and simultaneously knows how to love you and challenge you push harder when you didn’t think you would have it in you!
Some of the illustrations are outdated and modern sensitivities uncultivated the substance of her content translates across anyone who has walked through the wilderness of despair, loss, disorientation, and long-suffering. It has been relevant to me in the last few years and continues to be relevant through this pandemic today. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tasted from the streams she has provided and was refreshed or re-energized to keep moving.
On numerous occasions Cowman indicated that she did not write the book stating “God gave it to me” and I believe her. If you are looking for a companion of wisdom who will point you toward the scriptures and God in a loving and firm way during the Covid-19 Pandemic, check it out…and may the streams refresh you as well!