"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fingers burnt: the Christian and Social Media

What did we do before Social Media? Surely it wasn’t that long ago when we met face to face or rang each other up – or at a push e-mailed one another.

I think I was late in buying in to social media or in recognising its potential in terms of mission and evangelism: I remember asking myself why I would need this while at the same time, given my record as a Luddite, recognising in some vague way that it would catch on.

I resisted Facebook for a long time but did embrace blogging: I felt I had a voice and, as a Christian, I had something to say and share. In some self-indulgent, misty way, I think I saw myself in the tradition of Nick Baines, the Blogging Bishop and Giles Fraser who tweets, uses Facebook and regularly writes for the Guardian. My style, as I saw it, was light, observational humour.

I soon found a network of people willing to discuss – and not all with the same Christian worldview - and I felt that my knowledge of the world-wide Anglican Communion and other denominations was greatly enhanced by regular contact with them.

Well, times have changed: Facebook, Facetime, Twitter, My-space, Pinterest, Instagram and a whole host of other sites I am not cool enough to know about have brought us closer together …. while having the potential to drive us further apart. While on the one hand I have a friend who tweets and Facebooks on the work of his church as a means of evangelism, on the other hand the world of Christian Social Media is not for the faint hearted and can be an incredibly combative environment where no prisoners are taken. On more than one occasion I have been told that my carefully thought through position on, say, the theology of stewardship and its link to climate change was an obvious outcome of my “sin darkened mind”. (This from a Texan). When we view social media from a position of our own discontent, whatever we find will be coloured with bitterness. There is a real danger at this point in finding one’s self locked into a dialogue of the deaf where no one listens because everyone is keen to score points and assert the supremacy of their own argument. “See how these Christians love one another” to summarise 1 Peter. It can all become very unedifying. There was a wonderful cartoon doing the rounds on Facebook a while back showing a man hunched over his laptop. “I’ll be up in a moment darling. I’m just telling someone they’re wrong on the INTERNET.”

In the media, hardly a week goes by without some public figure or other being exposed for intemperate language in a tweet, followed either by an apology and a resignation or by an attempt to brazen it out … and a resignation. Do you remember the priest who tweeted how boring the synod meeting he was attending was? Social Media seems to have become a largely rule-free zone where people can interact while accepting minimal personal responsibility for what they write. In the absence of guidelines for healthy and polite social media etiquette, are we left to decide our own boundaries for dealing with the many cyber opportunities out there?

What is the Christian to do? (And I have to declare an interest here because things that I have written have not always been taken in the spirit in which they were meant. I believe I’ve learnt from that but I also hope that others have too.)

Well, the churches have woken up to both the opportunities of Social Media - and its disadvantages - and diocesan policies now abound.

Like it or not, social media isn’t going away: all our young people take it for granted. When the Apostle Paul described what it meant to love others, he specifically mentioned that love does not boast. That post, that tweet, that picture isn’t just a picture, it isn’t just a tweet, it’s an opportunity to love others in a way that reflects Jesus – or it’s an opportunity to show them something quite different, something that looks nothing like Christ.

·       So what are the pros and cons of Social Media for the Christian?

·       How could Social Media best be used by the church?

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