Facebook Friends and Followers
Preston Clegg

The last two months have reintroduced me to the joys and problems of digital technology, social media, and online work.  I have looked into more cameras in the last two months than ever before, our Facebook accounts have been more active than ever in their history, and I have had more Zoom meetings than I care to admit.  At times, I have given profound thanks for these tools at our disposal.  Social media has allowed us to stay in contact in ways that would have been impossible otherwise.  We have worshipped digitally.  We have met remotely.  We have connected cyberly.  We have placed our online tools in service to the love of others.  In so doing, we have expanded 2BC’s reach, with more worshippers online than in our sanctuary on a normal Sunday.  Thanks be to God!  Churches that neglect their online presence in these days certainly do so at their own peril.  

However, as we’ve lived into this new reality, it’s prompted a great deal of thought about how social media shapes us for better or for worse, and I do have some significant concerns in this season of screens.  First of all, screens promote a disembodied existence.  They collapse the distance and time between us, but they do so at the expense of calling us out of life in our bodies.  Screens often create active participants on one side of the screen and passive observers on the other side.  I worry that digital worship creates people who watch worship happen rather than people who worship.  I worry about worshipping God through the same instrument we use to research recipes, read up on the Razorbacks, and store our old photos.  Hopefully, this doesn’t trivialize our worship, even on a subconscious level.  While social media makes us feel connected in ways our forebears could never imagine, we’re also the loneliest and most distracted culture on the planet.  Where you place your body still matters.  Real community in the flesh still matters, and I worry that this season of social media might deceive us into thinking otherwise.

Another concern about social media is that it becomes a world in and of itself for people. Folks assume that the only community they need is online community.  People believe their online image is more important than their real-life character.  People mistake Facebook friends for…well….friends.  People believe they are social justice warriors because they shared an article online (I’ve heard this referred to as “slacktivism”), though they’ve never done anything in the flesh to help the matter at hand.  One of the gravest dangers of online existence is that it provides a safe haven for opinions, but a paucity of examples.  Seriously, what does it cost a person to offer an opinion online?  But what does it cost us to consistently and perpetually enact our deepest virtues in how we live our lives?  Certainly, our online presence can spread, inform, and celebrate our highest callings, and should.  But if our online presence exhausts our highest callings, we’ve got greater problems still.  I worry that screens have come to mean so much to us in these days that we’ll not recognize our lives apart from one. 

A third concern about digital reality is the prevalence of falsehoods, and their near indistinguishability from the truth.  Historic expectations for what makes good journalism is lost on the web in which any opinion can find a platform…or make one.  Reputable news sources with standards of accountability are shared alongside propaganda sites with the intent to deceive, and many people are uninformed of how to differentiate between the two.  All too often, the truth is in service to the agenda of the site, and so, when people find a site that matches their agenda, they call it the truth.  When garnering your news from social media, ask yourself, “To whom is the author accountable and what is the purpose of this article?  Is it true?  Is it helpful?”  Surely, the command to avoid bearing false witness applies to our social media in the same way that it applies to our mouths.  No community of people- no church, no nation, no friends, and no family- can have strong relationships apart from trust and trust is built on the truth.  One of the challenges of social media is bearing witness to the truth on platforms that make it difficult to discern it.  Turns out, the only ones who will find the truth are those who care enough to seek it.

Ultimately, digital platforms and social media, like any tools, can be used for good and for ill.  The difference between the two lies in discerning their purpose and using them wisely.  Like anything else in life, we must be sure our digital habits are subject to love of both God and neighbor, build up the common good rather than tear it down, and fashion us into people who are more Christlike, not less.  If we can use these tools for redemptive purposes, then thanks be to God, especially in this season.  If we can’t, then the world will be the worse for it, and so will we.

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