Part I–Introduction and “Social Media”
Over the past several months of our experience with COVID-19, I have been wrestling with, and praying through, the multiplicity of implications of this time as regards the Church, the Government, and the Virus. While I am not certain these thoughts have fully completed their fermentation, I am making an initial attempt at summarizing them. I have continually returned to Scripture and the Tradition as I seek to make sense of what I am seeing, hearing, and experiencing. I suppose no one will be genuinely happy with these, as I, myself, am not. Yet, we are called to be faithful, not “happy”.
“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” James 3.5-10
Maybe the same should be said for the modern equivalent, the keyboard!
I am more and more convinced that Social Media should be reserved for celebrations of important moments and pictures of puppies and kittens. Seriously, my experience of Social Media over the past two months is that to call it “the ‘adult’ equivalent of a bad school-yard” is to be gracious. While it does contain media, it is anything but social. I have watched as people who once cared for each other have been pushed apart by their disagreements over, well, anything related to the Virus, the Response, or the Politics.
There is no conversation, as there cannot be, in that environment. It is a repository for “hot takes”, arguments, and a new form of “social distancing” which causes people to distance themselves from any opinion with which they disagree, and to decamp to their small tribes of agreement as each raises the flag of its virtue in the face of the other to the cheers of their tribal members. I have seen it devolve into name-calling, and frankly unchristian behavior, on all sides of “the issues”. Of course, these posts are all done uncritically (without self-criticism) as so often what side one accuses side two of, is in fact, what side one is doing, and vice-versa.
If you must post anything beyond celebrations and puppies and kittens, please do so after careful self-analysis that you: a) are not thanking God you are not like others, especially those sinners, b) are not simply signaling your virtue, c) can handle disagreement, argument, and yes, even abuse without losing your temper and needing to “unfriend” those with whom you disagree. Consider whether what is being posted is filled with the light of Christ, or the division of the “powers and principalities”. If you feel the need for snark, or anger, sleep on it for 24 hours. Trust me, you will be healthier and have a better witness.
Does this mean that Social Media is totally useless? No, I do believe the Church can shine a light into the darkness that is there, but it must do so in a measured and reasonable way, and with the Gospel, not our politics. And yes, we should expect a reaction to the Gospel. The presence of so many “live” services is a good and holy thing, and we should explore how to be involved in Social Media while being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”. Might I suggest, we all focus on what builds up the Body of Christ and does not tear down others?