Facebook Christianity

For those of you who have asked, here is my column from Saturday’s paper.

Like many people, a good percentage of my social interaction now takes place on Facebook.

I use Facebook to connect with old friends, chat with people far and wide whom I don’t get to see that often, and keep track of what is happening in the lives of my family and close friends. Facebook is one of those rare revolutionary developments that has the potential to change everything about how we communicate with one another.  

536893_10100617209683847_409758441_nAlso like many others, I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I love how Facebook allows me to manage my communication with friends in one easy-to-use place. As a busy, bi-vocational pastor, Facebook allows me to quickly be informed about things that are happening in my congregation. Nonetheless, I hate how addictive and time-consuming it can get. I have wasted far more time dinking on Facebook than I am willing to admit.

While it makes some things easier, Facebook also has a way of complicating relationships. People don’t post in a vacuum. Insults, unkind words, and offensive content are just as hurtful on Facebook as they are face-to-face. And then there is the awkward feeling when you realize that you have been de-friended by someone. What happens on Facebook happens in real life.

But what I hate most about Facebook is what it has revealed about how Christians express their faith. My wife started calling it “Facebook Christianity,” and in my estimation, Facebook Christianity has become an ugly thing. I don’t necessarily blame the social network itself for this. There is nothing inherent in the technology or in Mark Zuckerberg’s design that has negatively impacted Christianity. Instead, how Christians use Facebook reveals something about how we think and feel.

Facebook has made exposed our conversations about faith to be very shallow. A lot of the statuses belonging to my Christian friends are either Bible verses without any context or clichés void of any real meaning. Or worse, every single day one of my Christian friends will post a picture that I’m expected to share. If I don’t, either I’ll miss out on some miraculous blessing from God or I’ll be demonstrating that I am actually ashamed of Jesus.

I wonder if some Christians use these kinds of Facebook statuses as a way of “witnessing.” Do they think that they are representing Jesus and the gospel well this way? Are they convinced that this is effective evangelism? Are they inviting meaningful conversation with spiritual seekers?

Far more likely, I think they are contributing to the cultural noise that makes it very easy for people to dismiss and marginalize Christians as out-of-touch and myopic. I don’t think Facebook Christianity is good for Christianity.

Even more troubling to me is how Facebook has helped to deepen the divide between people of differing beliefs. I have a wide variety of Christian friends on Facebook.  Because I grew up in fundamentalist churches, many of my friends are very conservative. They post about pro-life issues, gun rights, and how they think President Obama is leading America toward destruction. I also have a lot of progressive Christian friends on Facebook who post about marriage equality, hypocrisy in America’s megachurches, and how they think misguided Republicans are.

Regardless of which direction they are coming from, what my Christian friends have in common is their assumption that all Christians do – or at least should – see things from their perspective. Rather than fostering meaningful dialog about controversial issues, in most cases, I think that Facebook has caused us to become more vitriolic and less willing to listen. Facebook has reinforced the us-versus-them mentality that has done great damage to both the church and the cause of Christ.

Maybe instead of spending so much time and energy trying to come up with the clever status or meme that will win the latest argument, we ought to be spending our time and energy listening and seeking to understand one another, in other words, truly connecting. I think that when we as Christians use Facebook to point fingers or score cheap political points, we are wasting a golden opportunity to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit.

I don’t know if Facebook has staying power or if it will soon go the way of MySpace and Friendster. What I do know is that while it is here and so widely used, Facebook is a blessing and a curse for Christians. Our status updates do more than just tell our friends what we have going on in our lives. They reveal our hearts. And they speak volumes about our faith.

 

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  • Good thoughts. Another love/hate for me is broader connections with old friends but it sometimes replaces the depth that needs to be there for true Christian community.