I must confess that I find it somewhat humorous when people insist we live in a Christian culture or country. Based off of what we often see people post on social media, that is so incredibly far from the truth!
Folks often forget that whatever you post “out there” on the internet is available to a lot of people, despite so-called “privacy” settings. Pictures and postings don’t disappear for forever, even with intentional efforts to erase. When someone “likes” a profane, violent, or sexual post on Facebook, it “pops up” in the public news feed for the entire world to see. This can certainly makes social media quite awkward for a pastor to use. Speaking personally on this issue, I simply don’t spend much time on Facebook aside from the church’s page in order to avoid developing a judgmental attitude. I suppose ignorance is bliss, I’m unable to control others, and I ought to focus on serving someone instead of potentially worrying about behavior.
Perhaps I might be more pessimistic on the topic of social media, but I rarely see redeeming qualities of this part of our 21st century world. Sure, connection with friends is important, but platforms like Facebook are incredibly addictive and bring out the worst behaviors of people. I’ve seen people cuss one another out, promote pornography, make lewd sexually-charged jokes, and even threaten to assault others.
So what are Christians to do in an area of life that seems so utterly dark most of the time?
The Arkansas Conference recently updated their social media principles, which I believe can provide Christians much guidance in our “toxic” online world. Here were a few tips that stood out to me. Many are geared specifically towards church staff and pastors, but I think it applies to absolutely everyone.
- John Wesley, after studying our faith, crafted three “General Rules” for living. You might recall reading about these during Confirmation class long ago, or for a Sunday school lesson: 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good, and 3. Attend to the ordinances of God. Do we harm others with how we use sites like Facebook? Do we actively promote good? Are we a Christian when we “log on?”
- “If you’re not sure about a post, do not post it. Political commentary, personal opinions on social issues, mixing personal and professional information, negative or vulgar language all become part of your reputation. Be aware of the potential impact on you, fellow staff and the church. Ask yourself: Is this post/information timely? Newsworthy? Most importantly: Does it reflect God’s love?”
- “When in doubt, be positive. Whether someone has posted something mean, rude or distasteful, take the high road at all times. Consider reaching out to the individual privately to discuss the issue (in a tasteful manner) rather than replying in a public format.”
- “Be aware of your social media presence. The pages and posts that you ‘like’ and ‘follow’ are also a representation of the church, whether it’s on your individual personal social media account or the church’s professional social media accounts… Do not EVER assume confidentiality when using social media!”
Hopefully we all can be more Christlike in our posting, communication, and internet surfing!