By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBMB
“Facebook is straight from the pit of hell,” he said. “All it does is cause problems.”
He’s not the only person who feels that way, and it isn’t a new conversation. I remember years ago being told the same thing about television. My argument then is the same as it is with social media. The medium itself is neither good nor evil. It is the created content that determines if either has any redeeming value.
I’ve been swimming in the social media waters since 2004 when blogging landed on the national landscape through high-profile news stories like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s opposition to John Kerry’s presidential bid. The group’s blog drove the conversation and became national news. Social media was here to stay.
The difference between television and social media is obviously that almost none of us have the means to produce television programming whereas almost all of us have at least a Facebook account. In a pre-social media world, the only way to be heard on an issue was if the local paper happened to publish your letter to the editor. In a social media world, an endless number of people are exposed to what’s gotten stuck in your craw.
And therein lies the problem with social media.
Social media is an unfiltered medium, meaning there is no one to suggest that you might not want to post that message. It requires self-policing, and unfortunately most people haven’t cultivated that discipline. Social media is the downfall of many celebrities and athletes. Also, read recent news headlines. President Trump can’t seem to get out of his own way on Twitter.
But the president isn’t alone. It seems mixing hot topics and social media bring out the worst in regular folk like you and me. For instance, the vitriol over President Trump’s immigration decision ignited a frenzy that left Facebook a scorched earth of biting comments, insults, and downright meanness. The number of Christian friends I have who were posting merciless and graceless comments was embarrassing. I was going to title this column, “How to Kill Your Christian Witness in a Single Facebook Post,” and it would have been apropos.
However, let’s go in a more positive direction. Here are three suggestions for using Facebook (and any social media) that all Christians would do well to consider.
Don’t feed or poke the bears. It is doubtful that your Facebook arguments will actually ever persuade anyone to change his or her perspective on a topic. Think about it. Most people you’re friends with probably share your worldview. Usually the comments on one hot-topic post build on another until people are worked into a froth. The whole thing then blows up when someone of a different opinion “pokes the bear.” The “bears” are those people looking for a Facebook fight. Emotion hijacks the conversation and you are determined to get the last word. The bears feed off that. The result is a train wreck.
Think before you post. The best way to keep from “feeding bears” is to think before you post. Is what you’re about to say beneficial for the masses or are you just provoking the bears? That’s an important question to answer before you post because your Christian witness could very well be riding on the answer.
Redeem social media. Now, think about the flipside. Rather than feeding and poking bears, would you post something that challenges people to rise to a higher level? For instance, I finally decided to quit debating President Trump’s recent immigration action on Facebook and try something more productive. I recognize the tension between compassion and national security. However, only God knows where that balancing point is so why not ask Him. I launched, “Seven Days of Prayer for President Trump” (Facebook hashtag #PrayforTrump). Whether you agree with him or not is irrelevant because God tells us to “pray for kings and all in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I challenged people to quit griping on Facebook and join me in prayer, using mine or posting their own prayers. I selected a daily passage of Scripture that served as the foundation then wrote a prayer based on that passage. The response was amazing. People enthusiastically joined in. I felt in some small way I redeemed social media for a greater Kingdom impact.
And that’s the take away. Facebook really isn’t from the pit of hell, it just seems that way because of what people post. However, with a little thought, Facebook can be a great tool Christians and churches can use to advance the gospel and challenge people to a deeper level of discipleship. It all begins with your next post.