I have loved social media and defended its value against its detractors. Every year at our Annual Meeting I’ve bristled when our entity leaders and other platform personalities take pot-shots at bloggers, tweeters, and others involved in online communication, especially since most of those making those criticisms have blogs and are active on Twitter. It need not be argued that social media has had negative effects, but there have been some positives as well.
- We shine lights into hidden places where the powers-that-be do not want light shined. Of course, we also spread fake news, conspiracies, slander, and mob attacks.
- We connect people and build fellowship. We also bring division and sow discord.
- We give voice to average pastors and laypeople in the SBC (which infuriates some of the elite, who want us to sit quietly and say amen as they tell us what to think.) We also give voice to trolls, twitter terrorists, and troublemakers.
Every blessing social media brings comes with a curse connected. It is foolish to say blogging or Facebook or Twitter is evil. They are tools. They are useful if used well and evil if used in wickedness. Is fire good or bad? When it heats your home and cooks your food, fire is good. Out of control, it burns down your house. Is paint good or bad? Applied carefully to the wall it freshens things up. Poured over someone’s head – not so much.
Social media has accomplished some great things. We saw its power in 2006 when the course of an SBC presidential election was shaped by bloggers. At the risk of being self-serving, I can say that in 2017, a group of bloggers and assorted nobodies infuriated the power-elite in the SBC by running for the presidency of the Pastors’ Conference, and winning. Without social media that would not have been possible. We have also seen unbelievable evil that has happened as a result of social media. It is a fire that cooks food and burns down the house, depending on whether it is used under the control of the Holy Spirit.
Blogging has opened some amazing doors for me. I started out as a commenter on other blogs, then decided to start my own blog, which dozens of people read periodically. I was invited to join sbcIMPACT and then came over to SBC Voices, which tripled or quadrupled in traffic over the last decade or so.
When I began blogging, I had a desire to be a unifier in the SBC, to bring disparate sides together and create a community here at SBC Voices. In the early days, we wrote articles just to get the discussion going. I believed (and still do) that the vast majority of our conflicts are not major and that they are not worth division. Our agreements are greater than our disagreements (with a few exceptions). I was hopeful and starry-eyed in my desire to build and create unity.
I have become much more cynical today. I have long since abandoned most comment stream discussions, because of the trolls and petty arguments. I spend time writing an article and people often jump in with criticisms that have almost nothing to do with what I wrote. I am admittedly more caustic and less patient than I was a decade ago. Call it Comment Trauma Stress Disorder (not to trivialize the real PTSD that soldiers suffer).
I had a conversation with a young man a couple of weeks ago, a whippersnapper whose job is computer-related. He is a committed believer who has abandoned social media completely. He read some research that dealt with the effects of social media on the human brain and he felt it was better to raise his family and serve his church and ignore Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the rest.
I am wondering if that is where God is leading me.
I have felt for a long time that writing and blogging were a calling. I have wanted to make a positive impact on the Southern Baptist Convention and I believed that God opened a door for that through blogging and social media. But I’ve begun to question whether that is where God is going to use me in the future.
- I am disgusted with a LOT of Baptists and other Christians whose attitudes and actions do not line up with God’s word. I see pastors writing things I know are not true and slandering their brothers and sisters in Christ without conscience. While I believe discernment is an important biblical concept, today’s discernment ministries are generally aberrant and often abominations. I am growing cynical, even angry, about what I see in Baptist social media.
- I am disgusted with my own inability to respond with grace to those whose actions are wrong. There are those who stand outside Titus 3:10 – they are divisive and sinful and should be excluded from our fellowship. The mute and block functions are a blessing. But the Scriptures admonish us to gently instruct those who err and I’ve lost the ability to do that. I used to do it better, but I admonish more with less gentleness now.
- I started blogging to build community and be a force for biblical unity and now it feels like every post and every tweet is a fight with someone. We’ve twisted the verse about contending for the faith to justify being contentious about everything.
That’s my struggle, and I don’t know where I am going to end up.
1. How can I blog in the Spirit, not the flesh?
Since 2005, it has been my observation that our blogging and other social media have given far more evidence of the works of the flesh than the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). If I cannot walk in the fullness of the Spirit in my social media, I will walk away. I cannot use “but they did it first” or “but they did it worse” to justify my fleshly behavior.
2. How can I blog to please God alone and not for likes, comments, traffic, and other responses.?
It is a heady thing when a tweet goes viral or a post gets massive traffic. It is a temptation to write for the approval of people rather than for the applause of Heaven.
The more successful you are in social media, the greater the pressure to play to the crowd, to seek the approval of the group, and to try to build your platform.
The fear of man is a snare, says Proverbs, and I need to avoid that snare.
3. How can I be encouraging and build unity without compromising?
There are stands worth taking and issues worth fighting over, but most of our fights don’t qualify in those categories. We kid ourselves that we are contending for the faith when we are really contending for our opinions and dividing over theological minutiae.
I still want to be an agent of unity, within the boundaries of the BF&M, and God’s word. I do not want to compromise genuine truth but I don’t want to sacrifice unity for personal opinions.
4. I must learn patience.
I admire friends of mine who are able to be kind and respectful to immature people. I tend to get angry and respond and throw gas on the fire. I return evil for evil, and that is not the way of Christ.
The longer I’m on social media the less patient I am.
5. How can I find that sweet spot of service to the SBC?
There are people who relentlessly criticize everything about the SBC and consider themselves wise for doing so. I do not agree and do not wish to ride that train.
There are others who recoil in horror at any criticism at all. Every time we have written to highlight something we believe is wrong about the SBC we have been rebuked. How could we criticize such a godly man? An entity leader who was warm and friendly to me froze me out for months after I made a mild and measured criticism of him here on this site.
If I’m going to continue writing, I have to find that sweet spot. I want to write to encourage our convention and help to make it better. If everything were perfect, there would be no need to write. It isn’t perfect. Criticizing without developing a critical and negative spirit is a challenge for me.
6. Is social media even worth it?
Are we just spinning our wheels? Are our battles causing more hurt than healing? I just don’t know. The young man I talked to made some good points. I’ve loved social media, but is it building God’s kingdom?
I need to consider that.
7. How can I guard my soul?
There are too many times where, in the pursuit of what I believe is right, I do what I know is wrong. It is so easy to justify it. They started it. They are worse than I am. But God doesn’t grade on a curve.
I need to find a way to guard my soul or walk away.
If it sounds like I’m pointing a finger, that is not my intent. Yes, I believe there are a lot of people out there who are spiritually immature, biblically incorrect, and who behave badly. My problem is how I respond to them. I’ve lost patience and become caustic toward others. I do not like what I am becoming.
Taking a Break
I am taking a break from blogging for the next couple of weeks. I will be ministering in southern Senegal – my ninth trip, I think. I hope to get some perspective on my involvement in social media while I’m there.
It is a perfect time to think through things and do some inventory of my heart.
See you in mid-November.