Matters Too Important for Social Media

Some matters are so weighty or so important that they are hindered by being batted around on social media. Consequential conflict or exposure of corruption that takes place on social media is immediately trivialized.

Take, for example, the most recent conflict within the Southern Baptist Convention around the leak of letters from Dr. Russell Moore, former president of ERLC, regarding malpractice and sinful leadership within the top tiers of the SBC Executive Committee.

I was speaking with a friend on the phone about this conflict Saturday afternoon and I said, “I’m conflicted about this whole thing. In one sense, I am grateful to have light shined on this darkness within our cooperation of churches. In another sense, I am grieved because it happening this way makes it seem trivial and just ‘social media fighting.’”

This is true, I think.

Neil Postman wasn’t a Christian, but he recognized the gravity and importance of the Christian faith. Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death about why he saw the popular televangelism phenomenon as a net loss for Christianity. Below I want to share with you a selection from his chapter on televangelism. But I am going to make a change. Everywhere he mentions television, I am going to replace it with social media (or a form of it). I will bold these parts. Postman (and I) write:

Though it may be un-American to say it, not everything is tweetable. Or to put it more precisely, what is communicated on social media is transformed from what it was to something else, which may or may not preserve its former essence. For the most part, Christians on social media have not seriously addressed this matter. They have assumed that what had formerly been done in a church or a tent, and face-to-face, can be done on social media without loss of meaning, without changing the quality of the religious experience….

Moreover, social media itself has a strong bias toward a psychology of secularism. Social media is so saturated with our memories of profane events, so deeply associated with the commercial and entertainment worlds that it is difficult for it to be recreated as a frame for sacred events. Among other things, the social media user is at all times aware that a swipe will produce a different and secular event on the screen—a sports highlight, a commercial, a meme….

I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether….

Without ensnaring myself in a theological argument for which I am unprepared, I think it both fair and obvious to say that on social media, God is a vague and subordinate character. Though His name is invoked repeatedly, the concreteness and persistence of the image of the preacher carries the message that it is he, not He, who must be worshiped….

It is well understood…that the danger is not that religion has become the content of social media, but that social media may become the content of religion.

Social media is a great trivialization machine, and when we attempt to resolve matters of great import through social media, we do ourselves and those victimized a great disservice.

May God have mercy on us. And may we resolve conflict in a way that not only is befit the gospel, but that actually works.