On Twitter and the Christian Neighborhood Therein
We are not called to be important—we are called to be faithful.
Twitter has historically been my social media platform of choice. I check Facebook like once a day. I don’t really use Instagram ever anymore after briefly trying this winter and learning that my life simply isn’t interesting enough to maintain content there. I watch TikTok a lot but I don’t really count it as “social media” simply because I don’t post any content there and have a sort of “anonymous” account. It plays more of a bite-sized-Netflix role in my life than a social media one.
I have always preferred Twitter because of its chronological content delivery and the presence of some of my favorite authors, journalists, and online content creators (YouTubers, etc.). Ever since I created an account 13 years ago in my junior year of high school, I’ve seen it as a sort of magical window to the world. Twitter has the ability to flatten the world unlike any other social media platform has. You can connect with all kinds of people. Justin Bieber even retweeted me once. Really.
Chris Martin @ChrisMartin17Tomorrow, @justinbieber will release the album that send him back to the throne of the Pop Music Kingdom. For real: https://t.co/RXjoualQnA
(My phone died very quickly when this happened, btw.)
For the last three weeks or so, though, I’ve been mostly logged out of my personal Twitter account. I’ve been sharing links through Buffer, a third-party scheduling app, and checking into the account once a week or so to see if I have any direct messages that merit a reply, as I occasionally get contract work requests or other important messages via Twitter.
Why I Pulled Back on Twitter
At the risk of navel-gazing and assuming you care that I’ve been less active on Twitter or why, let me explain. I’ve been logged out of my Twitter account for two basic reasons I can identify.
1) I need to be reminded of my unimportance.1
“Better to remain silent then be thought a fool and remove all doubt” has been attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and others. Regardless of who said it, it’s always stuck on the back burner of my brain and often hops to the front burner when I find myself tweeting a lot.
I also think of Scriptures like:
“The words from the mouth of a wise person are gracious,
but the lips of a fool consume him.” - Ecc 10:12
"Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent—
discerning, when he seals his lips.” - Prov 17:28
“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” - James 1:19
No one really cares what I have to say on Twitter. No tweet I type while waiting in line at Starbucks on a Tuesday afternoon is going to be preeminently helpful or encouraging to anyone. I know this, but sometimes I forget it.
More often than not the sneaky, subconscious motivation to tweet is simply to be noticed and perhaps admired. Maybe not for you, but definitely for me.
The less I tweet and the fewer notifications I receive the more I am reminded of my unimportance. This is good. We have come to see personal importance as a keystone virtue, in part, because of the attention economy of the social internet. Obviously because we bear the image of God we have inherent value, but this is not the same as importance, I think, and we often confuse the two.
We bear the image of God, but this doesn’t mean we are (or have to be) important.
You and I, Christian, are not called to be important—we are called to be faithful. We are not called to be first—we are called to be last. We aren’t even called to be first humbly, we are called to be last.
How much of our Twitter activity is ultimately a foolish, disciplean demonstration of who is the greatest before God? Or worse, how much of it is simply to impress our followers or a favorite Christian celeb?
All of this is to say: I have pulled back on Twitter because posting too frequently to Twitter makes me feel important, and I need to be reminded that I am not important and no one is waiting for me to comment on anything.
Now, for the second reason I’ve pulled back from Twitter and the reason I have gathered you here today:
2) I grow increasingly discouraged by Christian Twitter.
Before I get started here, I need to say that I am, obviously, part of the problem given that I am a citizen of Christian Twitter (a subrealm of Twitter I will try to define next week). So please view any criticism that follows as an indictment of myself and not just “others.” Also, my discouragement is likely as much my problem as it is anyone else’s, to be clear. I have noticed some troubling trends, which I will outline in coming weeks, and while these trends discourage me, they may not discourage anyone else, and that’s fine. But I am concerned enough that I think they’re worth identifying in case others are being pricked by them too, and can’t quite put their finger on them.
So I actually haven’t been off Twitter completely the last few weeks, as it maybe sounded because of what I wrote above. I’ve been using an alt account under a fake name. I just never tweet anything on this account, and I follow no Christian personalities of any kind. The Twitter account is only used for following sports, video games, social media news, comedians, and other accounts of interest to me.
I have been genuinely shocked at how much better of an experience it has been being completely anonymous on Twitter, using it simply as a lurker and reader than a “voice” and a platform.
I had a friend recently text me about a controversy he saw playing out on Christian Twitter, saying, “Man what is going on with [name of a Christian influencer]?!”
Let me tell you that the joy I felt when I had no idea what my friend was talking about confirmed for me what I long suspected: my recent disenchantment with Twitter has very little to do with Twitter itself and very much to do with Christian Twitter.
For most of you reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Why is this guy writing about Christian Twitter controversies? Do people actually care about that stuff?” If this is you, enjoy your intellectual freedom and feel free to read no further, lest you become burdened as I am. :-)
But I know everyone who is subscribed to this newsletter, and I know some of you pay attention to the machinations of Christian Twitter every day and even could qualify as recurring characters in the ongoing drama over there.
I spent years running social media at Lifeway Christian Resources, the foremost publisher of Bible studies, VBS, and other church resources. A significant part of my job was getting up each morning, logging on to social media, and asking, “Who are Christians mad at today and is it us?”
Everyone knows that there is one main character on Twitter every day and the goal is to never be it. The same is true for neighborhoods of Twitter, including Christian Twitter. Let me tell you: it is no fun when you (or the brand you manage) are the main character of Christian Twitter.
What I have come to realize is that I have noticed a handful of concerning trends when it comes to Christian Twitter, and I’d like to write a brief series on three of them:
The Success of Performative Grievance
The Clang of Constant Conflict
The Prevalence of Para-social Relationships
Before we get into those three, though, a sort of “introductory” post will follow a week from today. And then a post on each of those issues will follow the subsequent three Mondays.
As for the question, “What even is Christian Twitter?” which is a great question, I will make a feeble attempt at answering that question next week.
My hope is that this analysis will be a helpful evaluation of ourselves and a heartfelt attempt to call into question how we, as Christians, use Twitter. My heart isn’t to whine or complain, really, but just to call attention to some discouraging trends I think I see and that I hope we can avoid.
Come on along for the ride. It’s going to be bumpy, I assure you.