Pastors: What Happened to David Platt Could Happen to You
Start taking social media seriously. Please.
David Platt is the lead pastor of McLean Bible Church in Virginia, not far away from Washington, D.C. You may have heard of him because of his book Radical. At the end of June, the leaders of McLean Bible Church presented three nominees to become elders. Christianity Today reports (bolding mine for emphasis):
After new elder nominees failed to be elected for the first time in the church’s history, Platt told the congregation in a sermon in early July that “a small group of people inside and outside this church coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church.”
Online posts on blogs, Facebook, and email charged Platt with pushing critical race theory, revising biblical teaching on sexuality, and aligning with the SBC despite McLean’s constitutional prohibition of affiliating with any denomination.
Opponents of McLean’s current leadership wrote in a blog posted by the right-wing Capstone Report that Platt—who became pastor of the DC church full time in 2018—was attempting to “purge conservative members.”
Platt also described one email circulating that claimed “MBC is no longer McLean Bible Church, that it’s now Melanin Bible Church.”
Notice the digital delivery methods of all the divisive disinformation.
I write a lot about how Christians engage with social media and the internet in general. As such, I have written a great deal both in this newsletter and in a book that will publish in February about Christians being duped by misinformation because of their relationship with the internet.
But I have never, in all my hours studying and writing about Christians, misinformation, and the internet, seen such a stark, horrifying example of pastors grappling with misinformation infiltrating the local church.
Pastors and church leaders have to shepherd people who believe misinformation all the time. This has been more clear in the last year than ever because of rampant misinformation swirling about COVID, the COVID vaccine, and the 2020 presidential election.
But this time, the misinformation the pastors faced was a lot more personal and it nearly seized control of an actual church.
Misinformation is a powerful force of formation in local churches, and pastors, I think you need to be aware that what happened to David Platt and the leaders of McLean Bible Church can happen to you.
The Internet Influences People More Than Pastors Do
This is the sad reality. The internet influences people more than pastors or church leaders do.
Current members of McLean Bible Church, past members of McLean Bible Church, and groups of politically-conservative people on the internet created a lie-laden frenzy that church members believed more willingly than they believed the words that came out of their own pastors’ mouths!
I mean, can you even wrap your head around this? This is a real, true statement:
An internet-based misinformation campaign nearly seized control of a megachurch.
Pastor: your carefully-crafted, thoughtful sermon series expounding on the beautiful truths of 1 John may bring people to tears and lead people to love Jesus. And praise God for that!
But pastor are you aware that the people who bow their heads in prayer after your sermon bow their heads in devotion to all manner of foolishness on their screens the other six days of the week?
I’m seriously fired up about this. It makes me mad. The internet isn’t a game. Social media isn’t some fad your youth minister should be concerned about because of “those teens and their phones.” None of this will be solved by exhortations to “tweet like Jesus” or some half-hearted message like that. The solution is not to “just be nice in how you talk to people online.” Sure, please do that. But God help us all if that’s the extent of our instruction on how to live with social media.
Social media and the internet are being used to perpetuate sin in ways that some sermon series on “technology and the gospel” isn’t just going to fix.
Achieving a healthy relationship with social media is a discipleship issue.
We all have wolves in our pockets. It’s time to stop joking about them or trying to tame them.
Start taking social media’s influence on your people seriously, pastors. Please.
And be ready for someone to organize a church takeover campaign through a Facebook Group. Because it happens.
Just last week I wrote about why we believe misinformation. You can read that here.
I literally just read about Platt a few minutes before you shared this newsletter. Thank you for writing this, and I hope more people will see it.
Another thought: churches and pastors can do better by being more active on social media and engaging conversations and sharing good info, otherwise, the mic is relinquished to the "bad actors"