We spent the final week of our recent vacation with over one thousand other people at Camp Harmattan, a Church of the Nazarene camp in the valley of the Little Red Deer River. While there, I attended an afternoon session that continues to resonate with me. The topic was the Christian and social media.
We talked about whether or not we, as Christians, should be using social media and whether this is a topic that the church needs to address. I think the answer to both questions is a resounding YES!
We cannot/should not/dare not hide our heads in the sand and avoid the world around us. The Old Testament tells the story of Queen Esther who, when her people faced extermination by the Babylonians, was told by her cousin, who urged her to speak to her husband on their behalf, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14 – italics mine) We, too, have been born for such a time as this. Our place in history is not random or some accident of fate. I firmly believe that God intended each one of us to be here on earth at this exact time. In other words, we were meant to be living in the age of social media and if that’s the case, we ought to use it, but we ought to use it well.
The Bible, particularly the book of Proverbs, has much to say about how we communicate. “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) The same might be said of the keyboard.
Though the origin of the magician’s incantation, abracadabra, is uncertain, it is thought to derive from early Aramaic or Hebrew. The Hebrew word bara means “create”, while dabar means “word” or “speak”. Together they become abracadabara, literally meaning “I create as I speak” or “I speak therefore I create”.
When we use social media, what do our words create? How do they shape the people we interact with? Whether written or spoken, our words have the power to tear down or to build up, to encourage or to destroy.
It isn’t a matter of whether we, as Christians, should use social media, but rather a matter of how. Colossians 5:6 reminds us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace”. Before we post or respond, we need to consider the possible effect of what we write. What will our words create? Will they result in conflict, pain or discouragement? Or will they be a blessing? We also need to keep in mind that the written word, which lacks the non-verbal cues of face to face conversation, such as tone of voice and facial expression, can be more easily misunderstood. What we intend to communicate and what the reader understands may be two very different things.
We should also be very careful about what we repost. Before we do, we need to ask ourselves some very important questions. How reliable is the source? What are its biases and underlying convictions? What is the motivation or purpose behind the post and why do we want to share it? Very often, we should also take the time to do some fact checking to ensure that it’s actually true.
Our session on social media also touched on its addictive nature and some of the negative effects that it can have on our lives. While there’s no official medical recognition of social networking addiction as a disease or disorder, it has become the subject of much discussion and research and some studies seem to indicate that it is as addictive as nicotine. Some suggest that spending excess time on social media networks can even trigger anxiety, depression and ironically, isolation from others. Perhaps social media addiction might simply be defined as spending so much time using Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social networking that it interferes with other aspects of daily life such as careers and relationships.
Extensive use of social media also has the tendency to place a person at the centre of their own universe. As Christians, we definitely want to guard against becoming so caught up in the “selfie” world that we find ourselves constantly wondering or checking to see how we are being admired and followed by those in our social media circles. Instead, we want to use social media to strengthen relationships and connections and to have a positive impact on our world.
Just remember, abracadabra! Our words are powerful!