The use of social media by churches and congregations can increase outreach and connection with a wide audience. However it can also lead to some spiritual missteps that damage religious communities and turn us away from our values.
It’s easy to set aside religious wisdom when using email, Facebook and Twitter. With one click and very little thought a person can avoid direct, clear and honest conversation and bring conflict to a whole church and beyond. From a systems perspective this is called triangling.
Here’s how to stay spiritually grounded on social media.
Both the Gospel of Matthew and a Chasidic tale have wisdom that applies to social media use.
Matthew (18: 15-17) addresses the importance of direct communication between two people, rather than one person talking about someone else to a third person. The verse says, if someone sins against you or offends you, talk to the person directly and privately first. If that doesn’t help, the next step is to bring one or two others along as witnesses as you talk to the person. If the person still refuses to listen, then it is time to bring the matter to the church as a whole.
A Chasidic tale from the Jewish tradition, focuses on how damaging gossip can be. It tells of a man who spreads malicious lies about someone in his village. Later he realizes the wrong he has done and goes to the rabbi to beg forgiveness and make amends. The rabbi says, “Go, take a feather pillow. Cut it open and scatter the feathers to the wind.” The man follows through and returns to the rabbi. This time the rabbi says, “Good. Now go and gather all of the feathers and put them back in the pillow.” Of course this cannot be done, so the rabbi says, “You can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can gather all the feathers you have scattered.”
Social media can spread positive messages and constructive commentary. It can also be used to spread hurtful and untrue gossip or to avoid dealing directly with a conflictual situation.
Sometimes religious people spread feathers through Facebook posts, group email blasts or Twitter responses. On social media what happens in a minute or less can cause a lot of damage.
Here’s how to avoid spiritual missteps on social media:
- Take time to reflect on your values before you write and send a post. A brief prayer for guidance can help.
- Ask yourself: Is this medium the best way to communicate this particular message? What other options do I have?
- Ask yourself: Whose need am I serving by writing or posting this? How can I live up to my religious values?
- Ask yourself: How might I allow myself to grow spiritually in this moment?
After reflecting on these questions and considering any necessary edits, then hit send or post. For more on social media and triangling see “Triangling With Social Media”.