Faith Online: Social media, our confession of faith and quotation marks

We are a plugged-in society, and that’s not changing. Increasingly, our interaction is happening primarily through social media. In so many ways this is fantastic — our networks are bigger, we can stay in touch with so many people. But as communication and relationships shift to the digital sphere, how do integrate our real lives and online selves? How does faith inform our presence and interaction online? We’ll be exploring these ideas and more over the next few weeks.

James Stuckey Weber is a web and mobile app developer at a data science software company. He also creates mobile apps for birders and homebrewers, and is currently working on the upcoming mobile version of Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book. He lives in Goshen, Indiana with his wife Emily. He is grateful for his church’s informal Facebook group, where he sometimes escapes to after church when the area around the coffee pots is too crowded.

I “hate” incorrectly used quotation marks.

Especially when it comes to social media — it’s one of my pet peeves. When someone asks me to “like” a post on Facebook, I refuse to, on principle. But remove the quotation marks and ask me to like it, and I will consider it.

Social media has toppled dictators (and keeps other dictators in power). It has allowed people working for justice to organize and connect in new ways (and created toxic environments where women, people of color and LGBTQ people are constantly under attack).

Social media is powerful. So why do we insist on dismissing our online activity by putting our actions there in ironic air quotes?

Maybe it’s easier for us to think of our social media use as something separate, as not really part of us. Yet, that is not what the Mennonite Confession of Faith calls us to, in the “Creation and Divine Providence” chapter:

We are called to entrust ourselves to God’s care, rather than finding our security in technology, in the elements of the natural world, or in the nations in which we live. We accept and use the resources of nature, society, and technology, so far as they sustain and enhance the quality of human life and the world around us in harmony with God’s purposes, and so far as they do not undermine trust in God’s providential care.

My social media use is as much a part of my life as the food I eat, the air I breathe or the kind of car I drive. My choice on how to interact online is as influential as my choice on how to interact with our political or economic system. My choice impacts the quality of human life — both my life and the life of the communities in which I live, worship, work and socialize.

But giving social media this level of respect, as something not separate, is challenging. It means that we must take what happens in our online community as seriously as we take what happens in our physical communities.

And as a community, it is clear we are not taking it seriously. As Alyssa Bennett Smith said in an earlier post in this series, “Based on my experience, despite being a peace church and a people of nonviolence, there is not a lot of nonviolent communication happening in our Mennonite digital spheres.”

I don’t think this is an anomaly of digital communication. I think it reflects the lack of nonviolent communication happening in our Mennonites spheres — digital or not.

If there are issues in our communal social media spaces, it is because it reflects our offline communities. If constructive conversation isn’t occurring in our shared digital spaces, is it because of some failing on the part of the internet or Facebook or blogs or Twitter? No. It’s because we also fail to have constructive conversations in our offline communities.

What would it look like to acknowledge that our church community interacts online, and not just on Sunday mornings? To acknowledge that we gather as a larger-than-one-church community on Facebook more often than we do at convention or at conference gatherings?

Think of the possibilities. Just not the “possibilities.”