Faith and Social Media

Blind Faith (No. 12, 2017)
Weekly Devotional for March 23, 2017
Faith and Social Media

FaceBook and my screen reading software do not get along very
well. I haven’t decided whether this is a curse or a blessing! Posting the
Blind Faith link each week so that readers can click and read is almost the
full extent of my activity. Sighted users can quickly scan a webpage of
posts, status updates, news feeds, notifications and such and can easily
access an item that seems interesting. As a blind user, I am presented with
a page cluttered with meaningless computer gobbledygook interspersed
throughout the content posted by FB friends. I have no way to survey the
screen as a whole, but must labor line-by-line down the page to check for
anything of interest. The process is tedious and time consuming. Some
features of the FaceBook page elude my screen reader’s focus so that I do
not have regular access to them at all. So, if I miss sending you birthday
greetings, or miss the announcement of a job promotion, or the birth of a
child or grandchild, or sad news of illness or death, I offer my apologies.
That’s the curse upon my use of FaceBook.

But I find an ironic blessing in my limited access to FaceBook
and other social media. I am spared the frothing vitriol, rampant
falsehoods, and inane comments comprising far too much of social media
traffic. The 2016 political campaign and aftermath were unfortunately only
glaring and virulent examples of content I have been blessed to have missed!
I rarely read angry, demeaning assaults rushed into print or impulsively
forwarded or reposted by vexed users. For obvious reasons I escape the
latest cat video, hijinks of pranksters, or astonishing toddler antics. If I
find out somehow that some helpful content has been posted I am able to
expend the effort to find it and read it, often with the help of a sighted
guide.

FaceBook is not the only social media platform that presents me
with this ongoing curse or blessing. I have a Twitter account, but I do not
tweet nor follow anyone nor access any content. LinkedIn remains simply
baffling to navigate. Other social media platforms pose similar limitations
or are too visual or graphics-oriented for me.

But back to the scurrilous or vapid content epidemic on social
media. How can a person of faith avoid the corrosive effects of many posts?
What principles can guide people of faith to participate on social media in
ways that are consistent with living in faith with God and others?
The importance of positive communication was addressed among the first
followers of Jesus. Both secularists and adherents of other religions
falsely accused them of everything from incest to cannibalism. They indulged
in heated conflicts over whose understanding of Jesus was superior to others
who claimed to follow his way. Some dabbled with libertine accommodations of
what they professed as faith and the carnal pleasures available in the world
around them. The words on their lips and scrolls and those on our screens
and tongues reflect upon the God whom we profess to serve. Spreading idle
rumors or words that do not correspond to God’s grace or help others are
detrimental to all who encounter them and to ourselves as we may publish
them.

Jesus’ half brother, James, was a leader held in high esteem
across the early reach of Jesus’ followers. He wrote succinct guidelines for
communications that are consistent with faithful living. He noted the ill
effects of practicing undisciplined communications:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.
20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21
Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of
wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you-the very word that
is able to save you. 22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers
who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like
those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk
away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who
study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t
listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They
will be blessed in whatever they do. 26 If those who claim devotion to God
don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is
worthless. (James 1:19a-26 CEB)

Words pass from our lips or onto social media too feverishly
without spending enough time processing through rational or spiritual
screening or through our hearts of faith. Anger often is the explosive
emotion propelling unguarded words to nearly instantaneous expression.
Social media simply make the time to disseminate the words minuscule and the
distribution potentially global. Giving scant attention to what the Bible
teaches us about committing our tongues to praising God and encouraging
others between tweets and posts and reposts is not enough. Conscientious
attention to God’s words and to the life of Jesus serves as a filter to keep
our communications in line with God’s love and grace. James teaches us that
to do less is to make a mockery of our profession to believe God and to seek
to live guided by that faith.

Are you cursed or blessed by your use of social media? Do you
curse or bless others by your use of social media? More importantly, what
does your use of social media demonstrate of the practical vitality of your
life of faith in God?

– J. Edward Culpepper

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