In “Vulnerable World Hypothesis…How Might Christians Think Differently about the State of Things,” I discussed Nick Bostrom’s vulnerable world hypothesis in which he argues that there is a risk of creating a technology that is a “civilization killer,” or “a technology that invariably or by default destroys the civilization that invents it.” While Bostrom has in mind technologies that involve death or massive fiscal loss, I suggested that there might be other ways to destroy a civilization.
One such “technology,” it seems to me, is social media. It isn’t that I see it as a civilization killer on its own, but that it has the potential to become detrimental because of the way we use it. It has become commonplace over the past few years for individuals and groups to use social media storms to apply pressure on organizations in an effort to hold accountable those within the church who had previously been without accountability. The most dangerous part of this trend is that, in some cases, it works (or at least we think that it works). As such, we succumb to an “ends justifies the means” mentality and see social media storms as a viable, appropriate strategy.
I can appreciate results as much as the next guy, but I have reservations about Christian participation in social media storms. In part, I see such activities as less-than capable of conveying a theological narrative and, thus, find it difficult to locate these storms as theologically fitting. Another challenge, however, is that by accepting these tactics unreflectively, we now have no real grounds for defense when the social media storms are pointed at the teachings of Scripture. If we lean on the might of the storm to make right, we might want to consider what will happen when that might is pointed back at us. Erwin Lutzer discusses just such a situation that occurred at a church in Columbia, Missouri, after the pastor preached a sermon in which he noted that the Bible teaches that God only created two genders (you can read Lutzer’s blog here).
The challenge, it seems to me, is less about standing up for what is right and more about tacitly endorsing tactics that degrade our conversations with one another and create an “us versus them” mentality. In other words, when Christians decide to use social media firestorms to express collective outrage and hold organizations accountable, we may be endorsing a means of interaction that does not reflect God’s character.
As I’ve noted in other posts, I believe that accountability is crucial. Those who abuse their power cannot be allowed to continue in a position of power. Whatever outcomes a social media storm may produce, Christians do not have the luxury of using any means to come to a desirable end. We need to find more theologically fitting ways to ensure that we are cultivating the sort of intimacy and friendship that demands accountability.
It is not so much that I think if Christians stop participating in social media storms, the social media storms will stop. Rather, Christians are to be strange (in the right ways) in the world and, sadly, it would seem that some of the strangest things Christians might do today is to be generous with our words (Prov 16:24), to bless our enemies (Lk 6:28), and to calm our outrage allowing the peace that surpasses all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7).