Are Social Media Changing Religion?Posted on June 20th, 2010.
“As Americans embrace the extroverted world of Facebook and blogs, churches are trying to keep up. Indeed, holy places are becoming centers for social life, for group therapy, for sharing. But in losing our privacy, are we losing our religion, too?”
This is the issue focused on in a recent edition of the USA Today. At the heart of the issue of using social media are dilemmas like relevance and communication combined with confidentiality and trust.
“Internet users are complaining that the privacy settings on Facebook are confusing, and lawmakers are questioning Google about its gathering of email and other personal data from Wi-Fi residential networks. The boundary between private and public information is becoming murkier every day, a blurring that is perhaps inevitable in the world of online surfing and social networking. But how about religious communities? The boundaries are shifting there as well because of a growing emphasis in congregations on honest and open sharing in all groups.”
I wonder – is this trend a threat to personal privacy? Churches have long been places where we can escape from the rattle of the world and have an encounter with God. That is what “sanctuary” ultimately means, right? Churches are not primarily to be centers for social life or group therapy. The purpose of the church is to worship Christ first and care for others second. If congregations become like Facebook, with little privacy or confidentiality, our culture is going to lose the sacred escapes we have known to experience God.
While I am not personally on Facebook or Twittter yet, I do value them as tools for communication. In the middle of my rebellion toward networking too much laundry in cyber space, I’ve been known to say that Facebook should mean we put our face in the Bible to check God’s “status” and messages for us. All in all, I do value social networks and we use them to communicate ministry highlights and announcements for the Spiritual Formation Department. I have even allowed my teenage children open Facebook accounts recently. However, much like the dynamics of groups, I don’t always have the immediate trust in every person who might be in a community. For all of the good they can provide, I have watched them do a great deal of damage – both in an assembly of people (small groups, classes and even prayer chains) who have misused information as well as smattering choice morsels of life all over social networks.
Balance is the key here, isn’t it? Open, honest relationships with people you trust are highly significant, but so are opportunities to worship in quiet, sacred spaces in order to listen for God’s voice. For sure, Facebook and Google are going to have to show good faith to their members, and prove they are trustworthy. So will congregations that want to thrive in an increasingly over-networked world.
Dr. Jim Dunn