People worry about social media use for faith purposes. They worry about the privacy issues for themselves and for fellow church members. They worry about the privacy of young people who are online Facebooking their little hearts out anyway. They worry about having a church page that can be seen by advertisers (a lot it seems – I have now been banned from two Anglican Facebook pages and one group for advertising the dangerous, addictive, expensive, and morally bankrupt Virtual Pilgrimage – but that is an example and not the main point). They worry about expressing imperfect opinions that will be seen by imperfect people, and responded to in imperfect ways.
Concern about privacy is wise. Be informed. Take the best care you can of our young people online. Exchange ideas about how to do it. But… please don’t be paralysed by those concerns. We, the churched, the seekers, the strugglers, the doubters and the wrestlers-with-faith have stories to tell. Furthermore, we are greatly enriched by one another’s stories. If we fail to tell our own faith/struggle stories, or to respond to those of others, we sometimes lose far more than we protect.
The faith/struggle story that has caught my attention and inspired me this week is that of Dr Giles Fraser, who has resigned his position at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, over concerns related to social justice and the Occupy movement. Giles is being applauded, and rightly so, for his sacrifice of income and position to defend Biblical principles. You probably heard that on the news. However, my experience of these developments has been so much more than a news story – because of a less lauded sacrifice. Many concerned and involved people have sacrificed a lot of their own online privacy to tell the smaller backstories that intersect with and enrich the main news items.
A community of people holding diverse viewpoints within or about the church has formed online just as surely as one has formed on the ground outside St Paul’s. Putting privacy to one side, they have shared beliefs, hopes, fears, doubts and brilliant inspirations. They have exchanged thanks, encouragement, criticisms, questions, and yes … occasionally insults. Some have told us what they do in real life, have shared their locations, or have agreed to meet strangers. Some have even flash-mobbed for Evensong.
The church, and those who care enough about it to be its critics, have been imperfect, exuberant and engaged together in cyberspace, just a few clicks from your desktop. They could not have done this nearly as well without sacrificing a little privacy. Are you being called to take some small steps in this direction?
Some of the items that have interested me most on the St Paul’s story are at http://www.facebook.com/SocialMedia4Faith/posts/250508358332789. I have found many of these through following the #OccupyLSX hashtag on Twitter. If you have never tweeted, you can follow this hashtag at http://tweetchat.com/room/OccupyLSX with your privacy fully intact. You’ll find a very vibrant, multi-dimensional conversation going on. Also worth a look is #GilesFraser.
The image is by Flickr member alancleaver_2000, and has an attribution license.