Once upon a time there were two topics that were supposed to be off limits: politics and religion. These were the topics that were considered inappropriate to discuss around company. But then internet happened and brought with it facebook and twitter and thousand different ways to express our every opinion, and we decided to throw all that decorum out the window.
So now I’m learning to navigate facebook at my own risk, because my facebook can be angry place to be. There are sweet church folk posting hateful statuses about the government, high school friends ranting about conspiracy theories, and old college friends angrily picking fights about religion. At times it seems that all the internet is good for is showing me racist, ignorant, angry, awful things from all directions. So when I see statistics about how divided our country is, I’m not really surprised. Because it appears to me that everyone’s angry, and no one seems to do know what to do about it.
My first thought is that maybe this social media experiment has failed. Maybe it was better when we didn’t know what everyone thought about everything. Before anyone would could find a blog post supporting their point view and offer it as “evidence.” Before 140 characters became an acceptable way to share your religious views with the world.
Because, Lord knows, it was a lot easier to love our neighbors before they became our facebook friends.
Frankly, it seemed like too much of a mess for this seminarian to want to deal with it. But then my (wise) husband made an observation as I was ranting about pastors who post hateful things on Twitter and how I’d rather people just stick to posting pictures of their cute babies.
“That’s what’s both good and bad about it, I guess. It’s life without the filter. It’s the whole human experience right there for us to see.”
The whole human experience. What it means to be human somehow displayed on our computer screens. A whole mess of a world.
A world that God still loves.
And somewhere along the line, I’m pretty sure I’ve learned that as Christians we are called to love it too. I’m not sure how as ministers we are supposed to speak love and truth on the internet. I’m not sure what it looks like to be a witness to Christ online, and unfortunately, Candler doesn’t offer a class on how to do pastoral care over Twitter.
I’m not sure how to love facebook friends as they offer hate. I’m not sure how to offer grace in the midst of frustration and anger. Or when to comment on a post and when to just leave it alone. Or what it looks to be an example of Christ in a hurting, messy, angry, lovely world.
But then again, I’m still figuring out how to do all that in real life too.
So maybe the only thing we can do is pray for grace as we figure out how to best love God with our digital selves.
And try to love our facebook friends as we love ourselves.
- Jennifer Wyant
Jennifer is a third year MDiv student from Atlanta, a graduate of The University of Evansville, and a Candler Student Ambassador.
 Other classes I wish Candler would offer include “How to Use Church Copiers” and “How to Eat all the Food Your Church Feeds You and Not Gain Weight”