Conspiracy theories, on-line engagement and knowledge: the intersection of the three and the best way to reply biblically … | The alternate
One of the things I love about living in a big city like Chicago is that I don't have to wait long for the next one if I miss the train into the city. Unfortunately, this also applies to examples of bad behavior on social media. While social media offer amazing opportunities to connect and learn, it seems that every new day brings new stories of horror. Baptize the quote often attributed to Churchill: the biggest argument against the inherent goodness of humanity is scrolling through the average social media feed in five minutes.
This trend has only increased in recent months. Since Ed and I wrote an editorial for the Dallas Morning News about the importance of church leaders disciplining their people over social media habits, there has been a lot of controversy. Most of these were about conspiracy theories that were spread about the motivations and actions of the protests.
Given the continuing importance of conspiracy theories, I'd like to return to a few criticisms of the DNA article before I focus on some tentative suggestions on how Christians can start thinking about healthy online habits.
The problem of the media
Several responses to my article in the Dallas Morning News indicated that their suspicions of mainstream media are often based on clear prejudices in their reporting. That is fair criticism.
The reality is that the level of reporting on religion – and especially reporting on evangelicalism – is pretty poor. Large outlets misunderstand obvious facts about simple beliefs that reveal both a lack of knowledge of the material they report and a laziness not to seek the answer.
Google examples of where branches tried to define "Calvinism" and you can find answers that range from simple to malicious cartoons. It is not difficult to pick up the phone and ask a pastor or seminary professor for help, but this is somehow not considered important.
What is more worrying is that some outlets aim to use outliers as examples of evangelical behavior, while ignoring the vast majority. This became clear in March when sales outlets focused on churches and pastors who opposed home protection instructions and attempted to pawn miracle cures for the virus.
Literally thousands of pastors have been leaders in closing and serving their churches, often with considerable personal loss, but these have been hidden.
Go too far
It becomes problematic when mainstream media critics use these examples to persuade Christians to reject any journalism. This often benefits marginal news, sometimes religiously informed news agencies that provide a narrative that Christians are victims of a conspiracy and only they keep the truth.
Having recognized the failures in journalism, it is important that Christians resist the temptation to reject mainstream reporting altogether. This is a critical error that will lead us to isolation, invalidating any news article that we consider unfavorable.
In addition, there are good journalists in large branches, even religious journalists, who strive to understand and report about Evangelicalism fairly. This sometimes leads to our mistakes, but in other cases they want to detail the nuance and complexity within the movement. I may not always agree with them, but I respect their integrity and their desire to report honestly.
This all-or-nothing mentality also suggests a poor understanding of Christian engagement. Our goal should be to take a critical look at the new reporting of our time instead of creating bias when looking at the outlet logo. We need to read critically across a broad spectrum and accept hard truths that are well supported rather than supporting our political or cultural narrative. We have to resist our temptations to reproduce chambers. A temptation that is common to many other subcultures around the world.
One of the frustrating insights from social media articles is how they can often have great data or insights into why and how our online platforms are useful and / or destructive but can lead the reader to a dead end. After outlining the problem, they can often give people little insight into the reaction.
Even though they seem essential, social media platforms are new and healthy habits remain unclear. In this regard, I believe that the book James offers some preliminary insights into the thinking of our online presence.
Lesson One: Is Christ Master of Your Social Media?
At first glance, this is a simple question. Anyone who has gone through Sunday school will quickly say that Christ is Lord. Indeed, their social media profile says "Christian" and is likely to contain a verse or two. But Christ, the master of your social media, is less a question of what your profile says than a question of what you say and how you relate to others.
Just like wearing WWJD bracelets was not qualified in the 1990s, social media profiles can be misleading and even destructive if the heart behind them is not subject to Christ.
In the Dallas Morning News, I rewrote James 3: 11-12 by saying that the same social media account cannot give rise to any resurrected Christ professions and #pizzagate allegations. My point was to build on Christians so that Christians need to recognize that they cannot separate their Christian witness from their political office.
How we speak to each other, what types of stories we collect, and what language we choose depends on this question of domination.
Lesson Two: Ask for wisdom
I love that James begins encouraging Christians to ask for wisdom. The fact that James leaves it open ("If one of you has no wisdom, let him ask God …") should provoke in the believer's heart the obvious answer that we all lack wisdom.
Indeed, the author later returns to this subject in James: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him behave in the gentleness of wisdom through his good behavior. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don't boast and be wrong about the truth. "
In a climate where truth is often of secondary importance, we should ask God for wisdom if we not only navigate what we read but also what we should post. In addition, we need to recognize that our nonchalance with truth and brazen arrogance are symptoms of rebellion and not qualities to be admired. If you are unsure during this time, bring your need in prayer to God.
In it, James reminds us that God "gives everyone generously and without reproach". If you have trouble knowing who to listen to, start prayer.
Lesson three: press pause
One of James' central tenets that tend to distort social media is the importance of "listening quickly, speaking slowly, being angry slowly" (1:19). The pace of our news cycles and our exchanges make it almost impossible to hold back. We think it is necessary to let others see how angry we are at something someone has done or said.
Even when my column encouraged Christians to hear this encouragement and take a break, it's amazing how quickly we can race past James' warning and fire on social media.
Long ago, my father taught me one of the most valuable lessons when emails were relatively new: never send an upset email. Save it in your designs and pray on it for at least 24 hours. I currently have dozens of saved emails from the past decade that I wrote angrily but held back when I sent them.
In some cases, God resolved the situation without my anger; in others, despite lack of determination, he gave me peace. In any case, I realized that the email would only satisfy my anger and that it would remain in James in my drafts as evidence of wisdom.
It is important that we understand that this does not free us from James' anger warning just because we are behind a screen. Instead, let me encourage you to do something similar to my email: if you want to tweet or post something in anger, bitterness, or meanness, save your designs and give them for 24 hours.
Let God's Spirit speak to you about whether the situation really needs this message. At its core, this willingness to subject our anger to the voice of God is evidence that Christ, back to the first lesson, is the master of our social media.