Social Media in our day and time is ubiquitous. In December of last year, Facebook boasted an average of over 1.23 Billion daily users. That is about 4 times the entire population of the United States, every day! Other popular Social Media sites include Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
With such ubiquity comes the danger of abuse and sin. Christians need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of using these sites, lest we “fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7).
Denominational Churches, and institutional churches are running into a social media problem with all their employees. Multiple ministers, church staff, youth & nursery workers — from time to time they all post material that is inappropriate, sometimes even opening the churches to lawsuits and liability. As such, it is common for such churches to establish “social media guidelines” as part of “employee handbooks.” I recently came across a template for one such set of guidelines. While much of it is irrelevant to us, there are a number of thoughts from it I would like to share.
Be selective! There are a variety of digital platforms available. Use the right medium for the message. For example, don’t use a Facebook post to communicate sensitive or private information.
Part of this is irrelevant to our discussion, but the matter of privacy is important. Personal conversation has no place on Facebook or other widely broadcast media. Such conversation can make you vulnerable to scams and possible abuse. (For example, posting your email or phone number publicly). More concerning, it can rise to the level of pridefulness, or even talebearing. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Proverbs 26:20).
Be smart! A blog, community post, or social media post is often visible to the entire public and can/will be shared by others in various ways that cannot be controlled at any level. Be extremely wise with all content posted.
Unlike private correspondence, when a social media post is displayed, it is no longer under the control of either the person who wrote it, or the audience to which it was initially intended. Celebrities have learned this, having suffered the indignities of salacious photographs being made public. Employees have been labeled as racist and sexist, and have even been fired for a injudicious post. I have seen posts from Christians, time and again, that contained links to profane material, like bad language, sexual innuendo, inappropriate images, or simple lies. Typically, this is unintentional. They were posting for another reason, and was unaware of the offensive material. Regardless of their motivation, the post is harmful to their Christian influence. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15).
Use grace! Always use Biblical wisdom when utilizing social media. For example, if someone has offended you, consider speaking with them privately on the matter. Do not post offense responses publicly.
This piece of advice mirrors the text of Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” The advice to deal with offense privately is extremely important. It is also based on scriptural principles, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). For the life of me, I can’t understand why some Christians seem to want to air their “dirty laundry” in public. We live in the time of Jerry Springer, and other reality TV shows. Perhaps such public emoting is the new normal. But, shame and discretion are needed among God’s people. “‘Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down,’ says the Lord” (Jeremiah 6:15).
Ask us! In areas where this policy does not provide a direct answer for how members of our community should answer social media questions, please check with Example Church’s leadership team before speaking as a representative of the church.
Again, the language here indicates a sectarian mindset when it comes to the Lord’s church. But, there is wisdom in seeking counsel when unsure of a right course. One wag said, “I find it preferable to act, then ask forgiveness; than to ask permission.” This is foolhardy and wrong! “A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident” (Proverbs 14:16). Instead, when unsure of whether it is right and proper to share a thought, picture or link — either refrain, or ask advice before posting! If you exercise caution, you will never regret it. But, if you post rashly, you are sure to cause offense at some point. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15).
There are other dangers, (fake news, mixing politics and religion, conflating patriotism and righteousness, shading religious discussions with anger or derision, etc.). But, these are sufficient to show the need for discretion. Social media is, inherently, morally neutral. It can be harmless, and can even bring about good. After all, the gospel can be preached electronically! But, the danger of abuse is real. Christians, Beware!