With the news that Elon Musk is acquiring Twitter, once again the question of how social media functions (or ought to function) in our society is back on peoples’ minds. Ever since I saw the movie The Social Dilemma, I have been conscious of the challenges that social media brings to our common life. Chief among those challenges is the question of how we navigate our social and political differences and disagreements.
Christians are not immune to these social and political conflicts, and often we tend to stoke those divisions rather than seek to heal them. But faith in Christ is about reconciliation and building a beloved community, so I believe we need to balance our conscientious commitment to fighting for what we believe is right with an even greater commitment to seeking to be agents of God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing in the world today.
With this in mind, I’m sharing the following email, which I sent out last week to someone who I thought was a friend. He is a priest who recently has been posting a series of very angry, partisan posts. I have not received a response, and as this point I do not expect to. The email was written after this person blocked me on social media, when I responded to one of his posts by expressing my discomfort with it. I’m editing out all personal details from this email and posting it as here as an open letter. Whether or not it reaches the intended recipient, I hope it may do some good nonetheless. If nothing else, I invite you to join with me in praying for everyone who has gotten caught up in anger, resentment and bitterness as a result of the corrosive discourse on social media. Regardless of our political or social “position,” we all are in need of mercy and healing. May we all seek God’s love and grace for ourselves and for each other.
Father ______, I appeal to you as a priest of Christ — please hear me out.
The last few months I have increasingly been saddened — not angry, just sad — by the increasingly harsh and strident tone of your social media posts, particularly attacking people who hold particular views on political issues involving race and gender. Please try to see that I would be sending you this same email if your social media posts were attacking people who hold the opposite views. I am reacting not so much to the content of your views, but to how you express them.
As a Christian writer, I pray every day about how to negotiate these challenging times we find ourselves in. I’m old enough to remember the hostilities of the 1960s and early 1970s, so I know that deep divisions — even within the church — is nothing new. But social media has created a particularly toxic way for publicly attacking those with whom we disagree. I think it makes the spirit of evil happy when Christians attack one another this way. I believe with all my heart that Christians are called to model a new and different way of dealing with and resolving conflicts.
Search your heart, Father — you know there are conscientious Christians of good will who disagree with you. Perhaps they are in error (and perhaps you are). Either way, your job is not to smear them, but to reason with them.
As Christians, whether lay or ordained, we have to “be” Christ in the world. We have to be leaders — and we have to lead in the business of reconciliation, not just scoring points for “our side.”
I absolutely support your right and responsibility to speak on matters of conscience, even if I may disagree on the particulars. I’m not saying you should suddenly start espousing views opposite from your own. But as a Christian and especially as a priest, I hope you will adopt a more truly Christlike tone in your social media dealings.
I don’t think Christ would have blocked people on social media when they disagreed with him. Just saying.
Yours in Christ,