Facebook, with its nearly 500 million users, connects us to the world around us and we are able to share everything from vacation pictures to memorial pages for those who have died. The site has moved past its original intent of social networking between friends; businesses, churches, civil groups, clubs, and even TV shows all have a presence on Facebook. Breaking news is reported, shared, liked and commented on, all within the confines of one website. The goal has moved from friendly conversations to specific advertisements and mass information around like issues, causes, and beliefs.
But what has Facebook done for Christianity? Has it helped or hurt the Gospel message? Recently I began to see more and more pictures shared that read “Like if you Love Jesus” or “Keep scrolling if you love the Devil, like if you love God.” These pictures call for Christians around the world to share their faith boldly and proudly on their Facebook page so that all who may grace it will know that they are a follower of Christ.
To be honest, I can’t stand them. They clutter my news feed and are not the reason I get on Facebook.
I don’t like them for a number of reasons. Mainly, it makes Christianity something to do, not something that is done. Followers of Christ are called to continue the message of Christ in the world around them. Often in churches there is talk of “letting your light shine before others,” but there is also a warning about doing things just to get attention in the name of faith. Does it really mean I am “less of a Christian” if I decided not to click the ‘like’ button on a picture? Does this mean that I have sold my soul to the Internet Devil because I am too consumed with posting pictures of my children? Absolutely not.
It is one thing to have a faith and have that faith inform your life, but it is another to have a faith and guilt trip others into following your actions. Christ did not call for us to plaster our faith across the Internet. Christ calls us to be the presence of God at all times, in all places, and to all people. A person’s faith or commitment to Christ is not contingent on whether they share a Facebook photo with their friends.
Facebook and other social media outlets like it have made the Gospel a bumper sticker, for good or for ill. Since the interaction happens in cyberspace, the relational connection is lessened. Because of this the scriptures, quotations, theology, and sermons can all be taken out of context and promoted as truth with little or no dialogue, conversation, or explanation. Of course this can happen anywhere, but for some reason the Internet has brought this to the forefront. There are ministers out in cyberspace who are actively trying to use social media in a way that promotes community, increased dialogue, and faithful, thoughtful discussion. One does not have to hide their faith on social media; the two can comingle together — there just needs to be a balance.
Is social media the 21st century model of evangelism? If it is, I sure hope it’s not a full replacement. Social media has its place in the propagation of the Gospel, but evangelism at its core is grounded in relationships. Evangelism is a scary word for some people because they believe it means inviting people to church or knocking on people’s doors and passing out ‘salvation tracts.’ While some people believe this is the best way to promote the faith, I believe that being in a relationship with someone first helps to “open the door” to evangelism. One does not even have to speak the name of Jesus Christ to get the message of Christ across. This is what Facebook and these “like if you love Jesus” pictures fail at doing; there is no relationship, just a pretty picture with a cute font.
The Gospel demands more than that.
Rev. Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is married to his high school sweetheart and has two children ages 3 and 1. He currently serves in Beaumont, Texas. He also blogs for Houston Belief, Good Men Project, and Radical Parents. For more information about Evan visit www.evandolive.com or find him on Twitter or Facebook.
Image: 'Like' illustration, Gonzalo Aragon / Shutterstock.com