With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Last month’s column on social media brought a number of interesting and thoughtful comments. For that column, go to www.lcms.org/?18126. Here are several of those comments that I think are particularly reflective and potentially helpful.
Reader: As a not-quite 40 [pastor], I use these [social media] … to communicate regularly and agree [that] the Eighth Commandment serves as the prime commandment to follow. Though I am confident you know these already, [they] are what I add for my own children and for my confirmands concerning speech and foolishness:
- Matt. 12:36: “But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
- Prov. 29:11: “A fool uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.”
- Prov. 17:28: “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise, and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
Accountability is an important issue with social media. The ethical boundaries of speech for social media become clearer as organized social media such as blogs include ethics statements that are enforced and as individuals become more reflective about their own motivations and actions. But the reader reminds us that there is an even greater accountability — to God. We are indeed responsible for the words we speak and write. What we write via social media will be considered when we stand before the judgment seat of God. This is a sobering thought.
Most responses to last month’s column addressed use of social media in the church, specifically the LCMS, and especially social media vehicles like blogs.
Reader: I fear we are, through our abuses of this media, creating a church body that none of us will want to be a part of in the future. This instant information with the assumed freedom to post whatever you want to post for all the world to see allows us to jump to conclusions without all the facts, quickly judge each other and engage in some of the most deplorable character assassination activities. … It’s one thing to refrain from posting gossip, half-truths and slanderous statements on the Web. But it’s quite another to hold each other to a higher standard of ethics. I really believe we need to do the latter. We need to make that kind of behavior unacceptable and let people know that it is unacceptable. Pastors and other church workers need to admonish their brothers and sisters in the ministry when they see them crossing the line. We can use [electronic] media to proclaim the Gospel, but we dare not let the message that the world sees be primarily that of personal attacks and unethical behavior.
This reader has thoughtfully added the question of public witness to the topic of ethics. I do wonder what people might find if they Google a parish, see who the pastor or other church workers are, Google their names, and see their online writing. I hope it would be something akin to how we love one another, including through our writings.
And, speaking of “Googling,” consider the next reader comment.
Reader: If I were [with] a calling congregation, I would Google every name on the call list. Those that feel free to trash their Christian brothers and sisters publically on websites and in social media would immediately be removed from consideration. If they are that free and open with their condemnation of the particular real or perceived sins of others, why would I want them handling the confidentialities involved with being my pastor?
Indeed. Prayerfully, I concur. And finally:
Reader: What if every time you posted something, you envisioned the note to regard everyone on earth as someone close to you. What I am trying to say is that in the blogging world, we are so far removed from the reality of a conversation that it is extremely easy to move in the opposite direction of befriending.
Hmmm, communicating on social media as if all to whom and about whom you were writing were close friends — like fellow members of the Body of Christ, perhaps?
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Jan. 27, 2011