Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Do Christians Have A Moral Duty To Tweet?

Christianity Today Op-Ed:  Don’t Quit Twitter Yet. You Might Have a Moral Duty to Stay. by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3HAs leaders, how do we avoid the faults of online life without shirking our public responsibility?

Caitlin Flanagan argued in The Atlantic that we really need to quit Twitter. She joins a long line of people who’ve sworn off the medium (at least for a time). ...

In her essay, Flanagan examines how Twitter destroyed her “ability for private thought” and enjoyment of reading. She even admits to being a Twitter addict.

I am too. I have committed a thousand times to take a break from social media, just to find myself sneaking a look, consumed by shame, as if I huffed some glue real quick between work and picking up the kids. There are nights when I’m up too late, reddened eyes locked onto a screen, finally shaking myself out of my stupor with a cry: “Why am I doing this?”

We’ve all heard the studies. Social media decreases our ability to think critically, increases rates of depression, and fuels anxiety and distraction. Facebook and Twitter often make our conversations more combative. And online advocacy often usurps the more enduring (and more boring) work of governance and institutional change.

Nevertheless, most public discourse is now online. So even if social media is a cesspool, we still have to ask the question: Do some Christians have a moral responsibility to wade into the mire to voice opposition to bad legislation, promote good work, or amplify the concerns of the marginalized? ...

The pitfalls of social media are real, dangerous, and myriad. But the unavoidable fact is that people today find a public voice, in part, through social media. This goes for Christian writers, artists, and public leaders as well. These online spaces are where people—those whom Jesus loves—are talking about important things. This is where people share their work.

But this fact, though unavoidable, is also rather destructive. If all our up-and-coming leaders, artists, and thinkers are formed by social media, this very formation will inevitably shape and limit our cultural possibilities, imaginations, and thought.

Our implicit requirement of emerging leaders for copious social media engagement is like requiring all of America’s young cardiologists to take up smoking. The means necessary to have a public voice in our culture is precisely that which undoes the kind of deep thinking, nuance, creativity, humility, and compassion we desperately need from leaders of any sort. ...

I’ve had older church leaders praise the idea of opting out of social media altogether. They want to be “above the fray,” which is not a bad goal. But I wonder if Christians have some responsibility to enter the fray, even if it is fraught with all sorts of temptations, perils, and dangers.

How then do we—as individuals and as a church—resist the malformation of being always online without shirking our public responsibility? Is there any moral imperative to be part of the digital public square? ...

Flanagan may be right: I may really need to quit Twitter. I may be self-justifying a damaging addiction. I truly do wish that a Christian ethical engagement with media was as easy as just quitting all the bad things, but there’s a kind of fundamentalist reductionism in this desire. Instead, we are faced with a riskier path, a practice of ongoing discernment as we navigate these complicated questions about both the needs of our souls and our responsibility to others.

I still believe what I wrote previously, that “technological habituation begets our spiritual formation, which begets our devotion and doxology” [Log Off and Know that I Am God]. I do not think that social media shapes our souls, our thinking, or our conversations in excellent ways. But at the end of the day, the church is called both to proper devotion and to the sullied complexities of the public square.

Patheos, When Jesus Said “Follow Me” Did He Mean “On Twitter?” 

New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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