From the Pulpit: Jesus’ rules for social media

June 28, 2014 

First, I am a little envious of my Hebrew brothers and sisters and how tradition and additional commentary can speak with authority beyond the words on the sacred scroll. But I will come back to that and let them push me.

It happened because of the Don Imus show.

I don’t listen to talk radio in the evening. I don’t like to go to bed mad. A church member -- on Facebook -- urged me to listen to Imus in the Morning.

It was one of those days. Through a calendar error in the office, two different Bible sales reps came on the same day.

One brought a platter with everything that Chick-fil-A offers and the other brought great things from Fincher’s Barbecue and slaw from Fresh Air Barbeque.

Both reps wanted time with us. Church members rather patiently read magazines in the church lobby while one representative, and then the other, met with us.

What I heard later that day on the AM radio was people ranting. Words were failing them. They were apoplectic. Their wrath seemed to be directed at the White House, Susan Rice’s use of the word “honorable,” and at a man whose name they seemed loathe to say: Bowe Bergdahl.

They were roiled at his father with a pony tail. Certain words seemed to inflame them further: Hillary, Benghazi, deserter, Pelosi, Gitmo, socialism, Obamacare.

These callers to talk radio, who had been on hold for a while, had not used that time to find the words to express themselves. Their exasperation was clearly evident.

When I came home, I saw that Facebook was lit up with exasperated, frustrated and irate people as well. The overwhelming majority of these people seem rather emotionally even-keeled under other circumstances. But not that day.

People were steamed and they needed to vent -- and that they did.

Benjamin Franklin is the one who generally gets the credit for the phrase, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.” Yet, ever since Michael Jackson showed up at the Grammys, even though he has been dead for years, I have been wondering how old Ben might rephrase his maxim in light of new technology.

Even the phrase, “I saw it with my own eyes” now has to be viewed with suspicion. With Jib-Jab, I can post my face and the faces of four friends and the next thing we are all dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Technology is amazing! Do old maxims still stand in this new day?

So pictures, graphic and horrific, that were being placed along with these posts on Facebook could have been actual photos or could have been altered. Who knows? And what constitutes proof, data, evidence in this day and time?

I saw what one friend posted. Two days later, he posted that he regretted losing his cool and posting his feelings on social media. He wished he hadn’t said it. He said he would never do it again.

One must be careful with what one says or with what one agrees. Once it is out there, it is out there.

So I wondered, what would Jesus say in a modern day Beatitudes or contemporary Sermon on the Mount about social media? We clearly need some instruction. (In reality, those of us in the Reformed tradition don’t feel we can re-write Scripture, so the point is moot. A good Calvinist’s answer would be, “What Jesus said then stands now. Why dabble in idle speculation?”)

Yet, in an interfaith dialogue, perhaps I would find myself with a little latitude. Perhaps a rabbi would encourage me to take the words from the past to address a more current life.

So, what might Jesus have to say about social media? He might quote Proverbs 11:12: “He who belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but one of understanding remains silent.” Proverbs 11:18a: “Rash words are like sword thrusts.” Proverbs 11:23: “A prudent man conceals his knowledge, but fools proclaim (post) their folly.”

And perhaps Jesus would say, “Think once before you act; twice before you speak; three times before you post on Facebook.” Actually, Paul Carrick Brunson said that.

Jesus did say, “For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). Apparently, there is an hourly opportunity to say the wrong thing. It also means that daily we have the chance to say better things.

Jesus did not create an enormous list of rules. In fact, he had a way of simplifying all of the rules, even boiling them down to two: Love God deeply and love neighbor as you would love yourself.

Jesus did not seem concerned about something going viral. He didn’t seem concerned about how many “likes” occurred. Jesus wasn’t much of a hash-tagger. But in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and in his high priestly prayer (John 17) he did seem very concerned about community, justice and truth. There was a push for a cohesive unity within the community that was based on a spiritual depth.

So, perhaps, taking a page from the rabbis, I would theorize that in the tradition of Jesus, we might say this: If you must post, tweet or hashtag, do so with wisdom, integrity, humility, after some reflection and with depth of character and faith.

Let the sun go down on your anger. Put a bushel basket over the need to respond immediately. Invite people to join you for something that doesn’t involve farms or candy. Think before you hit enter.

Maybe these words help. If not, you can say so in social media -- hashtag sermon column fail.

Jarred Hammet is the pastor of Macon’s Northminster Presbyterian Church.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service