“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” — Ephesians 4:29
Words can be toxic. The apostle Paul knew that. Little has changed since the first century, though back then the only social media Paul had to contend with was the chatter at the well or outside the synagogue.
I think Paul would have been a Twitter fan. He was too wordy for Instagram and too impatient for what he might deem frivolous stories popping up in his Facebook newsfeed. But Twitter would allow him the control to put out what he had to say exactly the way he wanted you to hear it.
Assuming you actually clicked on the link in his tweet.
A majority of us don’t, apparently. According to a recent study, less than half of us read the stories we so readily share on social media. We just pass them along. Sometimes, of course, they’re cute baby memes with clever captions or funny animal videos or inspirational quotes. More and more, though, the stories are pointed and partisan and ugly with headlines and photo-shopped images designed to appeal to the worst of what we already believe or suspect. We gobble up the share bait and perpetuate what often turn out to be half-truths, recycled rumors or outright lies intentionally designed to stir up anger and to deepen division.
A far cry from the call to unity and grace-filled speech in Paul’s tweet to the Christians in Ephesus.
As the events in Istanbul have unfolded in the last 24 hours, like so many, I’ve followed the news accounts with a heavy heart, made heavier by the dread of how the conversation will play out in the virtual public square in the days ahead. Will it call us to faith or to fear? Will it invite us to hope or to hate?
Never before in human history have words had such power. They can travel the globe in the blink of an eye. I remind my children that what they put online lives forever.
As Christians we will be held accountable for the words that we choose, what we say and how we say it. There is no anonymity in the Comment section of faith.
On an altar in St. Bride’s Church on Fleet Street in London are pictures of journalists who’ve lost their lives covering news stories in conflicts around the world. Amid the faces and the candles is a small, clear sign holder with the printed words of The Journalists’ Prayer. We would do much for the cause of Christ to make it A Social Media Prayer as well:
Almighty God, strengthen and direct, we pray, the will of all whose work it is to write what many read, and to speak where many listen. May we be bold to confront evil and injustice: understanding and compassionate of human weakness; rejecting alike the half-truth which deceives, and the slanted word which corrupts. May the power which is ours, for good or ill, always be used with honesty and courage, with respect and integrity, so that when all here has been written, said and done, we may, unashamed, meet Thee face to face. Amen.