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Can Twitter Save the World? On Christians Tweeting For Justice in Ferguson and other places in the world.

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Police-officers-point-their-weapons-at-demonstrators-protesting-against-the-shooting-death-of-Michael-Brown-in-Ferguson-Missouri-August-18-2014.-REUTERS_Joshua-Lott1
Police-officers-point-their-weapons-at-demonstrators-protesting-against-the-shooting-death-of-Michael-Brown-in-Ferguson-Missouri-August-18-2014.-REUTERS_Joshua-Lott1

I have a general rule in my life: stay away from conflicts that are more than a driving distance away. I believe that conflict is best engaged relationally, under the Lordship of Christ, whether everyone involved is a believer or not. When we sit together, when we submit and surrender ourselves to the other, then antagonism can be extracted (sometimes before our very eyes). God the Holy Spirit can be present, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ can be received and offered. The wrongs can be remembered well, the wrongs can be righted in some cases.  True on the ground reconciliation can take place. All under the Lordship of Christ in this time, between these people, and in this place.
For all these reasons, I find myself torn on getting involved in the national and international conflicts via twitter and other social media. Granted, we can help raise awareness to social justice issues, we can aid in giving them attention so that authorities will respond accordingly, we can exert pressure, we can create a solidarity. Nonetheless, despite all these positive outcomes, my preferred mode of engagement is still NOT to take sides on twitter, by tweeting about distant conflicts I have no relational connection to. Twitter can be a short cut through the actual processes of justice. It can make one feel like he or she has contributed by engaging in purely symbolic support, without knowing anyone actually involved, without knowing any of the actual details of the situation. Often it inflames, creates more antagonism, more hate, more war. It works in the opposite way that actual reconciliation does.

And yet I am drawn to jump on board. The argument is that social media can amplify the marginalized voices on the ground. And so there are times when I too join in. But I fear, many times, my motivations for tweeting are really to “brand” myself as one of those “white” persons sensitive to racial/justice concerns. I’m one of the good white people. And frankly, tweeting something towards the justice concerns of others always somehow makes me feel better. But many time this just adds to conflict, indeed create new antagonism.

One can build a huge twitter following by jumping onto into every conflict in the media world. Indeed the hits on my blog will jump by a factor of 5 just by mentioning Mark Driscoll in the title. But is this building anything but a twitter tornado that lasts for a few hours? If you go this route, then you have to continually find new conflicts to jump on board with in order to sustain twitter tornadoes and make one’s social media presence feel important? This works against the Kingdom IMO. There’s good twitter activity and there’s bad twitter activity. During social crisis I really think we need to discern the difference?

This is why I find this recent post an exercise in missing the point. Yes, we white evangelical Christians (such a stereotype) should be more concerned about the justice issues of the world versus the trifling of personality issues within our mega churches. But if the twitter activity surrounding Ferguson MO is the same antagonistic brand of twitter activity surrounding the issues of Mark Driscoll, Gungor’s views on evolution or Walsh’s view on Robin William’s suicide, etc. then are we really helping bring reconciliation to Ferguson? Breeding antagonism, inciting more infighting between groups of people that arouse anger and twitter activity, works the opposite direction of reconciliation, eh? To me, this is the kind of question we Christians should consider concerning the way we use twitter. We need a better way to use twitter.

In all of this, I believe we should put our twitter energies toward supporting on the ground work for justice. Avoid taking sides from a distance. Let us tweet to make visible actual efforts on the ground in Ferguson to bring reconciliation and renewal. Let us promote the kind of ideas that work for justice on the ground. Let us actually send money or encourage help to those working on the ground for justice that we know. (Life on the Vine  for instance called and prayed with one of our sister churches in St Louis near the Ferguson demonstrations to offer prayer and help. I thought this was solid good work). I prefer, when and if possible, to get in my car and join “with” people in peaceful “presence,” and the work of talking and being “with” each other because I believe the Kingdom breaks in when we actually engage in reconciliation practices (Matt 18:15-20) with real people in real situations whether Christians or not. In the end, tweeting itself contributes nothing towards saving the world, but it can promote antagonism from outside, or it can make visible and support on-the-ground reconciliation efforts. I say let us discern the difference.

Here’s some examples of the GOOD kind of tweets I’m talking about:

  • Eugene Cho @EugeneCho  ·  21h  Don’t be lazy and make assumptions about people. Ask about their story. Then listen. Be humble. Be teachable. Be human. Be a good neighbor.
  • Imagine every city having a team of white, black, Hispanic pastors making up “a reconciliation force.” John Perkins http://www.christianitytoday.com/amyjuliabecker/2014/august/john-perkins-sin-of-racism-made-ferguson-escalate-so-quickl.html …
  • Reconciliation happens “in history.” It’s not (mere) “mystical communion” w/ God, “a pietistic state bestowed on believers” James Cone
  • The race card of the early church. #Ferguson@FrankViolahttp://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/zimmermantrial/?utm_content=buffer64832&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer …
  • Church plants organize a clean-up in #Ferguson . #ItsJustLifeAsChurchhttp://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=43172 …

Do these pass the test? promote Kingdom? Reconciliation? Or just promote more antagonism?  I’m ready for some help on this issue. What do you think?

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