Engaging mission in a media landscape
Rev. Dr. Angela Gorrell
September 4, 2018
In the wake of social media conversations about families seeking asylum at the U.S. border, it is becoming increasingly clear that Christian communities ought to think of themselves as “hybrid Christian communities.”
Hybrid Christian communities nurture practices of mission in both physical and digital spaces through various forms of technology. Modern humans live hybrid lives because our online and in-person experiences are integrated. Interactions online shape in-person experiences, while in-person communication and practices shape people’s online interactions.
Becoming a hybrid Christian community requires social media use shaped by Christian visions of flourishing life. To articulate such a vision, the Christian community must discern how a person formed in the image of God, which is Jesus Christ, would act and feel when using media, and what kinds of social media conditions Jesus would seek to create.
In light of Luke’s description of Jesus’ life and ministry, I can imagine that “Online Jesus” would seek to cultivate peaceful conditions in our technological landscape, especially conditions that support people who are poor and oppressed.
In light of Luke’s description of Jesus’ life and ministry, I can imagine that “Online Jesus” would seek to cultivate peaceful conditions in our technological landscape, especially conditions that support people who are poor and oppressed. A Christian vision of flourishing also has right actions, or what Christians refer to as righteousness. Jesus’ ministry personified righteousness: prayer and fasting, providing relief, being compassionate and breaking cycles of violence. In view of Jesus’ ministry, hybrid healing communities pursue peace and righteousness, often experiencing joy as a result.
Hybrid Christian communities can live toward Christian visions of flourishing and participate in Jesus’ ongoing ministry by framing the love of God and neighbor (the latter of which includes, of course, one’s enemies) in terms of “hybrid missional practices” that are integrated across physical and digital environments and practiced during both in person and mediated communication.
Advocacy is an important hybrid missional practice that is appropriate for the times. Social media can be used by members of hybrid Christian communities to practice advocacy and participate in transforming political structures so that they more closely align with Jesus’ life and ministry. Advocacy entails engaging in justice work and entering into solidarity with people who are poor, disadvantaged, incarcerated and oppressed. Practicing hybrid advocacy could include inviting community members to use social media to research contemporary human rights issues, such as seeking asylum. After researching online, members could share what they have learned via a physical or digital gathering.
Members can also be encouraged to think about what they will do when they encounter an instance or story of suffering online and to have a plan they will carry out. For example, users can decide to meaningfully respond by replying, sharing, praying and/or donating money. Advocacy might also take the form of honoring important holidays—such as International Women’s Day—in person or online. Your community can create a space on the institution’s website or have an institutional Instagram account dedicated to creating conversation in light of significant holidays or special times of year.
Christian communities who have access to new media can also use it to organize and recruit others toward a common action. Important and incredible things can happen when community members practice advocacy by sharing trending stories or using trending hashtags, as the example of #metoo demonstrates.
Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement in 2006, according to the website, “to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.” In 2017, the hashtag #metoo went viral, and crucial conversations about sexual violence gained national attention.
Hybrid Christian communities can focus on supporting other groups that are engaged in advocacy and justice work, rather than creating their own missional activities. Your Christian community can choose to be part of Facebook groups run by activists in your locale to remain abreast of events, vigils, protests and meetings. Community members could also be encouraged to find the Facebook pages of social service groups in their neighborhoods, “like” their pages, and keep up with what those groups are doing with an eye toward providing assistance.
Social media posts, blogs and Christian communities’ websites can help share the stories of people who need support to raise awareness of and rally provision for them. Similarly, social media can also be used to tell the stories of people who do vital advocacy work to support individuals and groups that are suffering.
For example, your Christian community could point toward Together Rising, which organizes Love Flash Mobs in which participants donate up to $25 to meet a specific need within a specific time frame. Together Rising has been raising money for representation for families seeking asylum, informing the public of other ways it can help, and updating readers about outcomes. Telling stories about important groups like Together Rising in your Christian community can encourage excitement about partnering with organizations doing vital advocacy work.
The challenges of social media—its malformed desires and wounding actions that result in destructive feelings—are troubling. Many days I find being online overwhelming, frustrating and exhausting. I am tired of feeling tied to my smart phone and looking at it constantly. It is equally maddening that, everywhere I go, other people are looking down at devices. I am invested in creating awareness about the ways in which the design and use of new media contribute to profound brokenness.
However, thankfully, because of God’s grace, I am reminded of the positive possibilities. Therefore, I am equally invested in advocating for hybrid Christian communities that discern, articulate and live Christian visions of flourishing life in our media landscape. Christian visions of the good life encourage media to be used for nurturing a hybrid, healing Christian community and living the true life of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, both in person and online.
The Rev. Dr. Angela Gorrell is an associate research scholar at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture working on a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and a lecturer in Divinity and Humanities at Yale University. The information in this article is based on her research for the Theology of Joy & the Good Life project and her upcoming book with Baker Academic, “Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape.”
Gorrell will present the workshop “Practicing Faith in a Social Media Culture” at ABHMS’ “Space for Grace: Thy Will Be Done,” November 14-16, 2018, in Philadelphia. REGISTER TODAY for this national conference that seeks to explore critical issues of mission engagement, discipleship and church transformation facing Christians today.
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