Should Christians Wash Their Linen in Public?


While social media may give a democratic opportunity for all to contribute, it favors, without the potential of mediation, those who can write and argue in a particular way, Blythe observes.

The Apostles Creed jumps from the birth of Jesus to his suffering and death, and misses out on his life.

This raises interesting questions about the significance of the life of Jesus and its practical ethical significance in terms of offering the way of Jesus as a model for discipleship as an essential aspect of the faith.

But to be fair, the Creed is about beliefs not ethics, and maybe those who compiled this early creed were smart.

Perhaps they had an eye on the fact that it might be hard enough to get a group of Christians to believe some basic stuff about God and Jesus, but to agree on what that means for daily living had much less of a chance.

Social media demonstrates the huge disparity of Christian opinions on so many daily life - ethical - issues: nuclear weapons, immigration, Brexit, Trump or Clinton.

Sometimes in the same congregation or denomination, different opinions concerning these issues and the perceptions of those who think differently are expressed very strongly.

Perhaps for some this public space gives an opportunity to state things that they feel strongly about in a way that has not been possible before.

Perhaps for others this is, indeed, an opportunity often absent in other ways to engage in the public square of ideas.

Some may feel the need to correct or challenge those views that they think are inappropriate, wrong or plain stupid because this is actually a public space and someone has to make sure that the Christian view is presented correctly.

Others are not sure that this is a good thing, particularly when it is about Christian views and values, because it seems to be like washing your linen in public and not helpful to the witness of the church to show at times such strong diverging opinions on issues.

We may not like this public washing of the linen, but it is our linen and it is our public and it looks like we are not agreed on what the "clothes of righteousness" actually look like in practice on some matters that matter or even indeed on what matters matter.

This difference of opinion has clearly always existed but these issues are often not discussed in churches.

As a result, they have remained confined to the realm of the personal and private conversation rather than the public helping to maintain perhaps a veneer of unity on stuff that appears to matter.

This "going public" has not created these often strongly held differences but has allowed them to be aired.

In one way or another, social media demonstrates that Christian people viscerally hold different views on matters that matter.

Maybe the public demonstration of the fact that Christians strongly disagree on a large range of current sociopolitical ethical issues is a good thing. It shows the strength of the tradition in accommodating difference.

But if this is to be the case, we need to admit that the Christian thing only influences certain areas of life - for example, we agree on doctrine but not ethics, or at least not ethics on all things. Perhaps that is fine.

I contribute to what I am describing - I am aware that I am doing it right now.

This said, I am not convinced that the medium of writing is the best for conversation and discussion if the goal is persuasion because it fixes statements and opinions on the page making it more difficult for people to change their minds easily and as part of the conversation.

Social media is not a "safe place" for honest conversation. While it may give a democratic opportunity for all to contribute, it favors, without the potential of mediation, those who can write and argue in a particular way.

If we in the Christian church want, as is sometimes said, to "speak truth to power" on matters that matter, we should not discourage but encourage people to first speak to one another on the matters that matter because these feelings and opinions are there.

We need to find other places to do it, however, than only social media.

The congregational context already provides us an avenue to do so, but too often we save this venue for the doctrinal, spiritual and sometimes mundane conversations.

Stuart Blythe is rector of International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Politurgy, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @StuartMBlythe.

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Tags: Discipleship, Social Media, Speech, Stuart Blythe


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