Friday, October 19, 2012

Faith, Politics, and Social Media

It's creeping ever closer to Election Day here. With the debates being televised lately and all the ensuing chatter in the Twitterverse and on Facebook (which is almost more entertaining for me than the debates themselves!) this is very much on my mind.

I wish we could have more civil conversations about politics. I'm a moderate. I don't respond well to people bellowing the party line--of either party--without also expressing a willingness to listen to viewpoints other than their own, and reason a bit about how faith impacts their view of politics.

I have a conviction that dealing with the intersection of faith and politics requires conversation. A willingness to share your thoughts, sure, but also a willingness to listen to what other people have to say. You would think that social media would be a great venue for this then wouldn't you? I think it's safe to say that social media is shifting the way political discourse happens. If you spend much time at all on social media sites you'll know what I mean. In fact, I'll probably share this post with friends and followers via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, hoping to encourage more discussion. That said, I'm not entirely sure social media is the best way to have this kind of "conversation." Which, I recognize, makes this post a little ironic...

The trouble is, it's hard to be reasonable in the realm of social media. Most of the time, it's soundbites--you only get 140 characters on Twitter, right?--or links or images. It's pretty easy to spread things quickly and with low demand on your thinking. Which, I think, means we tend to shoot things out there that simply affirm our thinking, rather than open us up to conversation. (And I recognize that I have been guilty of this in the past too, lest you think I feel I'm above the fray--I'm not.)

Most of the political stuff I see on social media sites isn't really about having a conversation. Most of it is more aimed at either:
a) affirming what you already believe, or
b) trying to pick a fight with someone who thinks differently.

I think this is pretty insidious behavior for Christians. Most of my friends on social media sites are fellow believers, and I'm increasingly disappointed by the behavior of some--not all--who seem to be seeking division, rather than unity. I worry that disagreement about politics might drive a wedge between believers. I worry that we're judgmental of each other and harsh with each other. Too much of what I'm seeing online is divisive rather than unifying.

But there are exceptions.

Last week, my friend Jane posted this image on Facebook. I shared it:

I shared it, because on the day I saw this, I felt it was necessary. Many of my social media friends were lamenting one politician's views or another's, or filibustering about healthcare or taxes or a dozen other issues of the day--and usually in ways that alienated others, rather than bringing people together. It must have struck a chord with other people too, because 47 more people downstream from me have shared this image since then.

On the same day I shared the above image, my friend Ron posted this thought:

There is a false notion that speaking up for the unborn is a Republican issue. Or speaking up for the poor is a Democrat issue. Or marriage is a Republican issue and caring for the sick is a Democrat issue. First and foremost, they are gospel issues. And no political party has a corner on the gospel.


This too rings true for me, and put into words the feeling in my heart. I think people are quick to paint their personal political beliefs with a patina of religiosity--and this isn't just a Republican issue, lest my Republican friends get huffy too quickly. I think Christians on both the right and the left need to examine their political beliefs in the light of the Gospel.

Republican ≠ Christian.
Democrat ≠ Christian.
Faithfully following Jesus = Christian.

This is why 
I was greatly encouraged when my friend Nick shared the following quote from John Wesley on Facebook yesterday:

This is the heart of the issue for me. 

In the past few weeks of politicking, with so many of my social-media-using friends posting images or links or rhetoric in favor of one candidate or against another, these three stood out as examples of:

1. Recognizing who is really in control,
2. Seeking middle ground and striving to be peacemakers, and 
3. Working out our faith with fear and trembling--even in the realm of politics. 

I'm a moderate, after all. I'm looking for common ground.


  1. Well written Dave! keep it up! grace

  2. The real issue is that we basically have a two party system. If there were more parties to choose from, most people would find their place, including moderates, tree huggers, tea partiers, animal lovers etc. The difference between the two existing parties is large in certain areas and overlaps in other. With the two party system comes polarization, nothing new, it has been the same with or without the social networks. Social networks allow people to get things off their chest a bit quicker, but then everything is quicker in society.
    Moderate what? As a moderate we/you still have to choose. And more importantly state which way and why. Hopefully in future years there will be more parties to choose from.

    1. Quite right about our two-party system! The lack of valid third parties--which is probably a place where my views would most neatly line up--is a short-coming of our current political system. That said, the trouble with having many parties is that you still need to have a majority, which means alliances between smaller parties, which may not work out so well.

      I totally agree with your point about social media simply speeding things up. I think it just makes the personal rhetoric more public, not more respectful. The more things change, the more they stay the same...