Fine, I’ve been convinced: Facebook is evil.
For a long time, I held out: no, no, Facebook is just a tool. It’s just human nature on another platform. It all depends on how you use it. Conversation is still possible, we just have to nurture the right kind of space and tone, ask good questions and foster generative threads.
I was wrong. I am adept at asking good questions and fostering generative conversation. I do it personally and professionally. I love facilitating groups, and I literally took classes in how to listen well to people in order to become a minister. Facebook makes all of that impossible, thanks to the ways it decides via algorithm what you see, who you interact with, and how you enter into conversations. It’s built entirely around personal, individual branding and not, for instance, shared communal goals. Other people write way better about this than I do; go watch a film or read a book and be convinced yourself.
Because part of giving up on Facebook, for me, has to do with giving up on being the Moral Convincer of Others. When I told my 1,438 friends that I would be gone from that space, soon, the comments and messages mostly had to do with “needing you voice” and “appreciating your posts” and “somebody has to say these things we need to hear.”
But you know what? If you know you need to hear them, if you know they need to be said, then YOU should open your god-given mouth and use your god-given voice to SAY THE GOD-GIVEN THING. I am tired of being the one who says the thing everyone is thinking but too scared to say out loud. It stinks. It’s lonely. Sometimes, it’s dangerous.
What I am learning is that this exhaustion is not because I’m not meant/called/equipped/intended/created to be someone who says things out loud; in fact, I think one of my particular god-given gifts is putting words to things in ways that make sense to lots of other people. I’m not tired because I’m doing what I’m called to do; I’m tired because I keep trying to say these things into the wrong contexts and expecting the wrong people to care.
Four years ago, white America elected Donald Trump to be president, mostly because white America is terrified about no longer getting to be White. White Christians were *especially* enthusiastic about this move. A former colleague once summarized working for this church as “being responsible for 100,000 white peoples’ souls.” For four years, I have written, preached, published, questioned, contradicted and posted words meant to interrogate the sinful selfishness of the white Christians for whom I am supposedly responsible and to whom I am supposedly accountable. This year, four years later, MORE white Christians voted for Donald Trump, and did so even more enthusiastically. Christian worship gatherings are among the top places spreading COVID-19, 9 months into a global pandemic (#3 here in North Carolina, just after nursing homes and meat-packing plants). Christians are literally killing our neighbors.
Being a person who uses words on the internet is never easy, but getting yelled at or insulted or doxxed by strangers is no match for the deep heartache that comes from people you *know* arguing for cruelty again and again.
Yes, Old Family Friend, I am questioning your faithfulness when you insist that it is your right to gather in person for indoor worship no matter how many people it might sicken or kill. Yes, Family Member, I am judging you and your friends when you say that you are totally unashamed to vote for Trump a second time. Yes, Colleague, I am appalled that you made no move to stand up to your congregational leadership when they demanded that you return to risky worship practices. Yes, Former Parishioners, I am angry at the snark and hatefulness oozing from your social media feeds. Yes, Church Leadership, I am at a loss to understand your reluctance to condemn white supremacy or change any racist policy or practice.
Yes. I am judging you. Yes, I am questioning your faithfulness. Yes, I am wondering why in the world I am still spending my energy trying to belong to, be responsible for or accountable to YOU, when you are so clearly committed to the death-dealing ways of white supremacy, cruelty, and nationalism.
I wish that I were a better Christian, farther along in my walk with Jesus or more deeply committed to prayer so that my response to this heartbreak wasn’t judgement or blame. I wish that I had the wherewithal to simply say “you’re on a path that is diverging from mine.” I wish that’s where I was, able to spiritualize away this massive crack in the foundations of who I have understood myself to be. I wish I could say “yes, I can love my enemies, even when they are actively aligning themselves with policies, theologies, and actions that are violent, cruel and deadly.”
But I’m not, and I can’t. I’m still a Christian, I’m still a pastor, and I am still committed to the way of Jesus, so maybe that non-judgemental, non-anxious presence is still a future possibility. Who knows?
For now, I’m giving up on trying to belong, be responsible for or accountable to white Christianity. I can’t get rid of the identity – I’m steeped in it. But I can change the direction of my attention. I can listen less to angry white men and more to engaged Black and indigenous women. I can resolve to care less what church authorities think of how I act and what I say than I do what the most vulnerable people in my congregation need and expect of me. Instead of constantly posturing myself AGAINST the excesses and evils of the tradition that formed me, I can sidle up closer to the people who are speaking truth, doing good, loving one another and working for the better world that’s possible.
This is not easy. I am wrong about so much, so often. I hate being wrong. But you know what I hate more? Being complicit in order to pretend that I’m right. And Facebook is a huge part of the latter.