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

Police-officers-point-their-weapons-at-demonstrators-protesting-against-the-shooting-death-of-Michael-Brown-in-Ferguson-Missouri-August-18-2014.-REUTERS_Joshua-Lott1I 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 
  • 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 @FrankViola 
  • Church plants organize a clean-up in #Ferguson . #ItsJustLifeAsChurch …

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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Posted in Cultivating Mission, Incarnational, Neo-Anabaptist, Racial Reconciliation
4 comments on “Can Twitter Save the World? On Christians Tweeting For Justice in Ferguson and other places in the world.
  1. Dan Jr. says:

    I too struggled with this during the week. I watched many of my white friends rage on Twitter but meanwhile not embodying the practice of listening to oppressed folks, partnering with them in their place and seeking solidarity in their own neighborhoods. I call this “couch rage”. Disembodied mediums like twitter and blogs can “act upon us”. They do reshape our neurons to think we are practicing because we are pontificating.

    My mind has been shaped by the works of Cone, Alice Walker and MLK. Yet all of their work was fashioned in the furnace of their own bodies, in real-time places, glaring into real faces that hated them — incarnation. I’m always concerned when we extract their message from how the message was fiercely formed. We need less hashtag justice and more en-fleshed justice.

  2. David Fitch says:

    Thanks for this contribution. You’re a poet.

    To me … it is the fact that racism continues today in more insidious sublimated beneath-the-surface (easily deniable by white majority)forms 60 years after the Civil Rights Movement that reveals the need to understand just how ideology works. Yet, those who dare to probe, risk getting it handed to them, because anger and antagonism makes us feel immediately like we are contributing. Yet we may just be pushing the very racism we detest deeper into the antagonism engine which makes it possible for it to continue its run. But we don’t want to give up our anger and the assuaging of our need to feel effective immediately. This is the dilemma of violence. It never gets us anywhere in the long term. It’s the devils way to keep the sin ongoing.

  3. Kurt Rietema says:

    Thanks for the post, David. I think you make an interesting argument and I love the relationality that inspires it. I love Life on the Vine’s response of calling a sister church. So here’s my question: what happens in a world where blacks and whites never sit with one another to listen and surrender to one another—because we don’t live with one another, go to church with one another, or spend any social or leisure time with one another?

    Because we don’t sit with one another, blacks are reaching out on the internet and Twitter, the one space that our lives do sometimes intersect and people of color are wondering if we’ll respond in solidarity or if we’ll be silent or if we’ll “wait for all of the facts”—which to people of color means that we’re more inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt and put our faith in police and other institutions largely governed by whites rather than the eyewitness accounts of a couple of blacks who might have questionable character.

    I was talking about this with some friends the other night, one who is a counselor. His response was that on a family level, it would be the equivalent of a child who had undergone a significant event of pain and trauma and wanting their parent, or to make the example less patronizing, a brother to share and to validate that pain, to reflect that same pain and anger back to them so they won’t feel so alone. But what they’re getting in return (at best) is silence. The silence feels like abandonment and it frustrates and infuriates even more. And at worst they’re getting “Well, if you wouldn’t have made such stupid choices to begin with, then you wouldn’t have gotten yourself into that situation. Just reaping what you’ve sowed.”

    Silence on twitter is no less violent and destructive for blacks than are tweets that seem antagonistic, impulsive, and one-sided for many whites. Tweeting support of solidarity is just one way of speaking over and into that abyss that separates us. When whites in our own churches demand that conversation about this must “have all of the facts”, that we speak from evidence rather than emotion, that we are nice and pleasant, we’re simply catering to the world of privilege they’ve created. So maybe I’m less concerned about upholding the myths and narratives that my white friends and family cling to, even while I love them dearly and it pains me EVERY SINGLE TIME to advocate on behalf of people of color. There’s really no joy I get out of it. None. If this is “branding” it feels more like the painful, burning one they put on cows. The myths and narratives they uphold are fundamentally dehumanizing, so if the slightest challenge to that is antagonizing, I guess I’ll take it.

  4. David Fitch says:

    I’m with you on this. Twitter exists, and so silence in twitter is now an existential reality. And I see tweets of support as helpful when they do not rage against the other party, create more antagonism,a nd especially if we know people we are tweeting about or to.
    What I fear is that tweeting will then relieve the tension you describe of being distanced from people from who are not like us. The segregation of our country, the deep divides, will ultimately only have any significant change by white people moving next door to black people, moving next to Hspanic people, moving next to Asian people, moving next to Pakistani, moving next to Eastern European etc etc… A start is by going to be present in these places, in times of crisis, because moving actually can be done for manipulative reasons as well … So thanks for the push!! Helpful!

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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