Church and social media: can we talk?

The Catholic Church is still new to the whole social media phenomenon — and Sr. Mary Ann Walsh from the USCCB looks at why the Church needs this particular dialogue:

The social media phenomenon offers both challenge and opportunity for the church. Social media reaches people – millions are on Facebook and Twitter every day. The church cannot ignore them. They are interactive, however, and don’t work when conversations are one-way. They involve dialogue, something not always welcome by clergy, teachers and other leaders.

“Because I said so” doesn’t cut it in social media, a fact regretted by parents and leaders who for ages have resorted to the phrase when exasperated with the petulant “But …” and plaintive “Why?”

For oldsters, such dialogue takes getting used to. A few years ago I took a course in church social teaching. It was to be an intellectual treat – until I got into the classroom with students who sought to debate the prof. The lecturer loved the interactivity, but I groaned inwardly at each sidestep. A former teacher, I appreciated the back-and-forth that helps minds expand, but I wanted the teaching clear-cut and wanted to soak up all the renowned prof had to offer. It may have been my inner dinosaur peeking out.

The church has a solid history of such top-down didacticism. It has libraries of tomes that explore theological truths. But that is only one part of the church.

Another side of the church – the pastoral side – is open to dialogue. It has validated such conversations as far back as the Gospels (see woman conversing with Jesus at the well). On the one-on-one level, the dialogue that ensues after a “Can we talk?” encounter has been an integral part of the church for years, a comfort to worried parents, frustrated spouses, abused workers and confused children.

Perhaps social media can help the church engage more in such dialogue. It is not easy. It takes energy, especially emotional energy. Talk – or dialogue – is work.

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