Why I refuse to shame people for social media silence

A few days ago, a friend of mine expressed disappointment that a preacher many of us follow had not written anything about the situation in Ferguson in social media since he’s in Missouri. This particular preacher had counseled me a few weeks before to be “contemplative” instead of “reactive” in my activism. I’m not sure how well I’ve followed his advice in terms of my social media output. I’ve been a retweeting machine first about Gaza and then about Ferguson. I’m perpetually conflicted about my own mixture of legitimate responsibility and ulterior motives in my social media posturing as a privileged person with a platform. So I’ve concluded that, at the very least, I’m not going to attack other people for appearing to be silent about things that I feel called to speak out about. Here’s why.

1) I don’t know their context or calling

Not everybody is called to be a radical, in-your-face prophet for the church. Just as we shouldn’t denigrate prophets for being “divisive,” we shouldn’t denigrate people who aren’t called to prophecy for not being prophets. Additionally, people who aren’t pastors of congregations have a lot more leeway in what they share or post on social media. Don’t ridicule pastors for “people-pleasing” if you’ve never had that kind of responsibility yourself. Most congregational pastors are engaged in delicate, long-term processes of trust-building with their congregations. A single misinterpreted social media post can sabotage this trust, while the same educational purpose can be accomplished in direct personal conversation, as a part of a Bible study group, or through creative subtleties in preaching. There are many pastors who are every bit as passionate about social justice as people blowing up the #ferguson hashtag on twitter who just happen to be in pastoral contexts where it is most productive for them to be strategic and delicate in how they use their public persona.

2) Some people take time to speak wisely

I have not yet acquired the discipline to be more contemplative than reactive in how I respond to the world. What I mean by being contemplative instead of reactive is to be grounded in a place of love and peace while I’m speaking truth to power so that Satan can’t bait me into lashing out at my ideological opponents in ways that are easy to ridicule and dismiss because of my lack of spiritual groundedness. Being contemplative does not amount to creating a moral higher ground from which I can look down on “angry” activists and marginalized people, but conversely preparing my heart to empathize more fully with their struggle. The purpose of contemplation is to cultivate a posture of radical hospitality to the other. Part of the discipline of contemplation may involve being silent in social media until one’s thoughts are collected enough to say one truly wise thing that actually helps people (rather than launching dozens of cheap and easy zingers like I do).

3) I do not trust my motives for speaking out

As a progressive white male, I am constantly tempted to justify myself and earn brownie points by heaping scorn on my fellow white males. Every time I write or share something about Ferguson or Gaza or whatever else is going on in the world, I am constantly interrogating my motives for doing so. It’s when I start laying into other progressive white men for not being as radical as I am that I suspect myself the most of jockeying to score points. I don’t think it’s wrong to critique other white men per se. In fact, I should take responsibility for backing up marginalized people when they call out problematic power dynamics in a conversation where white men are behaving oppressively. But it is a tremendously precarious tightrope to walk, calling out my fellow dudebros when they’re out of line without turning it into one-up-man-ship. White men like me are notorious for hijacking our “solidarity” with marginalized people into our personal campaign to be the world’s next messiah. To avoid making it all about me, I must always speak as though I am the greatest sinner in the room, and any critique I offer to other white men should always come from that place of fear and trembling. Policing other peoples’ silence is more responsibility than I can handle responsibly. For many dudebros, being silent is the best contribution they can possibly make to a conversation.

4) We should not be making twitter the center of our universe

Twitter should not be the center of the universe. That’s not healthy for anybody. Idolizing twitter is analogous to idolizing the capitalist free market and every bit as demonic. Instead of a landscape of semi-anonymous 140 character spats with strangers, what should be the center of the universe are conversations that take place between real human beings in real physical space in our communities (and just so I don’t get Jesus-juked by somebody, obviously the center of the center for me is Eucharist itself). Our addiction to social media is part of the social fragmentation that is making the world more racist as time goes on. People feel safer being bigots now because we don’t have to look other people in the face anymore when we say hurtful things about them. We just blast our rage out on a keyboard and click enter. So demanding that “white Christian twitter” say the right things about Ferguson the right number of times seems to me to promote the demonic worship of the twittersphere and perpetuate the social fragmentation that ends up increasing racism, thus defeating the purpose. Now don’t read any of this as criticism for the positive use of twitter in building solidarity for struggles that take place in real communities who need to hear that others have their back. I’m just saying if “white Christian twitter” is ignoring something, screw them, farewell them, unfollow them if you need to, but don’t make it your campaign to grant them a relevance they don’t deserve. “White Christian twitter” includes many individual people who are worth talking to in different contexts, but as a grotesque social amoeba, it is a demonic entity that should be ignored rather than fed by making its stamp of approval the gold medal to be sought.

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About Morgan Guyton

I’m the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.