Book Review: Social Media Ministry and Community Building in Today’s Church

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Clergy talk a lot. Clergy usually also write, read and socialize a lot.

By a lot, I mean a lot. The average priest, preacher, deacon, rabbi, imam, probably has moments every week when he or she would like to drop their cell phone in the nearest toilet and flush. 

These people are intelligent and greatly gifted in verbal skills. 

You’d think they’d be naturals for thinking up ways to use the social media to promote their beliefs and extend their faith community past the church doors and into the world. 

For some of them, this is true. We have outstanding clergy bloggers here at Patheos. SQPN was founded by the podcasting priest, Father Roderick Vonhogen. But for most clergy, especially Catholic priests, not so much. 

Why do I say “especially” Catholic priests? Because it’s just a fact, at least concerning the priests that I know, that the good ones are somewhat reluctant to use the new media to preach, teach, organize and build community. Also, we’ve had some appalling falls from grace by “star” priests who either were corrupted by the attention, or were ripping off the priesthood as a vehicle to fame in the first place. 

It is important for us to tread carefully in the business of making “stars” out of people who may not have the anointing for the work. But social media does not have to make rock stars of clerics. It can be, and it should be, just another form of communication to a world that is dying for lack of social and spiritual nourishment.

The lack of community is an emotional poverty in many people’s lives. Social media can be a way of reaching out to these people with a Christian hand. It can bring them the Gospel they will never find inside a church because they won’t go inside a church in the first place.

It can also build community within existing church congregations. Too many people go to church kind of like they go to a movie. They go, sit through the service, then leave and never talk to anyone from the parish until they go back again the next Sunday.

Social media can allow parishioners to develop contact between one another, learn more about their faith and become engaged in a more intimate and companionable relationship with their parishes. 

But how is a religious leader to start the process of developing a social media presence for his or her church?

The Social Media Gospel, by Meredith Gould, seeks to answer that question. 

The book makes many important points. It is critical for church leadership to spend time planning and learning before beginning the social media adventure. The author says that it’s important to decide what you want to accomplish with social media and how you’ll know if you are accomplishing it. 

Also, church leaders need to build their social media activities around the beliefs that are the reason why their church exists in the first place. 

The book gives useful guidelines for the thinking it through part of developing a social media ministry. It does not provide technical information about the how-to phase of setting up this ministry. It is a worthwhile read for someone who is thinking about setting up a social media ministry for their church. It is especially useful if you are trying to decide whether or not your parish or church should engage in social media ministry.

I think the answer is an emphatic yes, churches should engage in social media ministry. I think the rewards of community building among existing parishioners alone will be astounding. 

For a parish to ignore social media in today’s world is a little bit like ignoring the need for sound systems. These things are tools, and those who bring Christ to the world should use every tool they can find to do this effectively. 

These two videos, Don’t Be That Church I & II, were created by Meredith Gould, the author of The Social Media Gospel.

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Where are all the good people dead: In the Heart, or In the Head?

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Sheila Pott, mother of Audrie Pott, with photo of Audrie 

Here are the facts.

  • Fifteen year old girl attends a party in one of the elite zip codes in this country.
  • She drinks. Maybe she drinks too much. Maybe her drink was doctored.
  • What is certain is that she was raped by boys she thought were her friends.
  • The boys put graphic photos of the rape on the internet.
  • The girl hanged herself.

I have had to deal twice with situations like this in my job as a representative. One was a girl who killed herself after a gang rape by five men who took photos and showed them around, including to the police. When the police told the girl there were photos, she went home, got in the bathtub and killed herself with a shotgun blast to the face.

The other girl tried to kill herself. After four days in critical care, she survived. 

I’m going to post an excerpt of an article about the little girl who hung herself. I want to talk about the attitudes that show through this article. I have no grievance with the person who wrote it. They’ve just fallen into our societal trap of cleaning up what should be faced and excusing that for which there is no excuse.

The article begins by saying that 15-year-old Audrie got drunk at a party and when she woke up, concluded that she had been “sexually abused.” Let’s get our terminology straight. She concluded, probably due to some grisly physical evidence, that she’d been raped. 

Remember that word: Rape. It’s ugly and people don’t like it. But the word isn’t the real ugliness. The ugliness is living in a society where 15-year-old girls can be treated like this and then suffer the further indignity of having reporters try to clean the horror up for the perps with the use of “soft” expressions like “sexual abuse” to describe what happened. 

These upstanding young men posted “graphic” photos of their rape of their friend on Facebook. After Audrie saw the photos on the internet, and endured the mockery of emails and texts circulating about what had been done to her, eight days after she was raped, she hung herself.

According to our reporter, “the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.”

Is that what’s this “case” is about? “Sexual abuse” and “callous” use of technology? 

If we accept this kind of bland obfuscation of the brutal rape and murder by suicide of this young girl as a problem with technology and “cyber-bullying,” we need to burn our Member of the Human Race Card and go sit in the corner with the trolls and monsters of our deepest darkness.

To paraphrase a line from the movie Grosse Point Blank, where are all the good people dead:  In the heart, or in the head? 

Let’s get one thing clear: I don’t talk about misunderstood mass murderers and rapists who are otherwise such good people on this blog. You won’t see sweet-face lists of these young men’s accomplishments and wonderment about “how could such fine boys do this?” You’ll not read a word of sympathy and grief if they get sent to the prison where they belong, no matter how much they cry for themselves when they are sentenced. 

They were without pity for Audrie. I don’t care if they bawl their eyes out for themselves. I hope they spend the rest of their lives in jail. I don’t think they should ever breathe another free breath again. 

If you do something like this, then I put you in the monster column. The only way to get off that column is to manifest extreme remorse and humble grief for what you have done, coupled with a willingness to admit that you have in fact done it and that you are willing to do anything it takes to make up for it and to change. Even then, I want the proof of a changed life, and I mean a really changed life. 

Nice people do not rape their friends. They do not — ever — treat other people like things. They do not take photos of their raping and then post them on the internet, along with sending emails and texts to taunt, degrade and destroy their “friend” socially. What these men did to this girl, the rape, was physical torture. What they did later was emotional torture. What this young girl faced was social death.

People who treat other people like this are monsters. They will remain monsters so long as they continue to excuse, defend and deny the utter depravity and sub-human cruelty of what they have allowed themselves to become.  

From The Washington Post: 

SARATOGA, Calif. — Fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott passed out drunk at a friend’s house, woke up and concluded she had been sexually abused.

In the days that followed, she was shocked to see an explicit photo of herself circulating among her classmates along with emails and text messages about the episode. And she was horrified to discover that her attackers were three of her friends, her family’s lawyer says.

Eight days after the party, she hanged herself.

“She pieced together with emails and texts who had done this to her. They were her friends. Her friends!” said family attorney Robert Allard. “That was the worst”

On Thursday, sheriff’s officials arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, who committed suicide in September.

The arrests and the details that came spilling out shocked many in this prosperous Silicon Valley suburb of 30,000. And together with two other episodes recently in the news — a suicide in Canada and a rape in Steubenville, Ohio — the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.

“The problem with digital technologies is they can expand the harm that people suffer greatly,” said Nancy Willard, an Oregon-based cyberbullying expert and creator of a prevention program for schools.

Santa Clara County sheriff’s officials would not give any details on the circumstances around Audrie’s suicide. But Allard said Audrie had been drinking at a sleepover at a friend’s house, passed out and “woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable.” She knew she had been assaulted, he said.

She soon found an abundance of material online about that night, including a picture. (Read the rest here.) 

 

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