Facebook as Christian Community

Have you left facebook yet? Seems to be the thing to do – after a year or so of connecting with friends and family, reading status posts, commenting, posting links to one’s wall – something ugly happens and one pulls up digital stakes and leaves sulking.

There’s lots of articles out there on how to manage facebook and other social networking tools. Some of them are funny, some are useful, some are both funny and useful. But can we use a social network to be a Christian community?

I started to use facebook primarily as a way to stay in touch with my family. They asked me to get my own facebook account. I didn’t even have my own e-mail account at the time; husband and I mashed everything together. Then I found why I wasn’t so anxious to be in daily touch with some of my family – they shame the Borgias with their internecine squabbling.

By then I had connected with other friends; people who follow this blog got in touch with me. I was pretty excited that we were developing relationships outside of the usual channels of hometown, university, work and church. I started sending to and getting friend requests from many places around the world. Maybe I should have been more discerning at first; but the whole situation was so new, that there did not seem to be any rules or guidelines.

Things I learned pretty fast: Like the rest of the internet, there are a lot of nutbars trolling facebook. Oops! Some new “friends” got dumped within hours after I got a glimpse of their “wall.” Or they asked questions that creeped me out and invaded my privacy. My naivety started to fade.

I resolved to accept friends who were provably, visibly Christian. Quite a few traditional, headcovering sisters friended me. This was not always what I expected either. Many, many groups and subgroups now practice some form of covering, much to my surprise. I was expecting Mennonites, Quakers, Plain Catholics and Charity Church members. I knew some Adventists practice covering as well. What I didn’t expect were the numbers in other sects that were not traditionally headcovering. Some of those contacts have been wonderful and supportive; others attacked me. One coterie actually held that I was in imminent danger of hell, being divorced and remarried, and ordained. It took a couple of days to weed them all out of the friendly flower garden.

I have suspected that another group has actually targetted me, bombarding me with friend requests, flattering allusions to “learning” from me, but then turned my faceboook page into a battleground over Sabbath-keeping, Torah and law. Yes, I have learned to look before accepting a new request. If they do not volunteer information, if they block non-friends from viewing their information, if they don’t return a message request with an adequate answer, I block their ability to contact me. I did have one woman get very abusive and aggressive when I told her I wan’t interested in friending her; she sent me message after message, getting more and more spiteful. I had to report her to facebook as abusive and threatening.

Now I see that I have gathered a good community of supporters and Christians about me. Not every friend is Christian; but most of those who aren’t Chrstsian are spiritual seekers and respectful of my faith. While other friends report that they often get unsavory and suggestive posts from their “friends”, I do not see that at all. I see scripture quotes, quotes from Christian writers or spiritual leaders. The humour is mostly gracious and intelligent. When disputes arise, I do not enter into the fray with harsh words (I hope) or I stay out of it.

I do not tolerate heresy, hatred and bashing. I will defend our faith. I will post things I find enlightening and useful. If someone posts something I really, really don’t want to see, I will say so, or just block that post. (Tastes differ – I don’t care for sentimentality.) I have warned people that a post is inappropriate for a Christian audience. Anyone who persists in posting images of violence, who incites hatred and disdain for others, or who is disrespectful will just get de-friended.

Facebook has allowed me into the hearts and homes of so many wonderful people. Some are young Christians, others are experienced in the walk of faith. I get to share in their lives. It is a community. I had to use discernment and discretion in building it. One of the reasons is that I will not allow my friends to be subjected to bad teachings and misleadings. They are my little flock, and the Lord has asked me to feed them. Good shepherds keep their flock away from poison; we are to lead them into green pastures, not into the thorns and locoweed.

My facebook friends are starting to connect in other ways. There is a sense of trust in those who are tuned to my page; the Holy Spirit leads us to many sharings. Today, we have had a group gather around the topic of clinical depression, its causes and its treatment. It was an opportunity to hold each other as fellow sufferers and as caregivers. We pray for each other. Many feel they can post a status asking for immediate prayer; there will be enough people on facebook to start that prayer bearing. Others join in as they can.

We are beginning to connect in real, face-to-face life as well, with groups of people who know each other through facebook gathering for an afternoon of fellowship and food. We also send small gifts to each other, share patterns and materials, post recipes to try. This is beginning to feel very apostolic – some of us will be visiting in person for the first time this summer. We even have ad hoc fundraisers to help needy friends, and people who have suffered a personal disaster, and to raise money for survivors of earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. We are functioning like a church in many ways.

Facebook has been a blessing for me, and I hope others find it a blessing, too.


9 thoughts on “Facebook as Christian Community

  1. I do not always respond or post. My facebook is a mis-match of friends, family, former clients who I represented for so long they became friends, and fellow lawyers, so I am sometimes cautious with my posts. I do feel blessed to have gotten to know you. I love your insights and your views. I was also grateful that I could message you during the crisis that my family went through. I do not think you will ever know how much that meant to me. I could feel your compassion through your messages. I am grateful that you consider me worthy of staying in your circle. I consider you my friend.

  2. A very good post today. 🙂 I am glad to have met you (virtually). Yes, I always look at someone’s wall before I “friend” them now. Almost friended someone today, whom I have one thing in common. Until I saw their “wall” and when I saw they had more than 2000 friends, I realized they were “collecting”. So yes, one has to use discretion anymore.

  3. Facebook, in truth, is not very different from “real” life in the sense that we meet people, as we do, in a variety of ways and in different places. I’ve met people at Church, certainly, and at the grocery store, at a concert or theatre event. I meet people through my work as a midwife, spiritual director and writer. I meet friends of friends. Some of the relationships are immediate soul connnections; we meet and something resonates about the connection and a relationships is built over time. Sometimes, we meet someone and it looks promising, but never takes off. Some relationships are toxic and no other word for it. I’ve found that I can use the same skills on Facebook that I use in real life: When I receive a “friend” request, I take a look at their profile, see if we have any “friends” in common or make sure that they are part of one of several communities I belong to ie midwifery, spirituality, urban farming, music, writing. If the first “test” is passed, I will usually accept the request. If not, I may write to them to find out why they “friended” me and how they found me etc. If the answer, again, is reassuring, I’ll go ahead. If not, I just ignore it. I immediately “block” anyone unknown to me whose communication is defined by me as a hassle : ) I just don’t have the energy to engage it. I invite a great diversity of people and viewpoints to share ideas and concerns on my page but I demand and expect all communications to be respectful and openminded; I will not tolerate judgmental attitudes or personal criticism on my page. I’ll make an effort to intervene peaceably once if someone breaches the allowable boundaries, but a second attempt is met with “unfriending” and blocking if necessary. In real life, we really do end up doing the same; we just don’t have the ease of a keyboard to do it with : ) Navigating Facebook gets easier with time; you’ll get the hang of it and I continue to be delighted that we’ve had the opportunity to share space on that great social network; I consider that to have been a great blessing! Peace.

  4. I am glad you are in my heart and my life. You are special to me. We do not have to agree in each and every aspect of our lives but we also do not need to pick one another apart because of it. Love and huggles sister.

  5. I mainly use facebook to connect with friends and family. I am not that ‘serious’ on facebook, I post a lot of jokes and tell people about fun or strange things that happened to me. I sometimes post links to radio or tvprograms that I find interesting mostly documentaries. I play farmville which perhaps isn’t an extremely good use of my time but hey, I cannot be practical all the time, that is not in my blood. I love the fact that I don’t have to call all my 4 brothers and sisters to tell them something which is not extremely important but something I want them to know.

    I have a face-to-face policy on facebook. I only add people I have met in person so I don’t add people I have met on the internet. I have made one exception with a guy who introduced me to a facebook discussion group and that was only to be able to access the group. He is blocked from seeing most things and he knows that and he supported my decision in not letting him see all posts. I have also blocked some other people on my list whom I do not want to hurt by saying no to their invite to be friends but whom I don’t want to see all aspects of my life. I do however post some posts that all my facebook friends can see like when I announced my official engagement to R. I don’t feel bad for blocking them but I would have felt horrible saying competely no to them because I see no reason why I would say no but I still don’t want them to know everything about me. I have said no sometimes to people because of the face-to-face policy and because I couldn’t see why they wanted to see what I was doing. I explained this politely and they did not take offense (at least they did not tell me so).

  6. Magdalena,

    I can appreciate the usefulness of Facebook if utilized prudently and in certain situations (e.g. a parish or disability service organization, for instance, may derive great benefit from a Facebook presence and find said presence to be benefitial to its constituents and enquirers. I tend to, on the other hand, consider Facebook in a personal setting to be potentially toxic and a source of much hurt. if people wish to contact me they can email me or phone me. I consider ‘Twitter’ to be even worse. Just my two cents’ worth ‘tsall.

    • Sarah, you are simply not one to give it three or four words – your thoughts are so well-developed that a facebook status line or worse a “tweet” would just about strangle you. When you speak up, it is because you are deeply moved and have given the matter much energy and brain-room. I would never want you confined in 60 characters or less!

  7. Magdalena,

    Thank you for such a kind response; many would say that I simply drone on and on…Hey, I have just this moment come up with a new name for ‘Twitter’; do you think Squawk!!’ would be more appropriate?? 🙂 :-0


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