Facebook is the new voice of temptation whispering to church in the digital wilderness – Baptist News Global

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In my various passages as pastor, I have sometimes joked with friends and colleagues that one way to raise more money for the church would be to sell ad space in the newsletter or offer sponsorship as part of the church. specific service, as sports broadcasts often do.

We could have the “T-Mobile Call to Worship” or “People’s Prayers, Presented by People’s Jewelers”. I had fun finding wacky combinations.

As it turns out, Facebook views this kind of thinking as an unrealized business opportunity rather than a joke.

A “virtual house” for religion

the New York Times published an article on July 25 on Facebook’s new strategic approach to churches and other religious organizations with the aim of “becoming the virtual home of the religious community”. The features and applications they developed specifically for this effort include tools for churches to receive donations in real time and broadcast live advertisements during video feeds.

So many red flags were raised while reading this article that I lost count.

As Maya Angelou so prophetically advised: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them”. What Facebook has shown the world in recent years about its true corporate intentions should inspire God’s people to stay away, not rush to sign up.

Sarah Lane Ritchie

Sarah Lane Ritchie, a lecturer in theology and science at the University of Edinburgh cited in the article, gets straight to the point: Facebook works by collecting and monetizing information from its users. The potential for Facebook to collect treasures of personal data from the faithful during worship and exploiting this data for profit is expected to create “huge concerns” for religious leaders.

This apprehension is reinforced by the anonymous representative of Facebook who confirmed for the Times that “the data that it collects from religious communities would be treated in the same way as that of other users”. In other words, on the Facebook side, nothing here is sacred. Facebook will use whatever information it collects from you, me, and other followers online to make as much money as possible on Facebook. This is why they are wooing churches to take their relationship with Facebook to another level. They don’t really care about you, however. They mainly want to pimp your personal data.

What could go wrong?

Two things in particular strike me as the most disturbing.

One is the timing of this initiative. the Times The article says Facebook’s awareness of faith predates the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing measures forced churches large and small to experiment with online worship formats. However, it is after the 2016 presidential election. This timing suggests that what piqued Facebook’s interest in religious communities was not the passion of people of faith who sought God, but the fervor with which people of faith spread viral (and often false) political news during the campaign and Trump’s early years. presidency.

“Facebook’s ultimate goal here is to get religious users to invest more in their platform (s) so that they can further stimulate these traffic patterns and capitalize on this behavior. “

From the article: “Facebook created its Faith Partnerships team in 2017 and began seriously wooing religious leaders, especially evangelical and Pentecostal groups, in 2018. So it would appear that Facebook’s ultimate goal here is to get religious users to invest more in their platform (s) so that they can further stimulate these traffic patterns and capitalize on this behavior.

The second concern has less to do with Facebook and more to do with the posture of many of the religious leaders featured in the article. “The goals of businesses and worship communities are different,” Ritchie continued. To tell the truth, these objectives should be different; but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from reading the Times room.

Facebook is clearly interested in faith communities because of the revenue potential they see in the relationship. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. But these religious leaders seem eager to partner with Facebook for essentially the same reasons Facebook wants to partner with them, without the data siphoning. They see great potential for Facebook to help them increase their numbers and influence.

The article ends with a big Freudian slip from Sam Collier of Hillsong, who partners with Facebook, he said, “to have a direct impact and help churches navigate and better reach the consumer.” Then he corrected himself by saying that “consumer” is not the right word; it is rather a question of “better touching the parishioner”.

The Church as a Consumer Product

This speaks to a larger and more pernicious trend that has developed within the understanding and practice of religion in America, particularly within Christianity. Facebook’s religious partnerships initiative would not have reached this stage if some influential religious leaders had not been on board. And why are they on board? Because, in their spheres, the church has become little more than a product for American consumers who happen to be Christians to consume.

“Facebook’s religious partnerships initiative would not have reached this stage if some influential religious leaders had not been on board. “

Faithfully following Christ has been distilled into packaging and marketing: read these formula books, listen to these factory-produced songs, attend a small weekly group to discuss material from the aforementioned books, then attend a larger worship service to sing the aforementioned songs. and listen to an uplifting, non-threatening message from your church’s pastor, CEO and aspiring lifestyle guru.

The warm welcome that Facebook openings have received here portend the movement of pop Christianity even further in that prepackaged, consumer-driven, overwhelming numbers direction.

What is our vocation?

To be clear, these critiques of Facebook’s faith outreach and those who partner with them in the effort are not to deny the church’s need for revenue or to suggest that churches shouldn’t be striving to ” reach more people with the good news of Jesus. We have a call from Jesus himself to make disciples of all nations, and the world has migrated to the online spaces. Churches need money to engage in ministry, and many churches are currently struggling to budget and adapt to a rapidly changing and dividing cultural landscape. Struggling to know how to live out our faith in unpredictable and unfamiliar territory as the models and conventions of the previous age crumble under the weight of new pressures and long overdue confessions is fundamental spiritual work.

However, as we do this work, as we seek new paths and experiment with new media, we disciples of Jesus cannot forget that the medium is the message. If Facebook – an unscrupulous media giant fomenting the digital pandemic of disinformation that is weakening our Republic – becomes our medium, then Facebook becomes part of the gospel message we are trying to proclaim.

Above all, we cannot forget or abandon the example Jesus gave us in the wilderness as we seek new direction and new life. Succumbing to the voices (and forces) of the world that provide us with convenient exits to bewildering circumstances is not the solution. History has shown that when faith is combined with the interests of the world, especially at their invitation, the resulting marriage is seldom equal. Faith takes the name of interest and begins to walk to the rhythm of interest, not the other way around.

“At some point, deacons, elders, and finance committees will be tempted to use real-time numbers to influence, even dictate, what worship directors plan and pastors preach.”

At some point, the companies whose banner ads you run during your video feed will want you to maintain a certain number of viewers. At some point, deacons, elders, and finance committees will be tempted to use real-time numbers to influence, or even dictate, what worship directors plan and pastors preach. At some point, you will start seeing online advertisements on Monday for articles related to topics you discussed in church on Sunday. We cannot serve two masters.

The ways of the sky economy

The real way forward for the church in the 21st century remains the same as in the first century – to live in anticipation and imitation of the “kinship” of heaven, a reality that is calibrated on a set of weights and weights. different measurements than those used by our land counterparts and competitors.

The ways of the heavenly economy are not the ways of the free market. The economy of paradise is an economy not manipulated by corporate algorithms and indifferent to the exploitation of human bodies or the exploitation of personal information. It is an economy in which the last will be first and the first will be last. An economy in which those hired to work in the vineyard at 5 o’clock in the evening are paid as handsomely as those who were hired at 9 o’clock in the morning. An economy in which enemies are loved and those who persecute us are prayed for. An economy in which priority is given to the needs of neighbors lying in the ditches rather than the convenience of the elites navigating the road. An economy in which love is the motto and grace is the bottom line.

Truth be told, what America needs – and what American churches really need – in our unknown post-pandemic world are more Christian leaders willing to surrender more to the alternative. at the service of the economy of Jesus and less willing to sell themselves to a service economy goliath likes Facebook.

Jesus never taught us to rate our success by our size or reach and certainly not by the number of “likes” we receive. These ideas come from the powers of the world who whisper to us in the wilderness of our desire and our discontent.

Todd thomason

Todd thomason is a minister of the gospel, an advocate for justice, and a moderate white in recovery who recently served as a senior minister at Kingsway Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He received a doctorate in ministry from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and an MA in divinity from the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University.

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