Media has so much influence on a person’s worldview, especially in today’s technological climate. Craig Detweiler, author of iGods, says “Our cell phones are probably our closest companions; we spend more time per day with our devices than our spouses, children, roommates and best friends. It’s often the first thing in the morning that we check, it’s often the last thing at night … it kinda regulates the hours of our day” (1:05). Social media platforms dominate so many peoples lives. However, just as many don’t understand how technology is shifting our worldviews. Social media applications are literally changing the physiology of our brains according to neuroscientist Qinghua He. He writes in his scientific report, Brain Anatomy Alterations Associated with Social Networking Site (SNS) Addiction, “These findings portray an anatomical morphology model of SNS addiction and point to brain morphology similarities and differences between technology addictions and substance and gambling addictions” (1). Creators of these platforms have long known about the addictions that their mediums cause. Former Facebook founder, Sean Parker, admits “Facebook was intentionally designed to be addictive and now we should be worried about what that means for our children’s brains. (Good Morning America 0:40).
This literal rewiring of our brains has many deeper implications and causes me to view social media in light of God’s charge for followers of Christ to make disciples. Prior to becoming a pastor, I was a software engineer and technical architect. My career gave me a first-hand look at how software algorithms are created to produce the greatest amount of revenue from online users. The power to influence the masses shifted when traditional media outlets like newspapers, magazines, and network television news outlets gave way to online mediums and so did the tactics. The new way of generating revenue moved from subscription-type services to online advertising revenue, and corporations are now able to produce curated content based on users’ specific interests.
Now the media has the power to create narratives that keep users online longer while creating echo chambers. As a pastor of a multi-ethnic and multi-generational church, I have seen media outlets gain an ability to create chasms in the body of Christ through changing the way that people think about race and social issues in our communities. Since I know how the algorithm’s work and that salacious headlines are the keys to getting users to click on one article over another I am more skeptical of the content I consume online. The practice is called “click-baiting” in the media industry. Knowing that people are becoming skimmers rather than readers, headlines are becoming increasingly misleading to create false narratives and articles are based less on facts. Many users don’t even read the articles, they simply share them based on headlines fitting their own narratives about the world. Since the media outlets generate advertising dollars are based on the amount of traffic generated and not words read, many sites don’t care if the visitor even reads the content. With believers now basing their theology in many instances on 140 characters or less, the limit on a Twitter post, I have made it a part of my ministry to point out the discrepancies in what is presented by the media as truth.
One of the areas that I am consistently challenged with pastoring through is the notion that black men are being hunted in the streets like trophies by police officers. It often paints a false narrative and a bit of hysteria by those in my community that believes it. I often talk to young men and ask how many times they have come into contact with the police and had a gun drawn on them. To my surprise there are not many people who have had the amount of run-ins with the police as I have, nor have they been hand-cuffed or at gunpoint as many times as I have. When I ask where does the outrage, fear, or hysteria come from nine times out of ten it stems from media coverage. These feelings are only accelerated on social media because these reports are being shared by trusted friends and associates with a caption like, “See they are killing us!” This is what makes social media scary. Anyone can be a commentator without the facts.
Our church was planted in 2014 and has been multi-ethnic since its inception. Early into the life of our church we experienced a pretty major split based on the climate that was created by the media. Eventhough we were not experiencing any of the issues within our community, people began to participate in self fulfilling prophecies based on perception. Our community was literally experiencing people who were opening their homes to people, giving their finances, and even extra cars to others who didn’t look like them. These beautiful gospel displays of community literally stopped when \ tragedic event happened in another part of the country, that had nothing to do with our gospel community. Then one day a leader in the church took it upon themselves to speak out against a perceived injustice in another part of the country during a Sunday morning gathering. The elders and I decided it was time to address some of the challenges that the congregation was facing, and to bring it into the light of the gospel message. I preached a sermon series entitled, a House Divided, addressing every issue that was in the news at that time. The sermons covered gender identity and the restrooms controversies, church drama, social justice, and racial identity. By the end of the series, we had lost a little less than half of the church, Black and White congregants alike left angry at me. I later received a strongly worded letter from a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, demanding I explain why I said it is wrong to be Black. I quickly realized that many of the people who left wanted justification for allowing race to be an idol in their lives so they sought counsel from other pastors and professors. I simply asked believers to stop allowing their identity to be defined by media outlets and to “find their primary identity in Christ. I said, “When and if you elevate your ethnicity; your culture; your worldview above Christ you have created another gospel that has now power. You might as well start your own cult.” Perhaps my words were a bit provocative, but nothing like the headlines that I had seen shared and reshared by members of the church.
I believe that I will continue to use social media as a platform to counteract the dividing voices that desire to lead Christians to fight against other believers. I believe I am called to teach them to unify as the body of Christ allowing the world to see the glory of God’s precious bride –the Church.
English Standard Version Bible. Crossway Bibles, 2007. Print.
Gazzaley, Adam. “Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.” MIT PRESS, 2017.
Good Morning America. “Facebook Founder Warns of Social Media Addiction”. YouTube, 10, November 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPwR1i-sWpo
He, Qinghua et al. “Brain anatomy alterations associated with Social Networking Site (SNS) addiction.” Scientific reports vol. 7 45064. 23 Mar. 2017, doi:10.1038/srep45064 Weekly, Shawn. “Oneness Embrased” Sermon. 2016. https://necommunity.church/podcast/oneness-embraced/