My wife and I host a cell group from our church. A few weeks back, one of our members led us in a time of prayer for the persecuted church, and I remember that we prayed for an Iranian pastor who had been sentenced to death after he refused to recant his Christian faith. All sorts of legal machinations had been underway for several months, but it was feared that the court system would maintain their sentence and execute him, even after the three years he had already spent in prison.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was just set free.
The news has made headlines, with some attention directed to the role of Twitter in garnering international attention for Nadarkhani’s situation. History instructor @ThomasSKidd posted his reflections in a thoughtful piece called “‘Tweet for Youcef’: Social Media and Religious Liberty.
We are concerned here at Big Bible with the way social media are used by Christians. In the case of Pastor Youcef, a Twitter campaign with 3 million followers was calling for a prisoner’s release. As Dr. Kidd points out, we will not be able to have a massive Twitter campaign for every person jailed for religious infractions. But it is important to ask what sort of role social media can play in activities Jesus came to advocate (like proclaiming “liberty to the captives”—Lk 4:18).
My guess is that this Iranian pastor certainly thanked his Lord and God well before he thanked Twitter.
And rightly so. But it is certainly possible that God used Twitter, right? Not only were millions spurred to pray for this situation after hearing about it through social media, the authorities may also have felt quite a bit of public pressure. 3 million voices are a lot.
So how can Christians utilize social media for other justice issues around the world (or in our local communities)? What other “campaigns” need to be underway online? And how does a movement on Twitter gain 3 million followers? Are there wise techniques for the church to learn from expert social media campaigners?