One of the very great pleasures of the world of social media is that it can remove inhibitions, and for us public religious people, can allow us to set aside that all-too-handy public facade that we wear, often even while still in our pyjamas. It is one of the factors or blogging that I cherish most highly – that I can be ‘me’. ‘Me’ isn’t anything too outrageous, overly funky or even especially noteworthy, but something that I have that no-one else has and can claim as my personal expertise. All too often I seem people drop their ‘me’ in favour of something or someone else altogether, and it never fully sits right.
Over the three or four years that I have been communicating through keyboards and touch-screens, I have also been very aware of the Curse of The Off the Cuff Comment. Bishop Peter Broadbent was one such high-profile victim and there are many many others, not least of all some moppet called Paris who wishes she just hadn’t said some things on the social media. My rule in all of this is simple and has remained the same: if I am unwilling to speak what I have just typed in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury or my own mother, then I best not press “send”. This isn’t a bad rule and has saved me from outbursts born of temper of just poor weather. It has meant that myriad blog posts have never been seen by eyes other than mine, Tweets un-Twitted and Facebook statuses left un-expressed. To this end, I have always promoted (and have written about a few times) a sense of responsibility that accompanies the freedom and right to type anything you like. Surely this affect Digital Disciples in the same way – if not more so.
I write this in the wake of the death of a poorly little old-lady. I don’t think I claim any agreement with anything she stood for in her working life, but the same can be said for many people including many in the same role as me. She did the job that British society asked of her (after all, she was elected three times) and yes, there were as many losers as winners. The news came and the ‘open honesty’ of the social media set full-sail:
“So they are going to give her a funeral in saint Paul’s Cathedral with full military honours. No doubt the British police will want to form a guard of honour. Personally, I think they should use the hole in that Leicester car park nobody else is using at the moment, and leave it at that.”
“Thatcher’s reign of terror – a corpseless genocide.”
“1) A mother and grandmother has died. Prayers for her family.
2) A sick old lady has been released from her illness and is now with God.
3) Ding, dong, the witch is dead!”
And others, many others … and these were just from Anglican priests. Indeed, a gentle scan down my own Facebook timeline betrays not just instinctive prejudice but some very dark commentary to a tendency that social often betrays – the basic inability of people to forgive (and forgive properly and fully), and the propensity of many to climb atop a band-wagon and grave-dance for their own publicity. When priests can speak like this in a largely public forum, I wonder if it is not time to re-appraise what and who we are. I wonder what would happen if we only agreed to lead the funerals of “good” people or for those with whose personal philosophies we agreed. Indeed, the honesty is not the entire issue here, it is a the speed and vitriol that emerged so speedily after the news of a death. My Facebook timeline is largely 50/50 Christian and non, and I have yet to discover a comment made by a non-Christian about Margaret Thatcher, less still opinion about her work. Perhaps only Christians in the digital arena that the right to making appalling statements about the recently deceased, who knows.
Christians and priests who exercise their right to opinion in the social media are, by default, Digital Disciples. Their words, as mine, are read by those who know them to be Christian and (often in their own words “Jesus lovers”). Their words are fairly accessible if you know how to look and we forget our responsibilities as such Disciples at our peril and to the damage of our faith in many way. This really is a “what would Jesus Tweet?” moment. Lord Carey would tell us that we shouldn’t be ashamed.
Today, I disagree.