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Social Media May Prove The Key To Christian Unity

Die, Heretic Scum!’ I expect you know the “joke” that has been doing the rounds on the internet for a while, of which this is the punchline? This is a particularly effective version of it on You Tube. I put the word ‘joke’ in inverted commas because its essential truth is too painful to be really funny: we are all apparently born with a strong desire to keep only the company of people whom we think, as Margaret Thatcher put it, are ‘one of us’. Another equivalent, this one ascribed to Anon, is

‘All the world is queer, save me and thee. And even thee’s a little queer.’

As we saw in the past only too clearly in Northern Ireland, for example, Christians have been strongly identified with this: Catholic children went to school with other Catholic children, grew up next to Catholics and married other Catholics so as to produce Catholic children of their own and continue the cycle. Protestants did the same. In its most extreme form, great care was taken to see that never the twain should meet.

But the tendency of like to associate with like goes much wider than religion. It is human nature to categorise everyone we meet: male/female, young/old, attractive/unattractive, conventional/unconventional, radical/conservative, people like us/not one of us etc etc. Our brains process all this information in a trice and make instant decisions about whether we would like to get to know a particular person any better. All of this is based primarily on our visual sense. But we must not forget the aural input.  Professor Higgins, you may think, slightly overstated his case – but he had a point.

Condemned by every syllable she utters!…An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him.
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.’


On the other hand, do you remember poor Cyrano de Bergerac, who successfully wooed Roxane? She discovered he was not the handsome young chap she had thought, but realised it was nevertheless him she had fallen in love with, rather than the Adonis mouthing his words. This literary conceit has now been imposed on all of us by the advent of social media, which strip away all inessentials. If your only contact with someone is on Twitter, you are not making contact with that person’s physical persona, but with their very essence, or -as a Christian might say- their soul. Social media free us from our prejudices and enable us to relate to people purely on whether we enjoy their conversation. This is very liberating! At the moment, I am following about 300 people on Twitter: they include Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists and a former Seventh Day Adventist. And if you just count the Anglicans, they come from the laciest Anglo-Catholic stream to the most arm-waving Evangelical.


It really is true that what unites us is stronger than what divides us, but the best way of finding out the truth of this for yourself is to engage with a wide group on Twitter and find out how much you actually have in common with the most unlikely people.





This article was first published by the BigBible Digidisciple project on 5 October 2011 under the title ‘The Ecumenical Effect of Social Media’.

The image is via Shutterstock.

6 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

Christian Unity, and aspiration prayed for in most Christian homes and churches and individuals.

In that context, I was just wondering what such unity would mean? I know that the Catholic Church prays daily for the Conversion of England to Catholicism( isn’t particularly Ecumenical.

I read somewhere that the heart of every Christian strains and longs for the unity of the Body of Christ, but it seems to me that the labourers are few and poorly rewarded for their efforts.

But I can see the scope to social media to bring together those of like mind in common purpose, but I am also aware of those human failings, which hinder such gatherings. Many of the joint projects between churches (Local Ecumenical Partnerships) suffer issues, which can cause them to fall apart. The sheer humanness of those involved, overcoming God’s will for unit.

I sound negative, perhaps I’m having a ‘glum’ day, but Christian unity is to important to be left to us. We need to put God at the Centre of it all and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit work for that which we all say, we want in their lead, light and power.

In a practical context, just think how much could be saved without duplication of effort with churches, church buildings, pay of pastors etc and Bishops palaces. Just think how much good that money could be used for. The Vatican and other Churches hold hundreds of millions of pounds worth of artifact’s. Turned into cash, they might just alleviate poverty in the third world.

12 October 2011 11:49
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you, UKViewer. I think there is a difference between unity and uniformity. In the 1960s I seem to remember the great emphasis was really on uniformity, though we called it unity: eg the Methodists would come back to the fold. Unsurprisingly, this approach has not worked.

What I would love to happen – and what I think is happening – is for us to stop seeing each other as ‘heretic scum’! Or even just a bit odd.

This is where I do think all the mingling online is very helpful as it enables us to see each first and foremost as individuals and only secondly as representative of our particular denominations.

UKViewer said...

I actually quite like being thought ‘a bit odd’ because it means that I’m not conforming to what is expected of me, whether as a person or as a Christian.

Another problem I could see with unity, is how to reconcile some of the most extreme right wing Christians with the main-stream. It even hurts to listen to some of their rhetoric.

12 October 2011 18:44
12 October 2011 15:34
Mat said...

Thanks for posting this. I read with interest. I am an Evangelical Anglican missionary working in Spain. As a former solicitor, I’m also interested in conflict theory. In Spain, the Protestant/Catholic divide is exaggerated. There is a great deal of hurt within living memory, and many, many stereotypes which rarely get challenged because almost no-one mixes across the divide. One of the things I spend time doing is studying alongside Catholic seminarians and religious at the Archdiocesan Faculty of Theology. I totally agree – social media can be used to mix things up!

But I also wondered whether you had heard of the “filter bubble” – here’s a video I was sent recently. This suggests that if we are not “ecumenically disposed” and exercising the choice to read more widely, social media may well be tuning the content we are shown in order to give us only what we want to read – thus narrowing our field of vision. So we may need to continue to work hard on mingling intentionally – and on promoting the message that this is important – so that we and others can make the most of these new tools. We live in interesting times!

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much Mat – as a matter of fact I did pick this video up on Facebook a couple of months ago, when it caused much outrage by people who were annoyed at their Facebook streams being pre-selected as described. I have certainly noticed the tailoring of Google.

But I had not thought of it again in the context of the effort towards Anglican Unity, (which seems in some ways to have run out of steam?) You are quite right that we need to continue to exercise our choice to read ‘beyond our comfort zone’ – otherwise everything we read seems only to confirm our prejudices!

13 October 2011 21:32
13 October 2011 21:28
Neil Chappell said...

I enjoyed meeting you at #cnmac11 on Saturday. I enjoyed even more reading your blog and I’m not surprised it won a prize! I have put a link on my blog and sincerely hope you gain many more followers and readers.
Best wishes,

17 October 2011 11:38

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