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Dr Bex Lewis
Director, Digital Fingerprint
Research Fellow in Social Media and Online Learning,
CODEC Centre for Digital Theology, Durham University
May 2015 for London Witness
• Why social media?
• Getting past the fear
• Action Planning
The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual
world, but is part of the daily experience of many people,
especially the young. Social networks are the result of
human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the
dynamics of communication, which builds relationships: a
considered understanding of this environment is
therefore a prerequisite for a significant presence
Pope Benedict XVI (2013)
The Big Questions
•How do the
“There’s no place for faith in our public life” Discuss
The problem with the question is that it presupposes
that the 'secular' perspective found in the phrase
'public life' is without 'faith' in the first place. If faith is a
combination of worldview (or how we imagine the
world to be), praxis (a combination of rituals, liturgies,
ethics and financial considerations), and life
expectations (what, in light of worldview and praxis
you expect life to be like, a kind of telos) then the
'secular' is as much a faith as orthodox Christianity. If
this is the case, then it's not so much 'should faith be in
the public square' but rather, 'which faith would we
prefer to be in the public square?’
Joshua Penduck, Ordinand
“There’s no place for faith in our public life” sounds like a form of
oppression to me. Firstly, what does one mean by "faith" in this
context? Too many people use the word faith to me "things you
believe, which I do not believe" or vice versa. I this context, I'd
substitute "faith" for "belief system" (and add that atheism is a
belief system). Now the statement reads "There's no place for
belief systems in our public life." Now the statement sounds like, at
best a form of denial, or worse wilful ignorance of the psychology.
Faith is inherently involved in public life, the only questions are:
what kind of faith (or faith in what) and is that faith declared or
undeclared. Generally, when people have said to me "there's no
place for faith in our public life" what they meant was "there's no
place for your belief system in my world." - and that is most
definitely a belief (form of faith) that is trying to shape public life.
Benjamin Ellis, Social Technologist
That statement, unqualified, is a logical impossibility, I'd say. Like saying 'there's
no place for water in a human body'. It's not true, it shouldn't be true and it's
almost impossible to imagine a real, live situation in which it could be true. Being
a little less obdurately literal, I think there's a context behind this question that's
been created by a linguistic trick/synecdoche – something like saying 'there's no
place for insisting that overpriced, artificial, carbonated, bottled, super-chilled
water be the only liquid in the human body'. That is, people take a particular
and very specific understanding/manifestation of the thing at hand and use it
to stand in for the general term. In the case of 'faith', it will variously mean
'unquestioning adherence to a major world religion' or 'superstitious behaviour
based on claims without any verifiable evidence' or 'brash confidence in the
ability to change a situation' – or even more specific stuff, like 'telling people not
to have sex before marriage' or 'setting economic policy on advice from bankers,
not econometricians' or any one of a million other things. And then, without
anyone saying so explicitly, *that* specific notion becomes the basis for arguing
for or against the inclusion of something as general as 'faith' in public life. In
almost any other context, we know how crazy and dangerous it is to be so
careless but the faith thing seems oddly vulnerable to this haziness. /rant.
Ben Whitnall, Bible Society
As an atheist… I have a strong spiritual side….
For me, faith originates within me, influenced by the world
that I am in, but it is first and foremost a personal venture. Of
course, it affects how I live. Anything to do with meaning and
the 'more' to life has to, I think. I don't subscribe to a religion
but a lot of the time I enjoy talking to and living alongside
those who do. Their beliefs can be inspiring and thought-
provoking and challenging, and I value them as people and
so I like that conversation being a public one - and hope it is
respectful. I think faith is less likely to become oppressive or
dangerous if there is a very strong personal conviction and it is
not just treated as a social way of life with everything coming
from outside of you
“The real battles of faith today are being fought in
factories, shops, offices and farms, in political parties
and government agencies, in countless homes,
in press, radio and tv, in the relationship of the
nations. Very often it is said that the Church should go
into those spheres but the fact is that the Church is
already in those spheres in the persons of the laity.”
World Council of Churches 1955
If you have faith, then you
live that faith 24/7. Not
something that can be
switched off in differing
Understand the Culture
Image Credit: Bex Lewis, Morocco, 2014
The Church Front Door?
For many churchgoing is no longer the
‘cultural norm’. People don’t actively ignore
the church: they don’t even think about it.
Matthew 5:13-16 calls us to be salt and
light in the world, and for thousands in the
‘digital age’, that world includes social
networks such Twitter, Facebook, YouTube
and Pinterest. With literally billions in the
digital spaces, the online social spaces
presented by churches need to be
appealing, welcoming, and not look like
they are just an afterthought: they are now
effectively the ‘front door’ to your
church for digital users, and you ignore
those spaces at your peril.
http://www.churchgrowthrd.org.uk/blog/churchgrowth/growing_churches_in_the_digital_age Image Credit: Sxc.hu
We are not selling something to the world that will
make more people like us, believe in our story, join
our churches. We are trying to be something in the
world that invites connection and compassion,
encourages comfort and healing for those in need,
and challenges those in power to use that power in
the service of justice and love
(Drescher, 2011, 127)
Relax, enjoy your friends. Enjoy
their company along with the
company of Jesus. Point him
out, freely, without fear or
intimidation. You’re not
responsible to sell him to
them. You’re simply saying
what you’ve seen. You're not the
judge. You’re the witness.
Image Credit: Purchased Stockfresh
Social Media: More than
the cherry on the cake!
WHY IS THERE SO MUCH FEAR?
Image Source: RGBStock
Even though in practice, face-to-face
communication can, of course, be
angry, negligent, resistant, deceitful and
inflexible, somehow it remains the ideal
against which mediated communication
is judged as flawed.
Prof Sonia Livingstone, Children and the
Internet: Great Expectations and Challenging
Realities. 2009, p26
An incredible new
technology enables the
transmission of text on a
worldwide basis. It rapidly
reduces production and
distribution costs and for the
first time allows large
numbers of people to access
text and pictures in their
A moral panic may be
defined as an episode, often
triggered by alarming media
stories and reinforced by
reactive laws and public
policy, of exaggerated or
misdirected public concern,
anxiety, fear, or anger over a
perceived threat to social
Image Credit: Stockfresh
Right back to Socrates…
This discovery of yours will create
forgetfulness in the learners' souls,
because they will not use their
memories; they will trust to the external
written characters and not remember
of themselves…you give your disciples
not truth, but only the semblance of
truth; they will be hearers of many
things and will have learned nothing.
(Phaedrus, Benjamin Jowett trans.)
Image Credit: Wikipedia
“The fluidity and transience of online
environments poses challenges to
traditional authority structures, roles, and
tools. The result has been that the internet
is framed both as a threat to certain
established roles and hierarchies and as a
tool of empowerment by others.”
– Heidi Campbell 2012
Technological determinism is
a reductionist theory that
presumes that a society's
technology drives the
development of its social
structure and cultural values.
• The development of technology itself follows
a predictable, traceable, inevitable path
largely beyond cultural or political influence,
a continual journey of progress
• Technology in turn has inherent "effects"
on societies, rather than socially
conditioned or produced by society, where it
has organised itself to support and further
develop a new technology
The Medium is the Message (McLuhan)
"the printing press, the computer, and
television are not therefore simply machines
which convey information. They are
metaphors through which we conceptualize
reality in one way or another. They will
classify the world for us, sequence it, frame
it, enlarge it, reduce it, argue a case for
what it is like. Through these media
metaphors, we do not see the world as it is.
We see it as our coding systems are. Such
is the power of the form of information.”
Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979), p. 39
Pew Report, 2012
quoting Jeff Jarvis, Journalist
“Before the press … information was passed
mouth-to-ear, scribe-to-scribe; it was
changed in the process; there was little
sense of ownership and authorship. In the
five-century-long Gutenberg era, text did set
how we see our world: serially with a neat
beginning and a defined end; permanent;
authored. Now, we are passing out of this
textual era and that may well affect how we
look at our world. That may appear to change
how we think. But it won't change our wires.”
All technologies offer
CONSTRAINTS and change
What has been made possible with the
introduction of mobile phones?
How have mobile phones limited our activities?
How have our social practices/habits, etc.
changed since mobile phones?
Image Credit: The Worship Cloud
Love thy neighbour?
What does it mean to ‘love your neighbour’ in a world
in which a ‘friend’ might as easily be the kid from down
the street you grew up with as a woman in Botswana
whom you’ve never seen in person and only know in
the context of Facebook status updates, photos, and
notes? … How can we negotiate spiritual interaction in
these contexts without losing sight of basic elements of
Christian faith expressed in traditional embodied and
geographically located practices of prayer, worship, and
compassion towards others?
Tweet if You Heart Jesus, 2011, p.xiv
at machines, not
Image Source: Stockfresh
[If we are…] means by which God
communicates and reveals himself through his
Spirit, then our blog posts, status updates,
tweets, artistic images, and online comments
should be products of a life transformed by Christ
and indwelled by his Spirit.As restored image
bearers, our online presence and activity should
image the Triune God.
Byers, A. Theomedia (2013, 196)
“Technology should not dictate our
values or our methods. Rather, we
must use technology out of our
convictions and values.”
John Dyer, From the Garden to the
•We all have something to
contribute to the digital space:
• Living 24/7 for God
• Online/Offline, not
•Are we the same person,
living by the same values in
Image Credit: The Worship Cloud
What (Biblical) values do we want to
see in our (digital) world?
Image Credit: iStockPhoto
“Twitter brings you
closer to the things
you are passionate
about - and for millions
of people across the
globe that is faith.”
Facebook functions in ministry?
• Encourage Community
• Whole (life) Church
• Groups (e.g. 20s30s)
• Give others insights into ‘church life’
e.g. photo sharing
• Offer pastoral care
• *Youth: PM’s, CC parents/another
• Advertise Events
Simple ideas for Video:
• Think of the STORIES you have to tell,
and how you might tell them –
• Events: Before/After
• Sermons: Quick Overviews/Responses
• People & Their Lives
• What can you “How To”?
• Engage with other’s videos:
• Comment (no flaming)
• Blog about them
• Add to favourites/playlist
1: Blog Characteristics
• A reverse diary (most recent entry first)
• A publically accessible personal journal
• Reflections, comments and hyperlinks
• Commentary/news on a particular
• Text/Image/Links including media
• Interactive, especially comments
• Potentially informal tone
2: Ideas for Content
• “See what we’ve been up to”
• Thoughts & Reflections
• Reviews (Books, films, websites) etc.
• Challenging ideas for debate
• Interviews (Text, Audio, Video)
• ‘Best Of’ Content
• ‘How-to’ Posts
• 10 things you can…
• Guest Posts
4: Think About
• Who are you blogging for?
• How often can you blog?
• What style of blog will you use?
• What content can you produce?
• What do you want Google to find?
• Who else can you bring on board?
Who sees this?
If you are Hungry,
Angry, Lonely or Tired,
step away from the
deal with that issue
Think of the Consequences
It seems obvious, but sometimes
that anger isn’t apparent until we
see the hurt reaction from our
unintended victims, and by that
point the damage is done, with the
evidence there for all to see. And
no, deleting the tweets later
doesn’t help (hello Kanye West). At
best you are going to end up
looking a bit silly.
Principles of Good Engagement
Image Credit: Stockfresh
Don’t look to “publish” but
engage in a CONVERSATION
Image source: Stockfresh
“Call to Action”
• Don’t make it too
complicated to participate
• Define an (easy) action
• Define the (simple)
• Give a (short) time frame
Image Credit: Purchased Stockfresh
• The principles applied to this are:
• Be credible. Be accurate, fair, thorough and transparent.
• Be consistent. Encourage constructive criticism and
• Be cordial, honest and professional at all times. Be responsive.
When you gain insight, share it where appropriate.
• Be integrated. Wherever possible, align online participation
with other communications.
• Be a good representative of the Methodist Church. Remember
that you are an ambassador for Christ, the Church and your
part of it. Disclose your position as a member or officer of the
Church, making it clear when speaking personally. Let
Galatians 5:22-26 guide your behaviour.
• Be respectful: respect confidentiality. Respect the views of
others even where you disagree.
Bath & Wells Diocese 9 Twitter Rules
• Don't rush in
• Remember tweets are transient yet permanent
• Be a good ambassador for the Church
• Don't hide behind anonymity
• Be aware of public/private life boundaries
• Maintain a professional distance
• Stay within the law
• Respect confidentiality
• Be mindful of your own security
Don’t overthink. Running through committees,
endless drafts and approval processes to get a
response out there can cause far more damage
than good. As long as you have taken the time
to assess the situation and can take a rational,
respectful tone in your response, even an
awkward response is OK to start with, and
buys you time to continue to respond to the
Image Source: RGBStock
•To achieve what?
•With what media?
•Who’s going to do it?
•What kind of content?
•What risks need to be
What does it mean
to share with grace,
care and love?
Saint Teresa of Avila (adapted by Meredith
Christ Has No Online Presence but Yours
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
Yours are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.