With so many clergy friends on Facebook, and at the height of the presidential campaign, I am offered daily opportunities to cringe at posts riddled on walls of my preacher friends. Is this OK? I can think of at least six reasons why it may not be.
1) I want my congregation to know Jesus. I love my church—my whole church—way too much to let anything get in the way of them knowing and experiencing the transforming life found in Jesus. If you haven’t noticed, the nation is divided, and the notion that the whole church thinks as you do on political issues is absurd. Politicized posts have a high likelihood of alienating half of your congregation. I don’t need to be so right on politics that it prevents anyone in my church from hearing about all Jesus has for them.
2) I want my unbelieving friends to know Jesus. You have noticed what happens when you post that article, haven’t you? Maybe you posted what you thought was a very obvious political view that anyone in their right mind would subscribe to only to find out World War III just broke out on your wall. Meanwhile, your non-believing friends are watching your “Christian” colleagues treat each other with disdain, malice, and hatred. I love my non-believing friends way too much to allow them to question if the justifying and sanctifying life is really found in Christ.
3) I could be wrong, or at least not fully right. I get it. There is a prophetic nature to our call, and far too often, it is suppressed. Every time I am tempted to post something political that really resonates with me, it is that prophetic witness that begins to stir in me. “They need to hear this!” Well, when you begin to embrace the prophetic call, which by all means do, you must be sure it is fully God’s truth—fully and not only partially. Does your statement point fully to God’s kingdom reign and God’s kingdom way? The role of the prophet is not to speak “thus says Fred” but “thus says the Lord.” So much of what Fred says is stuck in my time, space, culture, and worldview. How tied to one form of government—capitalism, socialism, monarchism, tribalism—is God anyway? I may get some of it right, but God has higher standards when we speak on God’s behalf. Isn’t this the heart of the Third Commandment—do not take the Lord’s name in vain? Don’t use God’s name on anything that doesn’t represent God.
4) I don’t need to be right. Wow, it seemed like I was lying even as I wrote that because the reality is I love to be right. And even in writing this post, there is something within me that craves to be liked—liked by you reading it, or at least considered smart. The same can be said for half the things I post on Facebook. So much of what we post—political and otherwise—stems from a deep-seated identity crisis. Facebooking has yet to be considered a spiritual discipline. Rather, Jesus escaped the “crowds” to ground his identity: “While it was still very dark he went off to a deserted place and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Each day in prayer, I start again with great assurance that I am God’s child, and as such, I have incredible worth. I tuck my boys in at night with the Wesley Covenant Prayer that begins, “I am no longer my own but yours.” Fully belonging to God, I need not be right all the time.
5) I’m not sure its fruitful. Question three of Wesley’s historic questions in the examination of ministers can speak to us here: “Have they fruit? Have any been truly convinced of sin and converted to God…?” Have you found fruitfulness in posting polarizing political posts? If not, why waste time at it? Not only do I suspect these posts have not persuaded any to your party platform, I’m quite confident they have not converted any to God.
6) I’m the same everywhere. Some clergy have suggested that their professional life is distinguished from their private life, and therefore they feel free to express whatever they like on Facebook, as it is separate from who they are in the pulpit. Not only do I think social media prevents a person from having that kind of privileged distinction, I am very confident discipleship in Christ does.
Ultimately, I am a missionary at heart, and as such, I often have this question on my mind: Is what I am about to do going to help or hinder the communication of gospel?
Another missionary says it this way:
“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” —Apostle Paul
Rev. Fred Vanderwerf is superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference's Southern Prairie District.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church