Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Social Media and the Believer

Concern was expressed about the use of social media websites. It is dangerous to our faith to seek answers about religion and faith from this type of media. These sites answer to our flesh and mind, but not our faith.
—Laestadian Lutheran Church annual meeting minutes, 2011
This as-yet-unpublished newsletter article discusses issues my old fundamentalist church is encountering with social media. Be sure to read my comments that follow the article at the bottom of this posting.

During these last days, the enemy is constantly developing new ways to ensnare God’s Children. He is a cunning adversary who knows how to enlist all the latest technology for his cause, and believers must guard against his tricks. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

It is perhaps easier to be wary against an enemy who announces himself as a roaring lion. Overt temptations like loud music or obscene television shows are easy to recognize as sin and perils to the life of faith. But now, as he did at the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, the enemy is also enticing believers in a sly manner.

Modern Dangers

One of the tempter’s new tricks is social media. There, under the guise of “friendliness” and “acceptance,” he can lure a Child of God into many snares. The Apostle warned against unequal yoking with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14), but in today’s computer-connected society, that happens all the time. Unbelieving Facebook “friends” are easily accumulated and interacted with on a daily basis, to the point where the appeal of wholesome believing companionship is diminished. Even at gatherings of the youth, contact with unbelievers through smartphones can be a constant distraction.

Believers see all the world’s foreign customs and sinful lifestyles online, and even indicate acceptance of them with “likes” and careless “tolerant” comments. We can be drawn into discussions about matters of faith where man’s carnal reasoning can easily lead us astray. We can be tempted to join those who criticize the leaders that God has established for our earthly government. All of this brings sorrow to the heart of the Heavenly Father. “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14).

God’s Kingdom does not have a set of rules or “dos and don’ts,” about behavior online or anywhere else. But the Internet is certainly a place of watching. We should heed the voice of the Mother when she warns about the dangers online and with social media in particular.

Friendship with the World

We may ask ourselves how important our unbelieving “friends” have become to us. Would the number of unbelievers in our Facebook “friends list” or those we “follow” on Twitter be a cause for concern? “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

In our time, the Internet has amplified the criticisms of those who would rise up against God’s Kingdom. Are we helping to provide a forum for their bitterness by reading their posts or tweets? “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1). Even counting such vocal critics among our “friends” can raise questions and trouble tender consciences.

Certainly we maintain work and family relationships with some of those who have not been granted the gift of living faith. It is not practical to only have contact with believers, online or elsewhere. We are in the world, though not of it (John 15:19). However, we must be cautious in this matter. The Bible warns, “know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). The easy interaction between believer and unbeliever that social media now permits should not change what has been long established by God’s Word.

Letting Our Light Shine Online

One of the dangers with “friendship of the world” is the temptation to accept incorrect and sinful beliefs and lifestyles. Today’s society encourages an anything-goes attitude of “tolerance,” but God’s Word has always taught differently. The Old Covenant believers were instructed to let their light shine very clearly about the dead faiths of this world:

If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. [Deuteronomy 13:6-9]

God’s Word is unchanging and eternal, and not subject to the whims of man’s desires. We see this with Jesus’ instructions about the priority of living faith versus even family members and our own lives: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Faith is the most important matter, and we cannot afford to diminish this precious gift by indicating that other beliefs or sinful practices are somehow acceptable in the eyes of the Heavenly Father. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).

What message does it send when we “like” a posting or quotation by a spiritual leader who walks in darkness outside God’s Kingdom, or join in approval with any part of the world’s empty philosophies? “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Not Even the Appearance of Evil

The Apostle admonished the believers of Thessalonica to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” In a time when we can be seen as accepting evil with no more than the careless click of a “like” icon, we must soberly heed Paul’s warning.

Are we “liking” a photo that shows inappropriate physical contact for a courting couple? Are we joining in the world’s approval of those in sinful relationships outside the bounds of Christian marriage? Should we offer congratulations on the engagement of one who recently rejected the gift of living faith to marry an unbeliever? It is also good to remember that remarriage cannot be condoned when either member of a couple has divorced from another (Mark 10:11).

The enemy seeks to trick us into becoming lenient and overly accepting of lifestyles and worldly pursuits that are foreign to the life of a believer. It can seem innocent and appealing to offer kind comments or “likes” on posted photographs of young people in dance uniforms or engaged in school sporting events. But such messages of approval are confusing to the world and other believers when we could not in good conscience engage in those activities ourselves.

In addition, when a child of God “likes” a photo of a young man with long hair or a young woman wearing earrings, make-up, or skimpy clothing, it can be seen as an implied endorsement. The matter is of particular concern when it comes to photos of those who once traveled with the believers but have been lured into the enticements of sin, including worldly fashion. The messages from God’s children should not give false comfort to those who have left the Father’s house, but with unity should remind them of the need to come unto repentance.

Escorts on the Journey

As with any aspect of our life of faith, we so easily stumble in our behavior online. The Heavenly Father has not forgotten us in these last days, but has provided escorts on the journey to point out these modern dangers and offer the forgiveness of sins when we fall. They do not want to just say, like Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, but wish to help us on the way to Heaven. Sometimes that loving work requires our brothers and sisters in faith to notice our errors in cases where we do not.

This should not be seen as intrusive or “creepy,” but God’s loving care done through His Kingdom. During the Old Covenant, He instructed Moses, “Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:1). Moses was obedient to this mission, selecting a man from each of the twelve tribes. “And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan” (Numbers 13:17). In our time, it is sometimes necessary for God’s servants to perform similar missions in the “land of Canaan,” which the enemy has brought so close to believers through social media.

Our carnal pride is so easily bruised, but we should not be offended when a believing family member, friend, or elder gently rebukes us for some careless comment or “like” made on a social media site. “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:5). The grace fountains are flowing even today in Zion. Through childlike obedience and unity with God’s Children, we shall one day reach that homeland shore in Heaven.


Important disclaimer and commentary:

As you’ve probably gathered from the posting date of the above “article,” none of this was actually written for any church newsletter. (The epigraph really is from the 2011 annual meeting minutes, though, reporting a comment by a delegate.) It is “as-yet unpublished,” and always will be, because it’s a parody I wrote in honor of the holiday.

I don’t believe any of this stuff anymore. Neither, I suspect, do a substantial portion of those who still show up in the pews of my old church week after week due to the immense social cost of leaving. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still know how to speak and write fluent Laestadian.

The first four decades of my life were spent in this fundamentalist sect with its obsession about hundreds of “sins,” most of which have no biblical basis, and its exalted self-designation as “God’s Kingdom,” i.e., the one and only true church. My brain is full of deep-seated neuronal connections programmed with the language of Laestadianism, like those of ex-Pentecostals who can still speak in tongues.

One way that formerly religious people like myself apply this otherwise useless programming is to help others stuck in the same situation we were once in. That can take on many different forms. Sometimes it’s a one-to-one effort, serving as an understanding voice on the other end of the phone, chat connection, or email correspondence. On a broader scale, there are talented ex-Christians airing their voices with entertaining and informative podcasts like The Thinking Atheist and A Matter of Doubt. Some of us write books and blogs with critical analysis of our former beliefs, much to the annoyance of those trying to propagate those doctrines without inconvenient questions being raised.

And sometimes our self-expression involves a bit of humor to lighten things for those struggling in repressive belief systems, as with this “article” of mine. Now, I will readily acknowledge that a few parts of it are a bit over the top–that’s what makes something parody and not mere imitation. For one thing, Laestadians use the Old Testament very selectively, and few would cite any of its countless outrages like the business about killing infidel spouses in Deuteronomy 13. (Read the whole chapter; it gets worse.) But they claim that it is all part of God’s unchanging, inerrant Word, and are happy to cite favorite snippets of it when warning that you’d better not be using birth control or hunting on a Sunday.

Another stretch was defending the activities of overzealous “like police” on Facebook (sadly, there are individuals behaving that way) by relating it to the spies who gathered intel for a God with amusingly limited awareness in Numbers 13. Laestadian preaching has gotten less fanciful about its allegories, although there was plenty of imaginative material along those lines decades ago. And Laestadian preachers are definitely still trying to fend off rational inquiry by comparing it to the sales pitch of a certain fruit-peddling reptile in a (mythical) garden ages ago.

Parody pushes the boundaries, just a little in this case, to make a serious statement. And my point is directed to those who would be most offended by this April 1 posting, few of whom will ever see it. Ironically, they are the people most likely to actually say or write something just like this. Think about that!

To them I would ask, do you really believe this stuff when it shows up, for real, in the Voice of Zion? If you find my version of it upsetting or outrageous, why so? Feel free to provide me with specific corrections or distinctions; I’ll be happy to append them here. But I won’t be holding my breath waiting.

To the rest of my former brethren who are just being decent, friendly people and interacting with the rest of us in humanity, keep on being the wonderful people that you are. You’re better than the dreary sermons, groupthink “discussions,” and conformist practices that the authoritarians in your religion try so much to impose on you.