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Opinions on the best way to use social media run far and wide. Some prefer it for sharing pictures of their children, pithy quotes, and inspirational content. Others seem to find every conspiracy theory ever invented and share it as though it should have been front-page news. Still others use it for marketing purposes, and others to spark political debates that practically engulf their profile in flames. Above and beyond each of these juxtapositions, however, there seems to be a new division that is creeping up, one that I’m both fascinated by and, honestly, hope to help mend.
On one side of the divide are those who think that the current racial tension in America should be addressed on social media, and on the other side are those who don’t.
If you’ve ever read my work or are connected to me on social media, you know that I have my feet firmly planted in the “let’s talk about racial tension on social media” camp. I’ve posted articles and opinions that have sparked days-long debates. I’ve openly disagreed with others in public spaces like Facebook, and I use phrases like “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “peacemaking rather than peacekeeping.” I know that this probably makes some of you uncomfortable. Some of you may be about ready to click away, and I want you to know that I understand that tension. Some days, I just have to click away from the tough stuff and head to Netflix. I get it. If your soul can’t take it today, then this is my blessing, even my encouragement, to head somewhere else. If it can, though, if you’re wondering what the possible merit of talking about all of this chaos while online could be, then I hope you’ll stick with me.
I am of the opinion that, when viewed as an extension (and not a replacement) of in person engagement of racial issues, discussing the reality of racial tension while online bears witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
1. Racial issues are image of God issues that we are not free to ignore.
Racial issues remind us that people are made in the image of God, and that many people are not treated accordingly. I think it’s important to realize that when Christians, specifically white Christians, do not engage these topics on social media, even when post after post in their timeline calls for acknowledgment, it seems as though they are ignoring the reality. When our fellow brothers and sisters, not to mention the unbelieving world, are crying out for comfort, justice, peace, and acknowledgment, and we hide behind our avatars because we don’t “have all the facts” or can’t “totally understand the situation,” we communicate that we are more interested in protecting ourselves in our perceived rightness than we are in comforting others. This can and should be communicated via face-to-face relationships. In my case, I have found that the more I engage face to face relationships with friends of color, the more compelled I am to engage the conversations online as well, because I am motivated by the story, plight, and reality of my neighbor.
So what do I mean when I say that racial issues are peacemaking issues? For the past generation or so, the typical white Christian model for discussing race has been to encourage colorblindness. You’ve likely heard this communicated before, it sounds like, “I don’t see color” or “God sees what’s on the inside so that’s what I see too.” While often stated in an attempt to be loving and equitable, this approach misses the mark as it negates the pain of the black experience, Native American experience, Latino experience, and experience of so many others. In our effort to keep the peace, we end up sounding like we are saying, “Please be quiet. You’re stirring things up too much.” This is not peacemaking; this is discomfort avoidance.
When a case of police brutality occurs and a friend posts an article about it as an expression of grief, a comment stating “this wasn’t about race” or “what about all the white people killed by police?” does nothing to offer compassion. Doing the hard work of peacemaking means loving others enough to consider their reality, listen to their experiences, and ask God for compassion that will compel us toward the hurting, rather than defensiveness that only builds higher walls. If you aren’t sure what to say when someone posts an article or thought about racial tension, try commenting, “thank you for posting this. I’m trying to understand more and this was helpful” or something similar. You don’t have to fully agree with the perspective. Rather, concern yourself with listening and compassion, and be affirmed that Jesus concerned himself with the same attributes.
3. Racial issues provide Christians with an opportunity to model charitable discussion and empathetic listening.
The third reason that I believe that engaging the reality of racial tension while online bears witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ is this: many, many people believe that Christians are harsh, unwilling to listen, incapable of debate, and entrenched in certain positions that are tertiary at best in relation to the gospel. We have an opportunity to change that. We have opportunities to comment publicly in such a way that says we are listening and loving. We have the chance to acknowledge experience and pain, and to linger there awhile, to show empathy and shirk the fear of perception.
While I certainly do not expect everyone to begin engaging every online debate, nor do I encourage it, I specifically ask my white brothers and sisters to consider a posture of active listening that lets others know that you see, that you care. If you have a question, ask it with charity, and do not pounce on the answer. If you have a comment, consider the tone of the conversation and engage peacefully. And may each of us consider how to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ as we navigate the racial tensions among us. May we live as He did, as the One who inclined toward us and did not flee the chaos, but made peace within it.
If you are interested in learning more about engaging racial reconciliation conversations both in person and online, check out Be the Bridge to Racial Unity.
Abby is an old soul, a Jesus girl, better in writing. She is a pastor's wife and mom of two boys, one of whom has a neuro-genetic disorder, which Abby writes about (among other things such as faith, liturgy, depression, social issues, and literature) at www.joywovendeep.com. Abby directs communications for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts - one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations, the other supporting area foster and adoptive families. She has a soft spot for books, podcasts, learning about human relationships through television and movies, personality typing, and pasta. Abby holds a B.A in Communication from Texas A&M University and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. Twitter | Instagram | Facebook