Digital Discipleship

By Britt Hester, Minister of Youth & Christian Education

I don’t know about you, but when I’m forced inside, be it from the weather or a quarantine such as ours, I tend to do a lot of thinking. And lately I have been thinking about our digital selves. You might gawk at such a description. Are we not the same person online that we are in real life? Yes and no it turns out.

Our digital selves may represent truths about ourselves. Yet, researchers are largely finding we can in fact create perceptions of ourselves and the world around us that are not real.

In social psychologist Kenneth Gergen’s 1991 book, The Saturated Self, he warned of a world where technology might saturate human beings to the point of “multiphrenia,” or “a fragmented version of the self that is pulled in so many directions the individual would be lost.” Unfortunately I believe Gergen’s prediction was correct.

The further we dive into social media it appears, the more susceptible we become to losing our sense of who we truly are. Naturally this causes us to behave and interact in ways that contradict our true values and convictions.

My friend Brian Foreman recently posted on his blog about this phenomenon. He writes, “In recent days I have seen people of faith defend murder, berate those with whom they disagree, belittle strangers and suggest people kill themselves, just to name a few. These are people who faithfully sat in sanctuaries Sunday after Sunday before COVID19. These are people who will go out of their way to help someone in need. These are people who are as good as gold in person. But behind a screen something happens.”

Behind a screen something happens. We could get into the science and psychology of what exactly happens, but for our purposes here, I believe it is important to note that something does indeed happen. And as people of faith we have a responsibility to consider the ramifications of our behavior online. Our posts, comments, and shares have the capacity to shape peoples’ perceptions not only of ourselves, but also of our faith and our faith community.

Discipleship does not have limits. Our commitment to following Jesus extends to every facet of our lives, including our digital presence. When we post, comment, or share on social media, we might do well to ask ourselves: Does this represent the real me? Does this article, meme, video, etc... reveal my true values and convictions? What does posting this say about me, my faith, and the communities I belong to?

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says to the crowd, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks,” (Luke 6:45, NRSV). May we heed these words on and offline.