Hey Religious Leaders, Maybe Twitter Isn’t a Great Place to Pontificate

For many thought leaders, Twitter is not a good look.

We want pastors to lead from the pulpit, but what about from the keyboard? In today’s digital world, many influential religious leaders have taken their message to Twitter — for better or worse.

John Piper recently made headlines not for an inspiring new book or an empowering conference, but for his derogatory Burger King tweet. In his tweet, Piper announced his boycott of Burger King after they released a video in which a little girl says, “I love my two mommies!”

The tweet was a knee-jerk reaction to a two minute video meant to sell fast food. It did not advance a new biblical interpretation or idea that would contribute something of value.

Religion on Twitter isn’t all bad. Whatever your opinion of Joel Osteen or Pope Francis, the majority of their tweets point to an alternative way to use Twitter.

Osteen and Pope Francis show that it is possible to convey a deep idea through a short statement. The nuggets of insight in tweets sometimes do challenge and invite productive discussion.

Yet troubles arise when leaders try to use Twitter to make a religious argument. Insights may be appropriate, but debates are not, because there are not enough words available on Twitter to make a meaningful case. On July 11, well-known atheist Richard Dawkins tweeted:

Dawkins’ tweet overlooks the numerous people who do contemplate how their beliefs translate into action. Again, it does not add anything productive to the religion debate, but divides and polarizes.

Another good example of the Twitter dilemma is a March tweet from Pastor Andy Thompson in North Carolina.:

thomspon

Pastor Thompson later apologized for using the label “hoe” in his tweet and in the process, recognized a key downfall of social media: “You’ll have to forgive me. I understand it’s so easy for there to be misunderstanding.” Even though he expressed regret, he still overlooked a crucial implication of his tweet: that women are responsible for a man’s infidelity.

Is Twitter a suitable space to make a quick comment on hundreds of years of religious division, or carefully address issues of today? Even thoughtful tweets are easily taken out of context. Religious leaders in particular have an obligation to their followers to portray their faith in a positive light, but even if they manage to do that via tweets, others may still misunderstand their words in a way they never expected or anticipated due to the compact and hasty nature of Twitter. It’s tricky to convey complex thoughts well within the boundaries of one hundred and forty characters.

No one wants to ban religious thoughts from Twitter, but it would be valuable for religious leaders to reconsider whether Twitter is the most appropriate place to continue a theological debate.

Lacy Cooke
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  • http://www.thetippingpointblog.co.uk Matt Wakeling

    A good article. I think it’s a case of ‘think about what you say before you say it’, which is true offline as much as it is online. Though perhaps it’s more important to remember when online. I think Twitter works fine for sayings, quotations and pithy statements. You’re right that it’s not the best for debate or controversy.