Witnessing to the Kingdom in our Digital Age

by Andrew Boyd

I spend way too much time on Facebook. That’s partly a function of my job(s), partly my constant need for self-affirmation, and partly my constant need to spy on the people I love. But, I also spend a lot of time reading and thinking about what people post, about the gospel we Christians preach in the social media space, about what we think our voice should be in the public sphere, in facebook, the modern marketplace, on cable news, in conversation, the workplace, our schools, etc. And sadly, I’m left wanting more, more than what’s already out there.

We are blessed to be part of the living tradition of our living God, passed down to us from the Apostles. Our faith, in its fullness, has been gifted to us not to merely preserve, but to share. Sadly, especially on social media, we have lost the basic ability in many cases to share this tradition without looking like extreme jerks. Listen, I love being a know-it-all as much as the next guy, but letting our pride and ego launch us into a caps-lock heavy combox battle witness only to the tradition of people putting ego before Gospel. No one, ever, will be argued into the Kingdom by you or I.

The Modern Martyrdom
I recently heard a member of the UN Security Council tell a large group of business leaders that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. This is no surprise to those of us who’ve been praying for our brothers and sisters in Syria and Egypt and witness the recent martyrdom there. This is the Church of witness, of martyrdom, and being willing to lose our lives for the sake of Christ. Martyrdom connects our faith now to the witness of the Apostles and the saving act of Christ on the Cross. We act this way because Christ saved the World by being silent and complacent in the face of unjust death,”The just one, condemned unjustly” as our hymns say.

Thanks be to God that our Church’s witness continues to grow through its martyrs. Sadly though, for every post and article I see about these powerful witnesses, I see another one complaining and whining about how hard it is to be a Christian here in America. It’s not. And, if it is, and if we are truly being marginalized, maligned, and persecuted, than thank God for the opportunity to witness Him, and how he reacted to being marginalized, maligned, and persecuted (and killed…).

“My grace is sufficient for you” unless the walmart clerk forgets to wish you a Merry Christmas when you are buying tons of useless holiday junk…

“By this all men will know…”
Someone on my floor in college said to me once “I was so surprised to learn your were a Christian, ’cause you’re so nice!” For better or for worse, the public, at least where I am from, has a largely negative view of Christians (judgmental, doctrinal, self-righteous). It’s up to us to change people’s hearts and minds (perhaps I should stop shouting at people on the subway…).

Courtesy, patience, love are not just touchy-feely buzzwords, but expected behaviors of all Christians. Looking at our facebook groups and blogs, what stands out is our animosity, combativeness, and our love of calling people heretics* (the actual definition of a heretic can be found at the end of this article). We don’t put our best foot forward into the public world of social media, instead we shamefully witness our disunity and lack of basic Christian charity. I have to read tons of online industry forums for work, where people disagree politely and thoughtfully. Meanwhile, I tell people constantly to avoid certain “orthodox” websites and facebook groups where we gather to publicly complain, mock, and judge.

So, what should we do?
If we shouldn’t be like talking heads on cable news or cowardly internet trolls, then what is our model for our behavior in the public sphere? What is God calling us to do in the workplace, our schools, with our neighbors, on facebook?

For me, the example of St. Herman is always useful. St. Herman was a monk first, and of course lived a life of guided silence and constant prayer. His prayer was so strong that if you visit his home on Spruce Island today, you can see how the entire environment has been transformed and marked with the presence of the Kingdom.

But Saint Herman didn’t just stay in his cell and pray, he used his life as a practitioner of silence and prayer to help those in desperate need (ran an orphanage), perform saving miracles (protected villages from tsunamis and fires) and stand up to those in power for the oppressed (calling the Russians out on their treatment of the natives). The difference between his activity in the public sphere and ours, is that his was fueled by genuine love for people in need, people whom he knew intimately. Ours is fueled by ego, or agenda, or ideology, or politics, or insecurities.

Ultimately, Father Herman’s example is so compelling to me because it is a beautiful image of Christ’s example. Silence and worldly weakness gives way to the real power of public love, a power that breaks the bonds of death and sin to make paradise open for us all.This is our imperative, this is our vocation in the public sphere, to use the gift of our tradition to preach the Gospel of a God who is love, not to feed my ego, assuage my insecurities, or feed the fire of ideology. This is what Christ wants for us, to do what he did for us, for others. Every interaction, every post, every tweet, every word has the potential to speak the fullness of the good news of a loving God.

A heretic is not someone who holds an incorrect belief. A heretic is a church leader (usually a bishop) who vigorously propagates a belief that he or she knows to be contrary to the beliefs of the apostolic and catholic Church. As my seminary professor used to say “Most of you aren’t smart enough to be heretics”.