The New York Times reports that Facebook and churches are partnering to reach more people. But how many readers caught a church planter’s Freudian slip?
Two Sundays ago, a NYT article caught my eye. Facebook aims to become the virtual home for religious community. It wants churches, mosques, synagogues to embed their religious life into its platform. The pitch is simple: churches can “go further farther on Facebook.”
The article highlights the megachurch Hillsong and its new church plant in Atlanta. Sam Collier is the church planter. He sought advice from Facebook developers on how to build a church. A Facebook team met weekly with Hillsong’s church planting team.
I have reservations about this. I’m not on Facebook but I’m not opposed to it per se. I’ve seen Facebook help the local Hispanic community keep abreast of developments in our food pantry. My concern comes more from Origen of Alexandria’s cautionary note.
Origen said Christians are free to plunder the Egyptians, but forbidden to idolize their gods (c.f Exodus 3:21-22). Israel took Egyptian goods and services as they departed Egypt but were warned not to idolize them.
How’d that turn out? How will this Facebook partnership turn out for the faith community? I don’t know. I do know I have a few questions.
For starters, at a recent “virtual faith summit,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, said, “Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection.” Really? Look at how their respective business plans define connection.
God’s business plan is to “marry” us. In Genesis 2:1-3, we find the Hebrew melakhto, which means “God’s business.” In the ensuing verses, the mystery of this business begins to emerge. Yahweh (Covenant-Keeper) brings Eve to Adam in covenantal love. He connects them in nuptial union, reflecting the mystery of the triune God as well as the gospel.
Is this the “fundamental connection” Sheryl Sandberg is referring to?
Facebook’s business plan is also about connection—product, consumers, advertisers. But product isn’t goods and services. It’s more seductive: advertising. The longer Facebook holds viewers’ attention, the more revenue it makes. It fosters consumerism.
Consumerism is idolatry. Is this the “fundamental connection” the church affirms?
And don’t think churches aren’t affirming it. When Facebook says churches can go “further farther” on its platform, it’s wise to ask what direction Facebook is taking the church further farther. If it’s consumerism, then further farther is disastrous.
We also have to ask: why technology? Older church traditions saw technology as a branch of moral philosophy. In other words, technology only tells us what can be done. It can’t tell us whether it ought to be done. That requires religion, wise sages steeped in the faith.
I know Sheryl Sandberg is bright. But is she a wise sage?
Another question: Robespierre and Trotsky felt that all revolutions end up eating their own. Social media is a revolution. There’s ample evidence it’s destroying us. How many American churches ask whether this partnership with Facebook will consume their church?
A few. They tend to see the church’s practices as physical, embodied, like the sacraments. They’re patient, so further farther holds little appeal. One pastor likened Facebook to just showing up at Target, parking my car and opening my trunk. “The church is not Target.”
For these churches, I recommend a few wise sages, like Jacques Ellul. He wrote The Technological Society. He raised 76 questions about technology. Who’s addressing them?
I also recommend Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Postman coined “technopoly” to describe a culture blind to asking the best question: why this technology? It only asks how can we use it? Does that sound like idolatry?
I close with a Freudian slip. At the end of the article, Sam Collier says Hillsong Church has “never been more postured for the Great Commission than now.” He credits Facebook for his church plant being able to “reach the consumer better.”
Correcting himself, Collier says, “Consumer isn’t the right word. Reach the parishioner better.” Too late. He made a Freudian slip, which is defined as an unintentional error revealing our true subconscious feelings. But I wonder how many readers caught it?