Twitter is turning the world into a place where people hurl abuse at each other quicker than they can think or even speak, the Church of England’s newest bishop has warned.
I think we should also rejoice that there are spaces where people of can come together and begin to find a relationship with each other.
Wherever people of different outlooks are gathered there will often be trouble. Football matches generate tension between fans on opposing sides, drivers will fall out over the last parking space at Tesco, and I was at a friend’s party years ago when the police where called but I won’t go into details here. Throw a rag bag of people together in one space and unpleasant things are sometimes said on the spur of the moment.
Social media is one of many public spaces where people of different world views come together. So when we see trolling and other stupid comments hurled around cyberspace how should we respond? I don’t think it is helpful to infer that Twitter specifically is the problem. I certainly believe that we should join in and use social media to send out massages of hope.
We should never, out of fear, avoid or even close down spaces where people congregate as has happened in some countries. Imagine if we said no more sports stadia, no more public protest rallies, parties where only polite people are admitted. Fear of threatening behaviour and public unrest has led to appalling repressive governmental actions. Importantly, if church is as it should be we should expect fighting to break out from time to time.
The church, of course, must never be repressive or controlling. The concept of inclusive and welcoming church is one that is really, really important. Church is a space that is open to both the rough and the smooth, and as someone put it a place where you can meet people whom you wouldn’t meet under any other circumstances. And so, in this respect, Twitter and church have something in common – you can encounter people of different flavours, so to speak.
Church and social media should be risky places not necessarily comfortable ones. If we are to take seriously the example of Christ we might well be fearful of those whom we sit next to in church or converse with on Twitter – the thieves and robbers, sex offenders and fraudsters, those from the other side of the railway track. Conversation will be difficult to start but start it we must.
It’s very easy to look at the bad behaviour and focus on the medium that has made these relationships possible. The church itself has been blamed for all sorts of conflicts that have resulted from human beings occupying shared space. Even within our congregations there is some appalling behaviour, and I say that with a great deal of experience and consideration.
The wrong answer is to turn our back on people and the spaces where trouble is likely to occur and to segregate spaces along the lines of social standing, background or culture. It seems to me that church at its worst is where it becomes a lifestyle choice or a haven of polite sameness ignorant of difference.
And so I say thank God for Twitter and thank God for he church as places where we can rub shoulders with all sorts of people and become a whole and diverse family.