Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Would Jesus use the "unfriend" button?

Social media has changed the way we all interact and develop relationships. There are definite pros and cons to the use of social media and its prevalence in society. One of the big issues that has come with social networking is the way we end relationships. Instead of working on repairing relationships, it's now as easy as pushing the "unfriend" or "block" button to rid someone from your digital life and  newsfeed. My thoughts today rest on people’s intentions and motivations for their ‘unfriend’ actions. For a tool that can be used to enhance communication and community, it can sometimes be used in negative or unhealthy ways.

I have done it myself.

There are other times when unfriending happens because of good reasons; unhealthy relationships, abusive behavior, the list can be as long as human relationships are complex. However, I see this type of unfriending to be an establishment or maintaining of healthy boundaries. I also hope that such disconnections are as full of grace and respect as possible.

I know of others, however, who will unfriend because they are angry, or petty, or are acting as some perceived punitive response. It can be used by a group of friends to "ostracize" someone from their social group because of some perceived wrong or disagreement that happened with one of the members of the "included" group. It's a way to make a statement that you are not welcomed or wanted in my life anymore. (Now- does that sound like something that Jesus would say?)

 People who will go through the process of cutting someone off of their social media accounts without trying to engage in conversation. People who perceive the act of unfriending to be a definitive statement on the whole relationship.
The Urban Dictionary actually had a great definition (among the many not-so-great definitions) for unfriending: “a coward’s way of conflict management in the world of social networking; to disassociate from someone or something without attempt to resolve conflict or give notice.”

And this is where I challenge the Christianity of unfriending.

As Christians, we are called into relationships with one another and with God. We are told in Proverbs that a friend loves at all times (17.17), that their counsel is earnest and can be trusted (18.24 and 27.6), and not to forsake our friends (27.10).  We are to serve one another in love (Gal 5.13) and encourage and stimulate one another in love and good deeds (Heb 10.24), to even lay down our lives for our friends (John 15.13).  We are called to enter into communication to resolve conflict (Mt 18.15), to chose forgiveness over wrath and anger (Eph. 4.31). Jesus’ ministry was one of building up community, of loving the world, of joining together to love and serve God.

With this basis, I feel sorry for those who unfriend out of spite or anger.  To me it speaks of a spiritual immaturity or unability (dis-ability?) to live out our Christian calling, an unwillingness to strive to be in relationship with one another. It saddens me to think that there are people hiding comfortably behind the ‘unfriend’ process; who prefer to anonymously break relationship rather than build it. It speaks to me of people who don’t realize that knee-jerk unfriending is less a statement on the unfriended person’s offense (whatever it might be) than on the unfriender’s commitment to community, especially community in Christ.

Now, before you protest about how the person you unfriended doesn't "really" know you, how you aren't connected with each other's lives outside of social media, and how they probably won't even notice (or care!) that you unfriended them, I want you to think about something.

 If someone goes out of their way to friend you on social media without really knowing you besides the fact that you go to their church- does that not tell you that they are desperately seeking community with fellow believers? That they want to be included in the "church" family that your pastor is always preaching about? Can you not see that they want to connect to you for the very fact that you are a fellow believer-that they want to fit into this "church" family- and that by unfriending them, you are telling them that you do not find them worthy of being included in your church family anymore.

Think about how devastating that statement could be to a new believer. Think about the people who don't truly feel welcomed I church, but are trying so hard to fit in. Those who have been hurt by other Christians but are giving it another shot. They reach out hoping that what the Pastor says on Sunday mornings is really true. That the church is a family, that they are welcomed there, and that they are surrounded by people who love them- even if they don't really know them. They reach out to connect with this "family"- only to be unfriended and rejected. And we wonder why so many people say that the church is full of hypocrites.

Our actions on social media have real life consequences in the real world. Studies have shown that 60% of people will avoid someone who unfriended them on Facebook in real life. Think about that. The person that you unfriended on Facebook is going to avoid you at church. Church- the place that is supposed to be a "family" for believers. Does causing division and hurt feelings in the body glorify God? Is unfriending a fellow Christian over petty reasons worth the cost of broken fellowship, awkward avoidance of each other at church and in public, hurt feelings,
and demonstrating to the world that the church really is no different than the world?
I have to give an empathetic NO.

When we “delete” people out of our networks, we end any opportunities to share God’s love and truth, and any needed future help and support, with them. When we “delete” a brother or sister in Christ, we’re violating the principles of unity, forbearance and forgiveness. I have found getting “unfriended” by fellow Christians to be far more hurtful than any other unfriending. We ought to apply the same Biblical principles to our social networking that we do to our in-person social relationships. For guess who is behind every computer screen and who Christ has called us to love as ourselves?

   Jesus didn’t “unfriend” people. He didn’t walk away from them. He walked toward them, embraced them, called them away from isolation, invited himself to their homes, and brought salvation with him. He BEFRIENDED them. Our work is not to shun them, or to shame them, or to fix them. It's not for us to label them as "unworthy" of being in our news feed. It’s to sit at their table, proclaim that gospel in their hearing, live it in their sight.
    That’s what we should be known for.
    Because that’s what our Lord was known for.
Is it ever right to unfriend someone? The answer is yes, of course; some people are abusive or inappropriate in their posts. Why should I subject myself or my friends to that? But then the question, do you just unfriend and allow that person to stumble across their banishment? Or should there still be a process that involves a conversation?

Maybe I am making too big a deal out of this; but I don’t think so. I have been unfriended several times. In the last few years I have found myself “on the out” on Facebook and didn’t know I had been removed. It causes me to pause and ask myself, what made this person feel OK about doing that? And, if we hold up Christ’s standard as important, is that OK for a follower of His to do that? Are these people who I am in some way connected to via Facebook…my neighbor?

Like it or not, unfriending (if you were a friend) is a statement. It tells the person on the other end that you consciously took the time to remove them. You do not want to see their face. You do not want to hear their voice. You are not interested in them and you do not want them to have a window into your life. If there has been a problem between you, then this is a definite step away from. A deliberate step away.

As Christ-followers, are we allowed to do that? I mean go to the extreme end of the argument where someone is your actual ENEMY (not just someone you dislike or are annoyed or offended by) and Jesus says we absolutely, without question, must LOVE them.

Think about that for a second. People who have crossed you, someone you once claimed to cherish, are you willing to actually say, “You are now my ENEMY?” Jesus says, even if they are that — your actual adversary, enemy — you must still engage with that person as modeled by Jesus Himself in Scripture. You must still love them. I don't think that unfriending someone- no matter how hard you try to justify it- can honestly be seen by anyone as an act of love. It's an act of division, an act of no longer wanting to care for or be "bothered" by the person that was unfriended.

Scripture keeps pulling us towards, towards, towards people: back to the table. So the unfriend button on Facebook, for a Christ-follower, should be a sobering thing to stare at.

So, when the thought of unfriending someone crosses your mind, ask yourself a few questions. Will doing give glory to God? Does it demonstrate his love, mercy, and forgiveness? Or does is express condemnation, judgment, disunity, and conflict?
Will it bring unity to the body of Christ? Will our actions demonstrate that we are set apart from the world, or that we conform to it and act in the same matter unsaved people do? Does it edify others, or hurt them? What would Jesus do?
As for me, I have made a conscious choice to no longer "unfriend" anyone. If they want to unfriend me, that's fine. But I refuse to be the cause of hurt to a fellow believer . I myself know what it feels like to be on the "fringes" of society and the church, and not really feeling like I fit in. I know what it feels like to be made to feel like I am not "worthy" of entering the church clique that can so intensely dominate Christian social circles. I don't want to cause anyone else to feel that way- even if that's not my intention. It's not worth it to me. I don't want my actions to cause another person to stumble, or to give the world one more reason to justify why Christians are hypocrites and just like everyone else. I promise, from now on, if you're on my friends list- you are there to stay (at least from my end!) Because that's what Jesus would do.