What does it take to be a peacemaking presence on social media?

Facebook, Instagram, Tick Tok, You Tube, Snap Chat, Strava, Twitter, … Whichever happens to be your platform of choice, the chances are you have witnessed or experienced first-hand the polarising and sometimes brutal landscape of social media.

Social media – a double edged sword

On one hand, social media platforms can be wonderful mediums for remaining in communication and feeling connected with friends and families, even across great distant and through lockdowns. On the other hand, they can throw us into the ring or give us front row seats to impassioned debates that more often than not fall down the slippery slope to either peacebreaking or peacefaking responses.

Even this morning as I wrote this article, opening Facebook, I saw friends sharing posts using language of unfiltered passion regarding their opinions on recent football refereeing decisions and responses to NSW lockdown extensions. Not to mention disgusting racial abuse following penalty misses by black English players in the Euro 2020 final.   Posts that in turn drew out comments from others that quickly shifted from the sharing of opinions to critical attacks.

How can Christians be different online?

So what does it take to be different? To be present online but not dragged down into toxic online conflict. To instead, be as Jesus encourages in Matthew 5:9, a peacemaker, pointing people to Jesus, being called a child of God and contributing to building peace amongst the online networks we are part of?

It is a question that I have recently been challenged to consider afresh as I have been reading through a recently published book, Posting Peace: Why social media divides us and what we can do about it by Douglas Bursch. Reading this book has led me to consider two broad questions and make one observation.

Question one: what is my default response to online conflict?

As is the case in all conflict, it can be very easy to point the finger at what others are doing wrong and fail to see our own contribution.  And it is no different in online conflict. We can often be quick to see the insensitive comments and harsh words of others and miss our own either complicit or implicit contribution.

As I have reflected on this for myself, my default response to online conflict is that of a peace faker, I choose to escape. I often choose to withdraw from online discussion, scared of what others might think of what I would say or how they might respond. The problem of course is that my withdrawal in no way helps to build peace.

Question two: what does a peacemaking online presence look like?

I don’t necessarily think that there is going to be just one shape to what an online peacemaking presence looks like.  But it obviously needs to be a presence that seeks to demonstrate and show love (John 13:34). In trying to figure out what this looks like for me, I have found many of Bursch’s reflections and thoughts helpful particularly a set of principle-based questions aimed at helping his readers build for themselves their own ‘social media peacemaking plan’.

The questions he offers are:

  • Is reconciliation my motivation?
  • Are people my priority?
  • Am I communicating truth with love?
  • Where is the grace?
  • What is the Spirit saying?
And an observation, the importance of encouragment

As I wrestle these questions through, a third aspect to living as a pacemaker has also surfaced for me.  And that is the importance of having support and encouragement from others to live as a peacemaker.

Living as a peacemaker online, just like living as a peacemaker in the world, can be hard. It requires intentionality and a submission to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It requires trust in the promises of Jesus particularly when our peacemaking efforts are not reciprocated.

One of the ways that PeaceWise seeks to support people in living as peacemakers whether online of in the world at large is through PeaceWise hubs. Hubs are a great place to be encouraged to live as a peacemaker online or in the world – or hopefully in both – why not think about coming along to the next hub near you? If one is not near you then join us online!

Written by Wayne Forward. Wayne currently serves as the National Relationships Manager for PeaceWise and as a Board Director. He has a background in Mental Health Nursing, Pastoral Ministry, Leadership Coaching and Missions and currently works with Pioneers of Australia. He is committed to helping people experience the gospel of reconciliation in their relationship with Jesus and each other and helps in the delivery of PeaceWise training and meditations.

PS.  Last month, PeaceWise joyfully released its final PeaceWiseYouth course – “Being a peacemaker in a complex world.”   This course, designed for 16-25 year olds, combines biblical peacemaking, Christian worldview thinking and hot topics in one amazing course.  Topic 5 of the course engages directly with the challenges raised by Wayne in this article of how to engage well as a Christian on social media and technology.  Other topics covered include Addiction, Identity, Grace, Justice and Judgments, Mental Health, Forgiveness and Discussing Controversial Topics.   You can check it out here.

Wayne is married to Amy and has three children.Newer to the PeaceWise family, Wayne serves as a Board Director and as the National Relationships Manager. He also assists in the delivery of national and dedicated training events and mediations. He comes to these roles from a diverse background in mental health nursing, pastoral ministry and para-church organisations where he has held a variety of senior leadership and training roles.

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