Sunday, 23 November 2014

Online Communities: Shaking Off the Dust

Do you participate in online communities? If so, I will bet that like most of us, you also have some mixed feelings about them from time to time.  I know that I sure do.

An ironic thing happened to me yesterday in one such community that left me scratching my head in confusion and facetiously thinking about this Bible verse:
And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”   (Luke 9:5; ESV)

Let me back up and set the stage a little

Some time ago I joined a couple of “Christian” G+ communities, one whose community guidelines stated the following:

A Christian community for everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion. 
Community Guidelines: 
1. Keep posts concise and relevant. Use the categories. 
2. Be respectful. 
3. Original posts are preferred. No spam, self-promotion (including promoting your blog or community), cross-posting, or memes. 
4. Include your own thoughts or questions when you post links, videos, or Bible passages. 
5. Posts are allowed by individuals only, not pages.6. No "one translation only" conspiracy theory posts or other ax-grinding.  
All posts are subject to moderation. These guidelines are in place to encourage quality content. Thanks for your help!

That all sounds well and good, doesn’t it?

“A Christian community for everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion.” That sounds like it could be a good thing. Lord knows, I’ve enjoyed innumerable hours of Bible study and a plethora of fellowship discussion times centered in the Scriptures.

The only negative in their guidelines was the potential censorship as suggested by the “subject to moderation.” Still in all fairness, I understand the need for a moderator; I too moderate comments on my blogs. The difference, however, is I do so simply to block out spam; not to censor those who may think differently on a certain matter than me, and especially not when they put forward an obviously well thought out rebuttal or counter argument to my post. The irony here is that the G+ Community in question even claims it’s for “everyone who enjoys Bible study and discussion.” Apparently that is not entirely true.

Unfortunately, my experience with online communities and groups hasn’t always been very positive. Quite frankly, there does seem to be a lot of junk, even in groups and communities that claim to be “Christian.” I get it, we’re all imperfect people, saved by grace alone, but who still do a lot of stupid stuff. Who hasn’t scratched their head a time or two at all the seemingly loveless online arguments, even on sites that claim to be “Christian?” Perhaps we've even been guilty of it ourselves a time or two. But sometimes, enough is enough and you have to get away from the junk for a while. Consequently I put myself on a sabbatical, so to speak, and simply stopped participating in too many such groups.

Fast-forward a few years to yesterday

I went to visit one of these G+ communities again, read some posts, made a comment or two, and even received a welcoming comment back from one individual. For the most part, it was all-good.

I then noticed that this particular community has a category heading called: “Bibles, Books, & Study Tools.” Great, I thought! I’ll put in a plug for “Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity.” I shared a link to Amazon and wrote a few encouraging promotional words (or so I thought), posted it in the G+ community, and found it promptly deleted by the moderator.

Huh? What just happened?

Perhaps against my better judgment, I promptly wrote another post on the same community and under the same heading and invited the moderator to dialogue with me over this obvious misunderstanding. While some folks weighed in equally shocked, the moderator apparently did not think my question for clarification was worthy of a reply. Ultimately I deleted the post and thought the whole thing not worth it.

So here we are. I am not disgruntled, and I still do wish to leave that community with my customary “Peace & Blessings” that I often sign off with.

Why do I mention any of this?

I do so because I find the whole thing strangely ironic, and maybe even a little amusing (in a sad sort of way). In trying to share with the Christian community a new Christian book on “Unity Within Diversity,” the “unity” was apparently overshadowed by the “diversity,” which in turn led to my post being deleted by the community’s moderator. Oh the irony of it all!

Well there you have it. That’s how I ended up thinking of “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town [G+ Community] shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” The flip side of that, however, is that the even the notion of doing so somehow seems, well, rather "un-Christian" in that it sounds like we're abandoning people. Hmm.

For the record, I haven’t actually left the community yet (and maybe never will), for perhaps I will still have opportunity to clear the air if contacted by the unknown moderator. Besides, there are also some really neat people there that I have enjoyed conversing with in the past.

Discussion questions:

  • Given Jesus’ words concerning shaking off the dust as a testimony against those who do not receive or welcome us, how far do we go to promote “unity” within the “diversity” of our communities, and especially when others do not seem to share our passion for it? Do we just walk away?

  • Is there a greater likelihood for misunderstanding in online discussions as opposed to in person face-to-face discussions? Are people too quick to play the “spam” card, either to mask the topics they do not like, or simply out of ignorance as to what's really being said? If so what, if anything, can be done to try and correct that unfortunate tendency?

  • Obviously face-to-face and in person fellowship discussions are preferable, but they’re limited and not always possible. If it were not for social media, I never would have come to know some of the great people that today I proudly call my friends, but whom I’ve never yet met face-to-face. Having said that, do we modern Christians tend to hide behind our computers a little too much rather than seek good old fashioned times of face-to-face fellowship with other believers around us?

Something to think about. Peace & Blessings.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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