28 September 2012
Should Ministry Leaders Post About Politics on Social Media?
Election season is in full swing and social networks are crammed full of all kinds of political messages. There has been a collective groan across Facebook and other social networks as many people share their sometimes surprising political convictions.
Ministry leaders often wrestle with how to respond and also how much to share their own political convictions, personal and pastoral considerations - how much to advocate, persuade, share news, be snarky, when there is so much at stake - even more so in the height of an election cycle.
So, should ministry leaders post about politics?
The Gospel At Stake
This, like many questions of digital ministry practice, is a pastoral question, and utimately, the Gospel is at stake.
Here's my main concern: We are so partisan and polarized in our civic life that every message tends to get interpreted as political and gets pigeonholed to left or right, liberal or conservative. If I am partisan in my preaching or ministry, it will obscure the Gospel. People will not hear the Word because they think I am making a political statement rather than a theological or Biblical one. They will shut down and miss the proclamation and encounter with God's grace.
Therefore, I try my best to speak as a Christian, a pastor, and a theologian, not as a Democrat or Republican. I don't presume its such a clean separation, but I do my best to lead with the Gospel, not my own politics.
I want it to be perfectly clear that I'm not preaching the Gospel according to Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. I'm preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
My social media practice is a reflection of the approach I take in face-to-face ministry and from the pulpit. I preach about our political and civic life, but not in a partisan way. I don't endorse a candidate or a single approach to a problem. Our civic life reflects both the goodness of our common humanity, but also the sin that ensnares us. Our politics are a reflection of our dual identity as sinners and saints. The politicians we elect and our political systems we create are reflections of ourselves and useful means of self-reflection. We too quickly point to the problems with the "other" and are less willingly take a hard look at ourselves. This is as old as the Bible itself and Martin Luther himself didn't shy away from calling secular authorities to account.
When I approach the realm of the political, I try to walk the fine line of:
- calling for social justice that transcends nation or party
- calling not only those in temporal authority - but all of us - to act with justice and compassion
- critiquing overarching political and economic systems that oppress, not just one party
- remembering to critque religious authority, and not just political ones
- speaking to issues from a Christian and theological perspective
As an example, I share information around GBLTQ rights and equality, not from a partisan point of view, but out of my own religious conviction from studying the Bible, church history, and theology. We need more ministry leaders to be vocal about God's loving inclusion of all people, I need to express this both online and off. It is a pastoral, not political, choice.
All Politics Is Digital
However, I don't hide my political leanings online. You can find it on my Facebook profile. I don't feel the need to pretend be entirely neutral. You'd figure it out anyway. Furthermore, everyone has the right to their political stance, even ministry leaders. I share it, in part, to demonstrate that I can hold one political position while being open to others. And that I am not defined wholly by my politics. There is a lot more to my life and ministry than how I vote.
Ministry leaders have the opportunity to model healthy civic engagement. We are accustomed to operating in environments - congregations, ministries - with differing opinions and convictions, where the stakes can be very high - it doesn't come much higher than talk about God and salvation. Many people only encounter this high stakes, high passion in the deep throws of political campaigns, where every poll, every vote seems a matter of life and death. We deal with real life and death issues all the time and can serve as models and guides for compassionate conversation.
A couple tips:
- Don't share everything from just liberal outlets or conservative ones. Try to mix it up, and focus on sharing good content wherever it comes from.
- Be careful about how you engage with content or you may share inadvertently. Remember, if you like an article it will appear on your Facebook activity. If you like a picture it will often appear to your friends.
Beyond Religious Right and Left
Maybe you feel it is your pastoral call to endorse a candidate for the sake of supporting a particular issue. Perhaps your congregation expects it. Congregations on the far right and left tend to be more vocal about endorsing candidates and agendas, but both run the danger of reducing our faith to political agenda and our salvation to how we vote, rather than a matter of God's grace.
Do you post about politics or not? Please share your tips and advice in the comments.