I have a lot of conversations with people who are wrestling with hard questions. As a pastor, I talk to people about everything from how to plan a funeral to whether or not God is real. But sometimes the questions aren’t around big life decisions. Sometimes they are about the tricky realities that we face every day. In fact, in the last few months the most common conversations I have had with congregants aren’t about questions of theology or biblical interpretation – they are about life on social media.
The conversation usually starts like this: “I’ve been so frustrated with my Aunt/ Dad/ Cousin/ Friend/ Manicurist/ Person I Went to Elementary School with! I can’t believe what they are posting! I don’t know what to do about it.”
You may think it is extreme to say this is one of my most common conversations, but I assure you it is true. Posts about covid or vaccines or passports and all the opinions around them on social media are weighing heavily on a whole lot of us. If you have felt this, you are not the only one, I promise. People are completely exhausted with managing all the emotions that come with a quick visit to Facebook or a scroll through Instagram or TikTok. They are saddened by their changing feelings towards people they care about based on what they have posted online. They are struggling with how to respond and engage well.
After I hear about how hard it has been to see ________’s posts each day, the next statement comes. “You know I’m thinking of unfollowing them…”
And I can hear heaviness in their voice. I can hear the struggle. I can hear that this feels like a big decision. Sometimes they come out and ask bluntly: “Is it okay to do that?”
I admit, I never took a Seminary class on the Scriptural basis of unfollowing on Facebook. Yet, these days, this is a key question for many of us. We really do struggle with the unfriend or the unfollow, for lots of reasons.
- We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings (“What if they find out?”)
- We don’t want to be a bad person (“Isn’t that mean?”)
- We don’t want to live in an “echo chamber” (“If I block everyone with whom I disagree, aren’t I just avoiding hearing voices different than my own?”)
Christians also wonder: Is it okay for a follower of Jesus to curate their social media? Unkind? Self centered? Narrow minded?
My answer to those questions, in order, is: Yes. No. No. Worth considering.
Is it okay? As a pastor I often encourage people to unfollow people that are causing unnecessary stress in their lives. The Bible tells us that it is wise to guard our hearts and minds. Sometimes negative pages are actually doing damage to us.
Is it unkind? Sometimes unfollowing people we love actually protects our relationship with them. There are people I care about who have an online presence that is very different than how they are in person. Sometimes I need to distance from the virtual person in order to maintain a good relationship with the real person. I don’t believe this is unkind – sometimes it is actually the most loving thing we can do. And remember – “unfollowing” is not the same as ending a relationship. We can still love and stay in contact with people whose notifications we don’t receive. We can still call, message, and see them.
Is it self centered? We live in an era where we are “friends” with more people than was ever possible before. Many people in our social media streams are people whose relationships are actually quite distant from us. Yet, we can let a kid we sat next to in fourth grade completely ruin our day because we feel like it is rude to turn off their notifications. It isn’t. It is an act of self care that often makes a lot of sense.
Is it narrow minded? In other words, What about the echo chamber? I think this is an incredibly valid point, and I applaud people who consider it. I do agree that surrounding ourselves with people who only think like us is risky if we want to grow and learn. AND I don’t think this means that we have to hear those voices every time we go online. To avoid an echo chamber, we can carefully choose to engage with pages with well considered content different than we might normally seek. We can intentionally go to visit the pages of friends we have unfollowed to see what they think of a certain issue, at times we are ready to process. We can read articles and books from differing perspectives. We can arrange for real life conversations with people who stretch our thinking. But gentle reminder: Letting the woman who used to have a kid on the same soccer team as your child five years ago derail your day with a meme she posted is not the same as “avoiding an echo chamber.” It’s okay to let the posts stop.
Can a Jesus-follower unfollow? Yes.
Can a Jesus-follower stop loving? No.
We are still called to love people who are different than us, and people with whom we may strongly disagree. But there are many ways to love people beyond reading their rants when they pop up on your screen. Love by praying. Love by talking. Love by listening when you have the space to do so in an authentic way. Unfollow when you need to – and love, always.
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