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Keep in Touch: Thinking Theologically about Technology

November 09, 2011

I heard Tom Brokaw on a broadcast of the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis on my car radio today.  He spoke on many things but had this advice for young people regarding the brave new world of social media and instant communication (paraphrased):  "Texting is fine but there is no substitute for the first kiss."

This statement crystallized my feelings about the role of social media and other technology in the life of faith.  There is no substitute for gathering together, face to face, spoken word to listening ear, signing hands to expectant eyes, hungry hand to broken bread. 

The tradition I come from puts a premium on the gathered assembly of believers.  Lutherans have traditionally defined the church this way:  where the Word of God is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are rightly administered.  We can gather online to hear (and see) the preached Word but but is hard to have viritual Holy Communion.  

In this way, I think one of the best uses of the Internet, social media and other similar technologies is to help us gather.  The gathering may be the very end point - but I think it is the goal that these technologies should serve.  For example, a person may become friends with another on Facebook, begin to chat and text about meaningful issues including faith, explore the website of a congregation or faith community, even listen to sermons or watch a live - streamed service, but must (yes, must) eventually gather with other believers to participate fully in Christ - if for nothing else than to receive the Sacraments. 

I maintain that faith is best transmitted through human to human relationships that are not mediated through a machine.  Not that machines can't aid faith development, or assist in bringing people to faith, but the message mediated through machines cannot fully bring someone into a relationship with Christ.  There is something essential about face to face contact - something necessary about real human to human touch. 

I look to the use of social media in the political actions of the "Arab Spring" as an example of the best use of technology for the church.  Through various media and technological means, information was shared, consciousness was raised, people were inspired.  But what made the difference was when people actually gathered together - in Tahrir Square in Egypt, for example, -  and became a body politic, taking meaningful action together.  Social media was a means to the real end - to gather people together to become a people. 

Paul's image of the body of Christ in his New Testament writings attest to this truth: that we cannot be fully in relationship with Christ apart from relationships with others.  Eventually we have to meet face to face.  Social media and other technology helps us get there.  A faith relationship with Christ requires that we keep in touch - really, not just virtually.


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