Anyone who has been on any social media network for any length of time knows it can be a depressing place filled with bullies and naysayers eager to attacking, often typing away behind the crutch of anonymity. The Church of England, however, is hoping to trim the rough edges off of your Twitter and Facebook feeds.
Bad behavior on social media shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, really. Wherever there are people, there will be sin—that’s just the reality of our fallen world. But when we actively choose to make good decisions, either as a result of salvation found in the Gospel or because of God’s general revelation available to all, we can find, as the Church’s guidelines describe, “many joys” in one another—even online.
Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, unveiled new guidelines during a visit over the weekend to Facebook’s headquarters in the United Kingdom, according to a press release from the Church.
“Social media has transformed the way we live our lives,” Welby said. “As Christians, we are called to engage in a way which is shaped by the example of Jesus.”
“As we respond to the call on each of us to be witnesses to Jesus Christ, I encourage all of us to consider how we live our lives as witnesses online,” he continued. “Each time we interact online we have the opportunity either to add to currents of cynicism and abuse or to choose instead to share light and grace.”
Every day we are faced with binary decisions, whether to take a stand our to hold our tongues, to speak life or to speak death over a situation. We make those choices throughout the day during our in-person interactions; why should we act any differently online?
The reason is because, so often, on the internet, we believe we’re not accountable for our words. But in Matthew 12:36, Jesus said, “I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.”
And in the verses immediately preceding that passage, Jesus explained that, just as a tree’s healthiness is identified by the fruit it bears, so is a person’s spiritual standing made clear by the words they speaks or the actions they takes.
“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart,” Jesus said, “and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.”
With those principles in mind, Welby is asking people to sign a voluntary digital charter, a pledge to act in alignment with Scripture on social media.
The charter outlines ways to “make the digital world as loving and generous as we would when speaking face to face.” It encourages signers to promote truth, kindness, welcome, inspiration, and togetherness during their interactions on social media.
As for the actual guidelines, the Church offers nine rules: Be safe, be respectful, be kind, be honest, take responsibility, be a good ambassador, disagree well, credit others, and follow the rules.
“My prayer is that through these guidelines and charter, we can encourage regular and not-so-regular churchgoers, skeptics and those who are surprised to find themselves interested, to be open to think and experience more of the Christian faith,” Welby said.