With great hesitancy, I recently entered into a brave new world: A Social Media Network! For over 50 years, Luther Seminary has been the source of intellectual and spiritual stimulation for both Larry (Class of 1972) and me. Since his death, I have experienced an intellectual emptiness, which led me to Luther Seminary’s Faith+Lead Learning Lab: whose purpose is to “provide learning and experiences for passionate lay and ordained ministry leaders who want to grow in their capacity to live out a gospel witness in today’s cultures.” It is an ecumenical private social network to connect and share with other faith leaders.” I agreed to a covenant of “collegiality and mutual respect to keep the community as valuable, authentic and safe as possible.”
Following a five-day challenge, “Richard,” a widower, contacted me. Thinking his contact was a result of the challenge, I reached out with empathy. Within a day, he wanted a “different means” of contact. By day three, he was “praying” for me to share his whole life with him “til death!” After consulting with my pastor and bishop, I replied with a nice “No,” expecting not to hear from him again. His next posts quickly flipped into a pattern of emotional abuse.
I responded by contacting Luther Seminary. They were immediately concerned about my well being and appalled that this was in clear violation of the Covenant. They quickly shut him down and sent out an article clarifying the covenant to all members. I was grateful for their swift, efficient and caring action.
I felt angry and exhausted by the ordeal. I had been vigilant and thought it would never happen to me! My experience was minor and quickly dealt with. My thoughts immediately turned to, “What is our responsibility as people of faith in addressing the toxic reality of social media?
Any form of social media has the potential for cyber bullying. Cyber bullying flagrantly breeds and spreads a toxic, dangerous and sinful atmosphere of hate and harassment directed at individuals and groups online, affecting self-worth and causing isolation, depression, death, etc. It spews hateful misinformation which can stir up misguided insurrection and hate crimes.
In Luke 6:42, Jesus admonishes us to “….first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Luther Seminary is a model of how communities can coexist online with collegiality and mutual respect. It is our task, as people of faith, to proactively create a safe and authentic online
environment by adopting social media policies that protect the vulnerable from exploitation and promote meaningful conversation, responsible behavior, neutral free speech and unity in diversity.
In Philippians 2:2b-3, God calls us to “…to have the same love…be of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility value others above yourselves”, by loving people through their burdens without criticism or judgement, including social media. It is our responsibility, as people of faith, to confront cyber bullies and do justice for victims of any form of hatred.
As 2 Corinthians 13:11 says, May we “…Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, and live in peace…” online and off-line.
“Let the Light of Christ banish the darkness of online hatred!” — the Rev. Dr. Martin Otto Zimmerman.
• Laura Rorem is a member of Resurrection Lutheran Church and writes to honor Pastor Larry Rorem’s legacy of love, compassion and understanding for all humankind, especially the most vulnerable.“Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders. It appears every Friday on the Juneau Empire’s Faith page.