By now, most church leaders, and much of America, have heard about the controversy that has been swirling around Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands. Hodges has faced backlash over his social media activity involving “likes” of posts.
The right and wrong of Pastor Hodges’ views, the views of the pages he interacts with, and his activity are not for me to decide. Nor are they really relevant for some of the lessons that can be learned regarding our social media interactions. As we view the situation, a few things become quickly apparent.
1. Cancel Culture is Real and Powerful
Since the public outcry began, voices rallied both for and against Pastor Hodges. Unfortunately, many voices were screaming for “cancellation.” In our culture, “getting canceled” is when, based on public perception of a persons actions, words, activity, or posts, a person becomes cultural persona non grata. For example, several companies recently announced they were cutting ties with CPI Security after the CEO made comments in an email that were deemed to be racist.
A few taps of the smartphone screen, whether innocent or insidious, have resulted in incredible cost…
Church of the Highlands has experienced this in their recent fallout. The Housing Authority of Birmingham and Birmingham schools have both ended their relationship with Church of the Highlands. This is tragic for both sides of the situation. The church has lost face publicly, must find new worship space, and has lost an incredible place of outreach and relationship. The City agencies have lost a revenue stream that has already brought them nearly a million dollars and many vital services, including COVID-19 testing, that the church was providing for free.
Whether or not you agree with cancel culture, it is here and we must learn how to navigate it. A few taps of the smartphone screen, whether innocent or insidious, have resulted in incredible cost to the citizens of Birmingham, the church, and the city. The pressure is often too great for cities and corporations to resist. Track records become irrelevant and apologies are drowned out by the crowd. Take heed, no one is immune to “cancel culture.”
The only way to keep your social media hidden is to not have social media and that is not an option for effective 21st century ministry.
2. Nothing is Private
Nothing you do online is private. This is a truth understood by everyone. There is a reason the leaders of big tech carry laptops with tape over their cameras. Privacy is dead.
This is even more true in the world of social media. The only way to keep your social media hidden is to not have social media, and that is not an option for effective 21st century ministry. So, you must navigate carefully.
Whether you are liking, following, or conversing, anyone can easily click on your name to gain all sorts of info. Private settings? Think again, a little Google action and your church or business world quickly connect to your Social Media persona. Even a conversation in a private group or via email can be easily screenshot and shared across the web. You have no privacy.
you can be absolutely correct but also tone-deaf
3. Right can be Done the Wrong Way
Before you write this last item off, remember that Paul warned us to be careful that our good is not misinterpreted.
I stated at the beginning of the article that whether Pastor Hodges, or the outcry for that matter, is correct does not really matter. At this point, the validity of the posts he liked is of no effect. His actions have been interpreted the way they have been interpreted. Perception has become reality and we are seeing a leader pay the price.
From this we must learn to weigh our words ever more carefully. According to the scripture, offending not in word or deed is perfection. Most of us are a long way from that. So, diligence is the word of the day when operating online. Idle words and actions will destroy relationships, businesses, churches, and our public image.
The more connected you are, the more services you provide, the more relationships you have built, the more you have to lose.
Remember, not everyone that reads your words online knows you. They do not know your heart, your work, or your history. They are interpreting your words through the filter of their experiences and with whatever group to which they think you belong. There is also the danger that you can be absolutely correct but also tone-deaf to current events and end up being taken in a way you never intended.
Pastor Hodges is learning. We are all learning. While we learn, remember… The more connected you are, the more services you provide, the more relationships you have built, the more you have to lose. Consider this while you are online.