Internet dilutes gospel message

As a scholar of communications, I often reflect on the ways in which we interpersonally communicate, and how we deliver information to each other. Indeed, when I communicate any story or news to someone, I have to remind myself that the communication medium is often an essential part of the message. I recently read Larry Hollon’s book, “We Must Speak: Rethinking How We Communicate Faith in the 21st Century,” and reflected upon the idea that if the medium is the message, then in religious communications the way we deliver the Gospel is a theological act in itself.

One of Hollon’s key points in his book is that as the availability and use of the Internet spreads quickly, even into third world countries, the ability to spread the Gospel to remote communities also increases. As we all connect to the web, we create a wireless communication loop. However, this communication does not replace or undermine the importance of face-to- face interpersonal communication, something I find very important when we share the word of God. Therefore, if we continue to use mobile technology and social media to spread the Gospel, are we in turn watering down or disrespecting God’s word through the mediums we use?

I worked at a religious communications firm two summers ago, and part of my job was to review and respond to comments and questions left on the firm’s Facebook page, which was created to be a place where people can come and discuss the role of the Bible in the 21st century. When I received my first confrontational question, I realized that to adequately address the individual’s comment I would need pages of space and would want to have a way that she could contact me again to continue the conversation. We were discussing a delicate issue and my biggest fear was that we would begin a conversation and never receive closure of any sort.

I feared we would only stir the pot of discourse and nothing good would come from it. It was in that moment I realized that we can use social media to connect and organize, but building a relationship with someone or conversing with them about highly sensitive issues was almost impossible. Things were missing — tone, body language, the ability to show respect with non-verbal cues — that would have helped diffuse the situation and would have promoted a healthy chat.

I still think that social media has an important role in 21st century religious communications. Social media helps to facilitate conversations with people across cultures and backgrounds, and we can use it to organize and advocate with and for people with whom we previously had little or no contact.

However, when we begin to have those serious conversations about faith and spirituality there is a point where social media limits the relationship we can build with the person on the other side of the Internet connection. So instead of using social media and mobile technology to share God’s love, perhaps the most appropriate way to use such technologies is to organize communities of individuals who can explore the Gospel together and establish networks of support in new and extraordinary ways.

Graves is a senior majoring in communications and religious studies.

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