January 29, 2013

Facebook Christians

2009 1503 page33 caphe rise of Facebook is now legendary. Originating with three Harvard University students wishing to network with each other in the spring semester of 2004, the business was named after the booklets with student’s faces that some colleges distribute. The idea was so popular that other Ivy League universities in the Boston area and the East coast began asking for it. Facebook’s primary founder, Harvard computer science major Mark Zuckerberg, soon realized the social network’s potential and dropped out of school to pursue the endeavor fulltime. The rest is dizzying history.

The Facebook phenomenon is staggering. Facebook currently has more than 130 million active users worldwide (some estimates place active and inactive users near 200 million), making it the most trafficked social media site in existence. With more than 10 billion photographs uploaded to the site, it is the top photo sharing application on the World Wide Web. Some 10 million people become Facebook members each month (Fall 2008 estimates), and there are purportedly 61 billion page views per month. Monster companies such as Microsoft have invested hundreds of millions in Facebook, and Zuckerberg has declined $1 billion buyout offers. Estimates say that the company could sell for as much as $15 billion if it goes on the market within the next couple of years.
2009 1503 page33What makes Facebook valuable to the everyday user who makes it tick? It’s a place free of charge where you can instantly access a world of your own friends with the touch of a button on any ubiquitous computer or cellphone. It’s a place where you can contact people from around the world instantly. A place where you get your own page, where people dialogue with you, and where they can view your pictures and videos and profiles and pretty much anything else. It is an endless variety of people from your past and present and perhaps future, a melange, a virtual cornucopia of personalities and characters, all your “friends.”
A lot of love and acceptance is shown on the Facebook site. If you spot an individual through the endless friendlists you have access to, you can click on a button to add them to your friendlist and in a matter of hours (sometimes minutes), they will probably add you to their friendlist. You can engage in endless benign online activities with these friends, from poking to pillowfighting. To the user who first accesses Facebook, the experience can be thrilling. They can see hundreds of their old friends through reconnoitering the site. The site even finds potential friends for you through a scarily accurate techno-deduction process. Many times Facebook is spot-on. Imagine the photo of a good friend you haven’t seen in ten years on your profile page saying you may know this person.
For many, Facebook is not their cup of tea. There are multiple reasons for this, but one you often hear is that it’s too much exposure. Each individual really has one account (unless of course they have several, which they’re not supposed to), and the people who make up their lives—the ones on Facebook, when they’ve connected with—all end up together on the same list. When a friend writes on your wall (your main page), all of your friends can view it. So at once, your friends can know who your other friends are and see—at least one side of—your correspondence with them. The multiplication of friends and acquaintances is even more dizzying on Facebook. All your friends converge. 
And here’s the point. Being a member or not being a member of Facebook obviously has nothing to do with Christianity. Neither does wanting your privacy; you are fully entitled to that. But integrity, consistency and transparency have everything to do with your relationship with Jesus. A real Christian should be the same with everyone; that is, not be one way with one person and another way with another. 
Let me illustrate my point. Let’s say you have a Facebook account. You have ten friends. Here are the relation of your friends to you:
-Old high school friend –coworker –spouse –pastor –ex girlfriend/boyfriend –exercise buddy –the cashier at your local movie rental store –neighbor –accountant –Jesus
This list is unlikely of course, but you get the picture. Would you be the same with all of these people? Could they all be on your friendlist? Could you have open dialogue with them and still maintain your integrity (except of course for personal things with the spouse). Do they all know the new you—the converted you who loves Jesus and is striving to become like Him? Or must you segregate your friends, and be ten different people with them? Could the cashier at the local movie rental store read the dialogue with your pastor and remain unsuprised?
Most importantly, what is your relationship with the final Friend on that list?  Does your relationship with Jesus guide all of your other relationships? Is your dialogue with Him open for others to see? Is it real and meaningful or just a quick text or IM here and there? Is He simply one of hundreds of your friends? Is Jesus everybody’s friend but one Whom no one really knows? Is He even your friend?
Benjamin J. Baker is pursuing his PhD in Washington, DC. This article was fist published on February 4, 2009.