Times of uncertainty. In such times people look for guidance. Like in a storm, people need a lighthouse to help them navigate through dangerous waters. COVID-19 has been a time of enormous uncertainty, now deepened by a financial crisis, environmental challenges and political instability in many countries.
Even before the pandemic, I heard from many friends worldwide an increasing tendency to look at social media in search of guidelines about health, diet and even ethics. People decide on how to respond to the pandemic based on the opinion of popular influencers more than on what experts from credible sources say. While writing this article, I spoke with two friends from Colombia that look at social media for advice about politics and theology.
The Internet is like lightning in a storm. Its flickers and flashes are stunning to behold but not of much help to see what is truly in front of you. Worse, this “light” is not spontaneous, but controlled. It illuminates different directions based on forces with intentions to manipulate or even deceive. It is incredible to see how many lies I have received from members of our churches, forwarded in the format of a video and including Christian vocabulary to endorse them as biblical. When I respond to unmask the video’s falsehoods, I discover that they have also been forwarded to my friends by other Christians. This falsely reinforces the video’s supposed veracity.
We need to remember that algorithms that manage what appears on social media are driven by popularity, advertising revenue and our previous searches. Instead of supporting communal discernment, this kind of communication ends up reinforcing the presuppositions that people already have.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16)
Social media is shaping politics in many countries. I would say that it is shaping ecclesiologies and Christian faith too. But this influence is flowing in the wrong direction. It is our faith that should shape our politics, and it is our faith that should guide what we support and share in our social media.
Jesus calls us to be light for the world. It is the church that should set the example for the world on leadership, ethics, politics, justice and finances, among other matters.
In this issue of Courier, we highlight what our global church has been doing in response to COVID-19. We share some of our challenges and questions about it. We speak about what we are learning and what we need to reinforce as a global church. Our societies need to be shaped by what we do in response to the pandemic – not the other way around. And this, of course, is a challenge. In many ways, we fall short in our call to be light. I hope that this issue of Courier will encourage you to pray for our global church and look for active ways of involvement in our global intention of allowing God to shine through and in us during these times of dangerous waters.
—César García, MWC general secretary, originally from Colombia, lives in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.