Social Media, Social Issues, and the Importance of Rhetoric

Social media is here to stay! However, I think most of us have forgotten how new it is to our culture. Social media primarily post-dates 9-11. Facebook was founded in 2004 making it barely a teenager of 14! Twitter is twelve years old. Instagram is 8 years old. And blogging has only been “a thing” for about a decade. Even the (affordable) cell phone is a new concept. We didn’t even own one 23 years ago when our son was born. [Ugh. I’m so old]

In less than 20 years, social media has become the new kitchen table, front porch, and town hall meeting. We use it to share photos of our children and grandchildren. We use it to share jokes and cat videos. And we use it to share thoughts, ideas, and rhetoric. These are the same things we shared together around the kitchen table, front porch, and town hall meetings. We talked about the weather, Aunt Mary’s broken leg, AND the issues of the day.

In the last ten years, people seem amazed that social media is a platform for “the issues of the day”. AKA rhetoric. Rhetoric is the “art of effective or persuasive speech or writing”. And it is more than 4000 years old. Think Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Today, we think of rhetoric as a way to obscure the truth. However, the original intention of the art form was to discover Truth. And some of the greatest thinkers of history were first rhetorics. St. Augustine. Thomas Aquinas. Martin Luther. Jesus.

Many of us have a love/hate relationship with social media. I can do Instagram and Pinterest with no problem. I struggle with Facebook. And Twitter makes me want to drink which is why I had to get off the Twitter bus! But I still see it’s value.

Social media allows us to share warm fuzzies. But it also allows us to deal with others who don’t think like us. It brings the social issues of the day to our front door, front page, and social news feed.

One of the recurring posts I see on social media reads something like this…

No one ever changed anyone’s mind with a [Facebook/Twitter/Etc] post.

I have hesitated to respond to this in the past. Until today. What if we rephrased that sentence in a different context? What if we said something along this line…

No one ever changed anyone’s mind…

…by nailing 95 theses to the church door. [Martin Luther]

…by refusing to give up their seat on the bus. [Rosa Parks]

…by standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declaring they have a dream. [MLK}

…by writing more than 2000 letters to clergy, laity, and parliament about the issues of the day. [John Wesley]

…by petitioning parliament every year about the abolition of slavery. [William Wilberforce]

…by setting up a tent and preaching the Gospel to anyone walking by. [Billy Graham]

And preachers seem to be the loudest critics of social media rhetoric (insert head tilt and look of confusion). Why can’t you just keep it focused on Jesus? Why do you have to bring up controversial issues?

We’ve read the Gospels, right? As preachers, everything about what we do is controversial. The Gospel is controversial. But, here in the States, we have forgotten how controversial it is to preach the Good News of Jesus. And it’s one of the reasons I am a fan of social media. It keeps it in our face. It reminds us that we have a responsibility to speak to the issues of the day.

Can we even call ourselves faithful ministers of the Gospel if we fail to address the issues of the day? Think about Jesus saying to His disciples, “Guys, guys! Let’s just focus on me. Forget about the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the broken. I came all the way from heaven so that you could feel good about yourself and think happy thoughts.”

And share cat videos.

There’s a world out there (even on social media) waiting for us to speak into the issues of the day. They want someone to lead the charge in helping them discover the truth. And social media has given us permission to step onto their porch and sit at the kitchen table.

Speak and listen. People really do want more than cat videos.

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