In May of 2010, Facebook broke my church.
Honestly, it wasn’t Facebook’s fault. It had more to do with us—our level of relational wisdom and our lack of experience with digital communication—but Facebook was the vehicle. We drove the car into the ditch. You can’t blame the car.
Days before the debacle, Arizona had passed SB1070. You may remember this controversial bill requiring police to question people about their immigration status if the officer had any reason to suspect the person might be in the country illegally.
Of course, having skin of a certain color might be interpreted as reason to suspect, and that was the controversy. Was Arizona encoding racial profiling into law?
Immediately this became a national argument. Some Christian leaders spoke out against the law. One of those, Jim Wallace, wrote a post saying, “This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel. We will not comply.” 1
Those are strong words, words that Christians across the country had to stop and contemplate. Certainly, they did in our community. A core member and leader posted Jim Wallace’s quote and a link to the article on Facebook.
The next five days were some of the most horrible I’ve ever experienced in ministry.
People chimed in supporting, thanking the original poster for their courage. After all, this is the sort of thing that needs discussion. Some people argued about the law and its intentions. People who were not lawyers started trying to interpret and challenge the language of the law. Others argued about whether this person should have posted anything about this to begin with. This person were accused of being divisive, violating their role as a leader. Of course, they had posted because they felt this was important for the church to take a stand on.
The thread’s temperature escalated like a forest fire. People who had worshiped side-by-side for years began attacking each other. With innuendo and outright accusation, people named each other judgemental, not very Christian, even racist. I knew we’d reached Three-Alarm-Fire status was someone made a reference to the Nazis.
Others in the community tried calming the blaze. They appealed to friendship, to our church relationships. They asked if we could talk about these things in person. They cautioned people to be careful with their words. It was a plant mister in the face of a conflagration. Others shot back. If we really were friends (accusation implied!), if we really were really Christians, we should be able to talk about these things!
By the time the conversation ended, twenty Bridge City people were involved in the thread, not to mention friends and gawkers. A number of relationships were significantly damaged. All this happened in a public place where hundred of people got to watch the carnage unfold.