In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus’ plan is simple and powerful. Go to the person one-on-one. If that doesn’t go well, take another with you. If that doesn’t go well, take the church (or the authority of church) with you. This process protects us from gossip, misunderstanding, triangulation, and a ton of other illnesses that beset us personally and in groups. If we are followers of Jesus these are not just suggestions, but commands.
The key exception to this seminal text is found in Galatians 2:11-21, where Paul confronts Peter to his face, but also in front of others. The impression we get from the text is that Paul confronts him in a public way because of the public nature of his sin. This is why, as a general rule, Vineyard USA social media platforms will allow public confrontations that are clear, gracious, and quick to the point. However, we will not allow ongoing contentious conversation on social media streams because conflict resolution is relational at its core and we maintain that these conversations are better suited for direct, personal communication.
As a movement, we have a responsibility to manage and curate the environments we’ve been given authority to lead. When we gather as a churches, we intentionally structure that space and time, and we don’t allow just anyone to grab the microphone and say whatever they want. In the same way, we view our social media platforms as gathered spaces that we are accountable to manage for the sake of all that are watching and participating, not just one person’s agenda or need to speak.
Some might interpret this as censorship and/or a misuse of power. Each space and place of communication requires intentional thinking and management; it would be irresponsible not to do so. We prioritize different audiences in our communication, and our allowance of communication. More practically, more harm than good is done through arguments in social media comment streams. We want important conversations to occur, but typically this is best done offline.
Primarily, we consider our own church family in Vineyard USA and those who are committed to finding the way of Jesus together in our movement when we think through what we post and moderate on social media.
Secondarily, we consider those who are not believers and/or are investigating life with Jesus. Too often believers fight in public and injure the winsome communication of the gospel. Family business should be done within family contexts.
Thirdly, we consider those who are from marginalized people groups. The Scriptures place a high value on caring for and listening to disempowered and marginalized people. This includes, but is not limited to: women, people of color, refugees, and the LGBTQ+ community.
Finally, we consider Christians from other church communities and/or no church community. We believe that the biblical model is to work out your faith mutually submitted to one another within a local church. Believers should primarily work out their grievances and struggles within a local church and not through disconnected assertions online.
It is important to consider how we process the above convictions in light of our current cultural context. There are many great opportunities available to us with and through social media, but there are also many pitfalls and dangers in front of us as we process life, theology, pain, etc on social media.
Social media has democratized communication. People that didn’t have a voice or a platform can now communicate to a wide audience without any mitigation or controls placed upon them, and this has brought a lot of freedom and encouragement to so many. The flow of information is no longer controlled by a few “experts“, and this has allowed many disempowered people to confront and challenge power structures in a way that is right, healthy, and a helpful correction.
In light of all of this unmitigated communication, some have become overwhelmed and deeply offended. In this free and open space and time, people are free to “call out“ anyone as they see fit. Without ever having to process face-to-face or within the bounds of any commitments or accountability, these interactions can devolve into unfair and reductive assertions. This is why it becomes necessary to block and/or delete those who persist in arguing in unkind and unhelpful ways.
Our desire is to be open to being “called out” and to choose to not disregard people or opinions we disagree with. We want to be open to challenge and build ways of learning and listening that take critique and challenge seriously.
While we appreciate this free flow of information and critique, as pastors and leaders (for the reasons described above) we choose to not have our moderated spaces on social media exist for these purposes. People have their own profiles and platforms to say whatever they want; we choose to not have the comment stream of our social media exist for these purposes. We will work to build safe and clear forums for conversation, including working through local churches, Area Leaders, Regional Leaders, and our National Team. When we choose to delete or block people from commenting, our intention is to create another forum to talk, not to silence them.
Most of us know the old story of Goldilocks and the three bears. In the story, Goldilocks goes through a series of experiences where she works to find the perfect set of experiences. The story has created a series of terms, “The Goldilocks Condition”, “The Goldilocks Effect”, etc. It’s the phenomenon of trying to find the perfect set of words, ideas, temperature, or experience, an experience that fits “perfectly” in between the various complicated experiences one might encounter.
Along with the unmitigated communication and the corresponding short attention spans of our current cultural moment, there is an expectation that complex problems can be solved with a few simple, limited statements. The limits of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram require that we say a lot of things with a few simple words. There are many complicated and emotional realities that cannot be adequately addressed with such limited communication. Thus, acknowledging the Goldilocks condition, communication on these platforms is never going to be quite right in describing difficult and challenging realities.
When communicating in this present anxious and emotional context there are a few things that are true:
Common responses that represent Goldilocks thinking is:
“But you didn’t say enough about…”
“So what you are saying is ____________” (negative implication that is unintended)
“You said this, but what about ____________” (ignoring what is said and shifting attention)
This phenomenon leads to what systems thinkers call a double bind, where you lose no matter what you do or say. In emotionally and/or politically charged scenarios, we lose when we don’t speak up, or when we do. If we speak, we lose because we didn’t say enough of one thing, or too much of another, or omitted a different thing altogether.
The net result of all of these frustrating demands is that very few people want to say anything at all. And many of those who speak simply exaggerate positions or demonize others in order to try and make a point. Nuanced, careful, balanced communication is passed over or attacked, leaving many who are leading bruised and confused.
As we stated before, we appreciate challenge and critique. But as followers of Jesus we value caring and gracious responses even more. The call of the Scriptures is to do the hard work to believe the best in others. We are called to start from a place of humility and appreciate what is being done and said, and not simply just attack what isn’t.
Even though we are living in a Goldilocks/double bind world, we as leaders at Vineyard USA choose to speak and lead knowing there is always more to say and learn. We will do our best to humbly listen and speak, and will not allow demanding and unkind assaults to stop us from leading to the best of our ability.
We know not everyone will agree with the thinking and intention laid out here. We are aware that we will be accused of control on the one hand, and allowing painful conversation on the other, or accused of not addressing what we should as quickly or as slowly as we should. This is a double (or quadruple!) bind that we will do our best to navigate carefully and graciously.
Continue to pray for us as we do our best to lead full of grace and full of truth.