As I checked my Twitter feed this morning, I saw a tweet from Huffington Post Religion about a “QUICK interfaith calendar.” Intrigued, I clicked the link and watched the 13 Vines that made up a full year of religious celebrations. Vine is the video component of Twitter, allowing users to record 7 second videos of whatever they want. These days, popular vines tend to feature goofy men and adorable animals, and range from hilarious to R-rated. Yet not all Vines are of 25 year old men singing Disney songs or little kittens. As the Huffington Post tweet I clicked on shows, religion has found its way to the Twitter-verse. What was so cool about the interfaith calendar of 13 Vines was that it captured a slice of the joy, worship, reverence, and ritual of religious life across the world. From Passover to Holi, from Vesak to Hajj to Christmas, we get to see the calendar year in terms of faith. And all because Vine and Twitter allow us to share these experiences with a click of a button.
With more than 200 million Twitter users, and more than 30 million people on Vine, around the world, it is no surprise that religion has a presence on the social media site (or app, depending on what you tweet with). This past Sunday, the Pope’s nine Twitter accounts (tweeting in 9 different languages) hit a combined 10 million followers (Pope Frances is also responsible for the first papal Instagram). Evangelical Christians have taken Twitter by storm, using hashtags like #bible or #jesus, and using the 140 character tweets to give spiritual support to their followers. There are Twitter accounts with names like Daily Zen and Tiny Buddha. Religious events have been “live tweeted,” where participants use a particular hashtag and tweet reactions, questions, and comments in real time. Want daily Bible verses or readings from the Qur’an or wisdom from the Buddha? There’s a Twitter for that.
Twitter exists to give people 140 characters, spaces included, to express their thoughts and frustrations and desires. It’s a place of limited context, because what context can you really give in 140 characters? I think Twitter can be an incredible tool for religious groups and people. I run a Twitter for the youth group at the church I work at and I follow the United Methodist Church – they tweet lots of resources. And those Vines I watched today filled me with joy as the faithful everywhere celebrated their divines. But I do think religions and social media are tricky. You have to think about all the different ways your tweets could be interpreted, especially if you have a lot of followers. Just look at the number of tweets from politicians and athletes that have gotten them in hot water, even when they “delete” them. When you engage with social media, you are putting yourself out there. That tweet about women’s clothing honoring God and men (Hockey player Rocco Grimaldi), or the one suggesting religion and sexuality are linked (author Joyce Carol Oats), or the time you tweeted about how you wish people would just stop giving Christians in the U.S. such a hard time? Those may be personal opinion, but the minute you click “Tweet,” they are fair game to be picked, and sometimes shredded, to pieces.
So should churches encourage their members to tweet about the worship service that morning? Should religious leaders have official Twitter accounts? How do we reconcile the freedom to share beliefs with the harm of offensive language?
How do we successfully tweet our religion?