Facebook as a Source of Civil Dialogue

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Everyone uses Facebook in different ways.  I initially tried to use my Facebook page as a place to share photos and stories about my kids and family, but in the last year or so it has become more of a site for conversation about history, religion, politics, and other things I write about here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  That is fine.  I welcome the conversation.  I even enjoy it and learn a great deal from it.  I will probably just form a new FB page at some point where I will share about more personal matters.

(I should also add that not everything I write on the blog makes it to the FB page. I only post selective highlights from the daily posts at the blog).

At the current moment my FB page includes all kinds of people with opinions.  Some of those opinions are quite strong.  There are people who contribute to the conversation who did not go to college. There are people with Ph.Ds.  There are working-class people and white collar workers.  There are people who represent all religious faiths and no religious faith at all.   There are pastors and laypeople and academics and students. There are men and women and people of all races and ethnic groups.  There are liberals and conservatives.  You get the idea.

With this in mind, let me say a couple of things about the discourse that happens at the FB page:

First, keep it civil. Remember, it is my Facebook page.  If you can’t argue in a civil way I will “unfriend” you.  If you don’t like the community I am trying to create at the page and through the blog you are more than welcome to find an online community you like better.  I am not interested in growing my number of FB friends.  I am interested in engaging with thoughtful people who can teach me things, challenge me, and make me consider different ways to think about the world.  If that community is small, so be it.

Second, if you are part of my tribe of evangelical Christians, I want to encourage you to understand the community of people you are entering when you write on the page. Please do not write as if you are speaking to people in the church.  You are not.  Don’t assume that the people who participate on the page share your religious and theological convictions.  If you are going to argue based on Christian ideals or the Bible (which is perfectly acceptable), identify yourself in that way, but also realize that others who do not share your presuppositions may also want to contribute to the debate.  Be careful about getting too preachy.  Let me encourage you to use the page as a place to work on how to bring your faith to bear on public life and to strengthen your ability to dialogue in a respectable way in a forum where not everyone shares your view of the world.  We evangelicals need to get better at doing this.

Third, if you are an intellectual, an academic, a Ph.D, a self-professed cosmopolitan, etc… please use this site as a place where you can sharpen your skills at speaking to public audiences and people who may not share your view of the world.  In other words, the same thing I just said to the members of my evangelical tribe apply to you.  Try not to be condescending.  If your ideas are indeed true, then you should be able to communicate them in a way that makes sense to all kinds of people without deriding them.

Of course I need to take all of this into consideration as well.  Let me also add that I am not trying to stymie good argument and conversation.  Rather, I am hoping to encourage dialogue among the diverse range of people who read the feed.  I should also say that I have a lot of specific people in mind here, but I am not writing this in response to any one specific incident.  I have been pondering a post like this for a long time.

I should also say that most people–the overwhelming majority– who write on this page are very thoughtful and respectful. What I am writing here does not apply to them.  I am very pleased with the conversation that takes place, but lately there have been a few cases that have caused me to worry that such good conversation might be derailed.

Thanks for reading.