Here in the Christian social media world, the storm rages on. After a few days of peace in between Driscoll dustups and sexual abuse scandals, an announcement from World Vision USA reignited the eternal flame that is the online evangelical tire fire. As usual, the proceedings more or less followed John Dyer’s “10 Stages of a Christian Internet Controversy.”
The wrinkle in this particular controversy is that the reaction to World Vision’s new stance on recognizing gay marriage among its employees wasn’t limited to condemnation and excommunication (cough, cough, Rob Bell), but rather extended to some discontinuing their support of World Vision’s efforts to fight child poverty in the developing world. The backlash to that backlash was to counter canceled child sponsorships with new child sponsorships. In other words, we aren’t just arguing any more — we’re throwing our money around too, yanking it away from some kid in another hemisphere or suddenly thrusting it upon her, all in an effort to stand up for what we think is right.
In thinking through this issue, I couldn’t help but think about how the Bible doesn’t speak directly to what to do with your recurring credit card payment to a global parachurch organization after they unveil a new position on gay marriage. That’s the thing about issues like this — they weren’t possible a century ago, let alone a few millennia ago. But why wasn’t it possible? Why didn’t Paul address it in an epistle?
For one thing, gay marriage wasn’t a raging cultural debate in his day. But more than that, this issue wasn’t possible in the past because of technology. In the past, we couldn’t reach far enough, but modern technology has changed that.
My friend John Dyer, who I referenced earlier, taught me that one key to understanding technology is that it always amplifies an existing human ability. For example, a shovel constitutes technology that amplifies my hands’ ability to dig in the dirt. Binoculars amplify my eyes’ ability to see. My computer’s hard drive amplifies my brain’s ability to remember. Does that make sense?
Okay, now think of all the ways technology has made this particular tire fire possible:
Technology has amplified World Vision’s ability to tell compelling stories about child poverty. Think about how World Vision tells its story (the same way your organization does, probably): through photos, videos, blog posts, social media, print pieces, and so on. Without the technology to produce those rich media narratives, it’s unlikely that World Vision’s reputation and work would’ve spread through word of mouth alone.
Technology has amplified our ability to give to compelling causes. I mentioned recurring credit card payments earlier, and isn’t that probably how most people contribute to World Vision? Didn’t most people probably signup online in the first place? Haven’t most of World Vision’s supporters visited the website or read through an email update? Of course. If you’re a World Vision supporter, that means you regularly give money to Rich Stearns’ organization even though you’ve never met the man and you can’t walk over to his office on the 1st of every month.
Technology has amplified our ability to communicate, and therefore, our ability to offend. Where did you hear about the World Vision thing? Did you overhear some old men talking at the barber shop? Did you receive a carrier pigeon from your cousin in Seattle? No, you read about it online. That’s where World Vision made the announcement, and that’s how it reached you. If it weren’t for this infernal Internet contraption, you might never have known about a change to World Vision’s HR policies. You heard about the decision without knowing the person behind it, without hearing his voice and without asking him any questions in response. You know, because technology.
Technology has amplified our ability to respond and condemn. You can tweet at World Vision and/or Rich Stearns and instantly let them know what you think about all this, and we’ve already forgotten what a rarity that is in the scope of human history. In a matter of hours, several online voices had rallied international support both for and against World Vision’s decision. On both sides, people were informed, divided, and mobilized at an alarming rate, which again was only possible because technology amplified our ability to do so.
The big technology companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, etc.) make commercials that play upon our desire to believe that technology will only amplify the parts of us that are awesome. Imagination! Collaboration! Creativity! Exploration! Courage! Those all sound great. Thanks, Silicon Valley.
What the actual technologies (as opposed to the marketing departments behind them) teach us, day in and day out, is that our not-so-awesome parts get amplified too. Tribalism! Mistrust! Self-Interest! Vitriol! Bieber! Oops, sorry about that last one.
I bring all this up because I want you to see the role technology plays in these fights. Technology isn’t just a venue, a host for our discord. No, technology takes a much more active role, pushing us to the center of the ring and drawing a crowd to chant, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” So as you debate whether Holyfield or Tyson won this round, remember that it was Don King who brought them together, and it’s Don King who’s sitting in his hotel room without a bruise or cut on his face, counting his money and stacking it high.
What was his catch phrase again? Oh yeah: Only on the Internet!