There are many reasons for churches to use Twitter, some of which may be more or less useful in your context.

But there is a trend of open discussion of social issues, particularly about the experience of women and people of color that you probably won’t be exposed to anywhere else.

When 273 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists, it did not make the mainstream news for several days but outrage over the crime itself, and then over the lack of news exploded on Twitter.

Even after it made the news the hashtag #bringbackourgirls appeared in order to keep these girls in the news so they would not be forgotten.  It also opened a discussion on why the lives of so many girls in Africa seems less important than children in Europe or the United States.

Following the murder rampage of Elliot Rodger who blamed his killing spree on women who would not return his romantic advances, women turned to Twitter to share their experiences of harassment, fear and sexual assault.

When some men responded with #notallmen to complain that all men were being painted as dangerous, the #Yesallwomen hashtag appeared to explain “Not all men harass, but all women have experienced harassment.”

Another discussion took place under #whyIstayed after the video of Ray Race hitting his now wife Janay brought out questions as to why she stayed with him. This hashtag provided a safe space for women to talk about the complexities of domestic violence.

In the wake of police killings of young black men #Icantbreathe and #blacklivesmatter opened up frank discussion of race relations in America.  These hashtags provided an opportunity for people of color to be brutally honest in sharing what life is still like for minorities in this country.

Twitter seems to provide a space to open up discussion, where there are no filters and no one controls the conversation.  We need to be reading these hashtags to hear these stories that we probably won’t hear in the congregation.

We can get very insulated in our little corner of the world and these Twitter discussions open our eyes to the realities of others’ lives.

Recently I was proud to participate in another hashtag that got a lot of attention. In response to the news of North Miami Beach Police Department using mug shots of African Americans for target practice, a group of ELCA clergy on Facebook decided to send our photos (in collars)  to the police department and invite them to use them for target practice instead of those of marginalized people.  (You can see all the photos posted here.)

We also posted these photos on Twitter with the hashtag #Usemeinstead.

Soon clergy from other denominations and then people from all walks of life offered their photos as well.   It got quite a bit of attention and many people were very impressed by this kind of witness, some noting that it restored their faith in institutionalized religion.

This is the power of social media.  It’s not just about advertising and publicity.  It’s about opening up the conversations we have, widening the world we live in and showing the folks Jesus in new ways.

Pastor Joelle Colville-Hanson
Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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