Social Media, the Pastor, and the 2012 Election

Social media plays an important role in our lives. Many of us cannot go a few hours without checking Facebook, Twitter, or some other social networking site. These sites are important communication tools that helps us to stay connected with our friends and families.

Pastors and other church leaders are among the most active users of social networking sites. There are several benefits for this. Social networking sites allow for increased connection among members. It easily advertises church activities. Facebook and Twitter can also help in connecting with other pastors across the church. Of course, there are several other benefits that make it worthwhile for a pastor to consider how social media sites can enhance the ministry in a community and congregation.

Social media also comes with a risk. Many have written about this from the perspective of boundaries, arguing that social media creates challenges to proper ministerial boundaries. However, I want to approach an issue regarding social media and the pastor from another angle. That is this: In an election year, does a comment or action on social media constitute an endorsement of a certain candidate or ideology?

This is not a straightforward question. There are several components that must be addressed. What can a pastor do or not do during an election season? What constitutes an endorsement Is a Facebook or Twitter site that of a private individual or that of church leader? What does a social media endorsement look like? Each of these subordinate issues will help us to discern this larger issue regarding the pastor, social media, and the 2012 election.

What Can a Pastor Do or Not Do?

In the simplest terms, a pastor cannot lead a church in a partisan direction. Interpreter Magazine has published a reminder of things pastors and churches can and cannot do in an election year. The list is focused on actions that would jeopardize a church’s tax status. A church is a nonprofit organization and can only educate. It cannot take a side that would support or endorse a candidate or partisan position.

There is also another reason a pastor should not lead a church in a partisan direction. That is because the church should not be defined by the realities of this world and the battles that exist between the “left” and the “right.” As followers of Christ, we are called to be defined by the mission and purpose of Jesus Christ, which calls to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world and making disciples of all people.

If we lead a church in a partisan direction, it would limit a church’s ability to authentically proclaim the Gospel. A specific church that is defined by its association with a partisan perspective prevents it from being seen as a true witness of Jesus Christ.

A pastor must be careful about his or her words and actions during an election year. Sermons must not promote the virtues and qualities of a specific candidate. The pulpit must be free of any association with Republican or Democratic politics or candidates.

What is an Endorsement?

The other part of this larger question deals with endorsements. An endorsement is a public statement of support for a particular candidate. Endorsements can come in several forms, such as a public speech, a letter to the editor, or a campaign donation. These are public activities that announces an individual’s support for a candidate.

This has implications for social media. In our age of social networking, a social media endorsement would be any action or activity that shows a person’s support for one candidate or another. It could include “liking” a candidate’s page on Facebook, making a comment about whom a person will vote for, or writing a post defending the qualities of one candidate over another.

A pastor cannot make a public endorsement of one candidate or political party. Individually, a person who serves as a pastor can support one particular candidate over another and can discuss this with others, so long as it is not within the activities of the church or their role as a pastor.

This raises another important question: Is the individual ever separated from their role as a pastor? The answer to that question is “No.”

When the public sees an individual who serves as a pastor, they always see a pastor. Even in a secular age, a pastor is an important leader in many communities. The role of pastor is not easily separated from the person. When an individual person who is also a pastor makes a comment in support of one candidate or another, a person hearing this comment has a hard time not associating it with the person’s work as a pastor.

Is Facebook and Twitter an Extension of Ministry?

That acknowledgement helps us with this question about social media. While many of us share our personalities through social networking, these sites are a continuation of our ministries. Social media enhances what a pastor is able to do through their ministries in the local church. Even if a pastor uses social networking tools to connect with friends and families or to share photos of their children, a pastor must be wise to see social media as part of their ministries.

Does a Comment or Action on Social Media Constitute an Endorsement of a Certain Candidate or Ideology?

In conclusion, we turn to the larger purpose of this article. Can a pastor’s actions on social media be construed as an endorsement and action of support of one candidate or idea over another? The answer is most certainly yes.

Because the pastor cannot be separated from the individual and, thus, social media becomes an extension of his or her ministry, any action on social media forums must be done with the greatest of care. Liking a candidate’s Facebook page, for instance, is a public act of support of a specific candidate, which could be construed as an endorsement of that particular candidate.

As with all things, a pastor would be wise to establish deep boundaries with their use of social media, especially in an election year. Among these boundaries could include: Do not like any page or photo of a group or candidate that is involved in partisan politics; Do not make a comment in support of one candidate, group, or party; Do not link to articles that promotes a specific candidate.

The most important thing for a pastor is to simply be careful and attentive to what they are doing and how someone can perceive their social media usage. A good advice may be  to see ourselves as a lay member or a person who is interested in joining our church. Would our social media activity promote that we are a partisan political advocate or that  we are an authentic prophet and messenger of God’s love and truth during an election year?

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