Synchroblog #1- Digital Truth Publishing

Hello dear readers : ) I’m very excited to say that this post is part of what is called a synchroblog!  There are a few Quaker bloggers who will be posting about the same topic throughout the day, which immediately made me think about when the planeteers would combine their power rings.  However, while we won’t be forming earth’s mightiest green mulleted super hero, the different perspectives we are bringing to the table will flush out the topic better than any of us could individually! Today we will be writing on the topic, “How should Friends approach the use of social media, considering how Friends had traditionally used the printing press?”. Here are the links to go check out what my fellow bloggers have to say!

Let our powers combine! 

“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.” – George Fox

Most of the hits from on my blog, according to Google analytics, come from Facebook.  I spend more than my fair share of time on that network, shoot I even have access to it from my pocket on a whim.  At my fingertips, I have easy access to more information than the vast majority of humans who have come before me could have ever dreamed of, and I take it for granted most of the time. So as a Quaker in this day and age….how am I to use this thing?   

Quakerism as a movement began within an English society that had a tradition of distinct checkpoints regarding access.  In order to live right by God, one had to go through a human intermediary and preform certain rituals.  Access to scripture was controlled by those who were ordained and educated enough to be able to interpret it. Oh yeah, and as far as information in general goes, good luck! Here’s hoping you were lucky enough to be born into a family that could afford to educate you and fill your house with books that were transcribed by hand.  

In a context where written and bound books were kept in part as a display of wealth, like a Rolex watch,  suddenly the printing press emerged.  As Quakers were tearing down the pillars that controlled access to the Holy Spirit, the press allowed for written material to become accessible to the common person.  Whats more is, it allowed for the material to be cheaply and rapidly duplicated, and spread to more places than ever before.  

New practices where already strengthening the bonds within the Religious Society, perhaps these could even be seen as a proto-social network?  Quakers were meticulous record keepers, because they wanted to keep track of what God was doing among them.  In addition to minutes, gatherings of Friends (I’m assuming before Yearly Meetings had emerged) would write epistles that were sent out for the sole purpose of keeping distant Friends informed of what they were doing.  This practice is still going strong to this day! 

So while internal mechanisms for communicating were developing amongst Quakers, they were making intentional efforts to spread their message as far as possible.  Traveling ministers were relentless in this evangelical effort, with many of those ministers being women.  Their tools were simple (maybe even crude?) to provocative, which included preaching on the streets to interrupting church services.  Friends utilization of the printing press as another mode to spread their message was innovative at the time, and extraordinarily effective. 

Did you know that before the movement became known as the Religious Society of Friends, that one name we were called was Publishers of the Truth? Pamphlet writing became an extremely popular form of Quaker outreach, and this is another practice that we have maintained (check out some of the Pendle Hill pamphlets!) Remember the effect of Martin Luther’s 95 theses nailed to a door? Yeah, how bout the effect of an equally to the point pamphlet printed 9,500 times! The incredible output of Quaker written material led to strong reactions from the powers that be, even to the point of destroying presses that would print the “seditious” pamphlets. Oh how deliciously subversive we were! X )

Now we find ourselves in the 21st century, and the situation has changed completely.  We aren’t starved for media now, if anything we are completely saturated in it now!  If Friends are going to approach the internet with the idea of making it a primary source of outreach, a-la the printing press to Friends of old, I think we are completely kidding ourselves.  By and large, people are not surfing the web with the intent to deeply listen to a spiritual belief, they are going on to look at pictures, watch videos, play games, or conduct business.  To say it another way, we’d be “competing” against waaaay too many other things on the screen to make this be seen as a primary tool.  

I imagine that this position will surprise quite a few of my f/Friends, as I’m heavily involved with Quaker Facebook groups, websites, and blogs (haha).  I am not saying that we should abandon our presence on the internet, not at all, I see our online presence growing and becoming more enriched every day.  However, I am suggesting that we strongly consider our intent inside of this new cyberspace.  I don’t know about you, but I personally groan every time the new “hip” megachurch busts onto the scene, with amazing websites and videos that are shared en-masse.  I don’t really want to say them by name, but I’m sure many people have encountered at least one.  Personally, the appeal of their organization doesn’t change for me one bit.  

For older Friends in North America, who are worried by the consistent shrinking of Yearly Meetings, I get the worry.  Maybe they see young people are using the internet, and think if we can use it well enough perhaps this will be be a stop-gap, or even reverse the trend.  Well…I worry about the folks who are putting their eggs in that basket, because I think as long as the question we are asking ourselves is “How do we keep our Meetings from shrinking?” then we will never stop them from shrinking….I don’t know….I hope that makes sense.  

So if we set aside the “tool for Quaker outreach” vision for the social networks, I think some other exciting and beautiful options begin to emerge.  

One small example of social network usage is an email list that I am on from West Hills Friends, where a MP3 of our Sunday Meeting for Worship is sent out.  While I’ve been in Atlanta this year, those recordings have meant the world to me.  I believe in a God that isn’t bound by space or linear time, and so when I hear them, I feel like I can participate in that worship too.  Even this small thing would have seemed like a logistical nightmare to accomplish even 20 years ago!  Also a particularly meaningful Meeting for Worship that I remember is one where we talked about cyber bullying and what it means for our children.  

Another way that I have seen God at work through the social networks is by creating safe spaces via secret Facebook groups.  These groups cannot be searched for, and people have to be specifically added by current members.  When LGBTQ students started to organize at George Fox University, this was an absolutely invaluable tool for us, and is still one of the most important resources that the club controls I think.  These safe spaces aren’t exclusive to Facebook, and I feel like modern Quakers need to be aware of ways they can help create places of refuge, as we traditionally have.

While the incredible good that the internet can be used for excites me and gives me hope, I think it is worth it to spend some time talking about the bad.  Quakers testify to the importance of peace, integrity, and truthfulness in everything we say, and I think it doesn’t take too long of a tour of the internet to see that these qualities are sorely needed.  Consider for a moment the comment section on most articles.

Oh god the comment sections on articles.

How often have we seen them devolve into a toxic and inhumane back and forth?  I highly discourage folks from engaging in them, but have gotten some pushback on that point.  Some would say that the exposure to a differing point of view, even in a heated context, could be the start of a good thing.  I definitely don’t think that that is impossible, and would never say that bullies and bigots should have free and uncontested reign on the internet.  However, I also testify that evil means cannot justify a good end, and most arguments I have seen on the internet rarely leave 1 completely innocent party, and were unnecessary.  Also, I should say that all of these criticisms are things I’ve noticed more so in myself than a judgement on others. 
Here is an example of another moment where the internet was used by Quakers in a small but meaningful way.  One day I was inflamed with anger when I read an article in which an author had misrepresented me!  I was offended, and felt like it was libelous.  With righteous indignation I sat down to draft a Facebook message to the author. Oh…this will be good. The words flowed.  The tone was precise. Punctuation perfect.

I was about to press send…but then I felt the Spirit nudge, and lead me to wait.

Oh come on! Why must you always come and spoil my indignation?!?

Well….I figured I’d just do what I do if I was in person and about to decide to engage with someone, I reached out for advice.  Specifically, I sent a Facebook message first to one of my Elders at West Hills.  If I’m going to be honest, in the moment I really didn’t want to hear advice to tell me not to send the message, but rather some validation.  I wanted them to hear the rightness of my indignation and support me sending a message! Well…neither of those things happened. 

With the thoughtfulness that this person shows offline, they told me that my feelings were extremely understandable, and that I would be wise to pay attention to them, but also that I made a good decision to wait to send that message, and then mentioned an option that never crossed my mind…


I sat with what they said for a few minutes, then an hour, then a day, and you know what?  My heart softened again and the flames died down.  Also, I was exceedingly grateful that I had sought the wisdom of an Elder, because I know now that if I would have sent what I had typed, I would have regretted it the next day, and would have been responsible for those words.  The two lessons that I took away from that day, and that have served me well going forward and am comfortable giving as advice are this:  Before sending any heated message #1 wait at least 1 day #2 say it out loud.  No I’m not being cute, seriously humble yourself in front of the monitor and say what you were going to send out loud.  Does it sound like you?  Does it sound like the person you want to be? I hope this advice helps you in those moments! 

Another side of that though, is that there are going to be days where we mess up online, inevitably, like the days we mess up offline.  A Quaker minister who I greatly respect shared with me some words that felt very freeing.  She said, “A.J., some days you just can’t be a very good Quaker.’ Freekin true! Some days I don’t feel like I’m walking around all that cheerfully, its more like I’m stumbling around grumpily! But all those old Quakers who’s quotes we will endlessly mine, they were not saints, they were people like us.  Grace is a thing that we should extend to others, but should also give to ourselves. 

The last part of this query that I’d like to speak to kind of flips the question around.  I think that how Quakers decide to use the internet and social networks will be hugely important, and I think how Quakers decide not to use them may be even more important.  In a society where the norm has been to become attached to your phone at the hip, I think our simplicity testimony has something important to say.  Lets discern when we need to log off, or when we need to find more balance.  When we visit a friend lets go without having a cell phone sitting on the table next to you ready to buzz, maybe it can wait.  I approach the keyboard with the same great hope that Friends who proceeded me approached the printing press with.  A hope that my actions in some small way can interact with this thing to point towards something more true.  I’ll use it with integrity and with the gift of the discernment practices that have been left to us.  

We are still called to be Publishers of Truth.


  1. Great article, there is some really good advice in here, especially the last one. I've been guilty of some pretty intense comment section brawls before. It's always good to step back and remember that our goal is not winning, we just have to speak the truth in a loving fashion and then let the spirit lead and convict. But that is much easier said then done!

    1. Hey Daniel : )

      Oh I have too, and I agree...sooo much easier said than done.
      The first time I preached at West Hills, I talked about giving up being "right" during conflicts, and instead try to be Light ; )

  2. Replies
    1. Hey Josh : )

      Thanks so much for reading! I'm glad the different contributors to the synchroblog today each had something that resonated with you in them.

  3. I agree that you can not expect to be read in the spirit in which we would all like to be listened to. All I can suggest is that we strive (praying if need be!) to clean up our own personal practice... recognizing also that the gist of many 'venting' posts can be grasped relatively quickly. And other times (consult your Guide!) may need closer reading for what they intend to say!

    For a deep discussion, you may need to take it to a select group. With a small, low-circulation blog, the number of replies that need moderation will probably not be as many as you think; we are more likely to be ignored than abused!

    It is vital to have some discussions that are open to the public and do get into contentious matters. I'm confirmed in this by one of Samuel Bownas' observations, that the spirit among Friends had gotten a bit "dead" among many of the Meetings he visited, but as one he asked about this said, it was not so where non-Friends often attended, where 'there was an open door.'

    Perhaps there should be some off-site space entitled 'venting' where people having dysfunctional exchanges can be encouraged to move them...?

    1. Hey Forrest : )

      Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment! I totally think that venting is important, I just observe that on the internet, more people vent directly at other people who didn't invite it. I like the idea of having a space for those exchanges if they do take place, because it would take out the factor of trying to save face on internet arguments...I know I'm hopelessly idealistic here X )

      I haven't come up with any rule that always works and rings true in every situation, so I think your advise is wise, listen as deeply as you can and strive to improve your own practice as you can.



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