Trust: The Church and Facebook

You don't undo those things with better packaging, or a new release of an old product. You have to do the deep, soul-baring, painful work of repentance and asking forgiveness -- and do it without caring if this person ever comes to your church or not.
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This week when I clicked the Facebook app on my phone, I was greeted by a happy looking hamster character informing me that I would no longer be able to send messages to Facebook friends from the app on my phone. I would need to download the new Facebook Messenger app which promised faster sharing of images, files and videos, as well as what is essentially a "free" text message platform.

Of course, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is, so this week also saw a deluge of articles about the "permissions" you are granting Facebook when you download this new application, among them permission to "use microphone without authorization to record conversation," to "send and receive SMS (text) messages without your knowledge" as well as activate and use the camera(s) on your phone. I know this because my Facebook feed was then swarmed with apocalyptic warnings and passionate claims of deleting and uninstalling the app, along with recommended, less invasive alternatives. Strangely enough after commenting on a few of these posts, I was invited the next time I logged in to "take a Facebook survey" which only makes me think Big Data is watching more closely than any of us can imagine.

I'm no conspiratorialist. I think Facebook has done a very good job of getting people to share very personal details about every aspect of their lives and then tracking that data to market to advertisers and companies. It makes good business sense. But the foundation of any person's use of a product is trust -- the idea that the product or commodity will work when you need it to work. That you can trust your car to crank, your plumber to be fair and do a good job, your doctor to prescribe the right medication. Consumer trust is everything, and while I don't think that Facebook will see a mass exodus anytime soon, it's strange that if you type "how do I uninstall" into Google, at the top of the list is "how do I uninstall Facebook messenger." This notwithstanding the recent revelation that Facebook was experimenting with human emotions in something between a fifth grade science experiment and a BuzzFeed survey. These are serious questions that are ultimately about who we trust-and why.

Let me put it another way.

Once upon a time you found this great, new thing. It allowed you to share some of who you are in a place that felt safe, primarily because you were in control of what you shared and whom you shared it with. Along the way you made great friends, even re-connecting with others you hadn't talked to in awhile. Pretty soon you had what felt like a real community -- people who you could tell about how bad your day was, how cruel your boss was being, how difficult your ex was being or how you wished you could do more for your children. You shared pictures and funny stories from vacation, from lunch, from graduations and celebrations, from funerals and hospital rooms. You became part of a network that prayed for one another, that laughed, grieved and "liked" alongside one another. The space felt safe, until it didn't.

Maybe it was just realizing that someone else was controlling the narrative you thought you were telling. Maybe it was feeling like there may be gatekeepers somewhere who were shaping the stories you shared. And that caused you to question everything. It made you wonder whether the space was ever safe. It may even have made you question the authenticity of the other people, who were really just participants like you were, equally hurt by what felt like manipulations by someone else, somewhere out there. Would you trust that place again? Could you trust that place again?

Now, instead of thinking of Facebook when you read that last paragraph, read it again and think about the Church. Even if this has not been your experience (or mine) of Church, there are millions of people for whom the institution of the Christian church is no longer a place worthy of trust.

As a minister, I regularly hear conversations about how we can get people to "come back" to church. Much of the conversation centers around this very idea of how we create communities of trust for the millions of individuals who once placed their trust in the Church only to find that trust violated by another. I've never been in Facebook's headquarters, but I imagine the questions are the same. What do people want that we're not giving them? Do we need to package it differently? Can we incentivize them to make them want to come back? Can we make a better product they'll actually want to use?

I know very little about business, but after serving in church one way or another for around 20 years now, I've seen lots of folks who have been hurt and damaged by the church. I have dear, close friends who have caused me to understand another category of abuse that is neither physical, emotional nor sexual -- it is religious abuse and though it can take the forms of these others, it all too often is a tool for oppression, dominion and subjugation.

You don't undo those things with better packaging, or a new release of an old product. You have to do the deep, soul-baring, painful work of repentance and asking forgiveness -- and do it without caring if this person ever comes to your church or not. You do it because it is right, it is just. You do it because bringing about shalom and wholeness means helping people heal and repair that which is broken. Sometimes repair isn't possible. And occasionally something really remarkable and beautiful happens. There are no guaranteed results but then again, it's not supposed to be about results to begin with. I don't know if the Church can prevent more and more people from uninstalling religion from their lives, but I do believe those who serve and love the Church can help cultivate a culture of love and support -- the kind that shows those who have been hurt that it is possible to love -- and to trust anew.

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