Nowadays, social media is a vehicle for sharing political opinions, birthday greetings and even home cooking. So why shouldn’t religion also be worthy of a video or a meme posted on Instagram or Facebook? This week’s clergy discuss how they use social media to reach a larger audience that might not otherwise benefit from religious teachings.
The Rev. John Jeffrey Purchal
Vicar, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Mastic Beach, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Yaphank
Like most people, when I joined Instagram, I saw it as little more than a diversion — an app to share photos of my lunch and the mandatory selfie. Sure, I posted photos of church life and a few inspirational memes, but never really saw it as a tool for ministry. My attitude changed three years ago with a private message from an LGBTQ+ youth who had just one question: “Does God love me?” In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us of the immense and steadfast love of God, and he demonstrated this love by eating, socializing and living among those who “polite” society thought of as sinners. Jesus then taught us who would follow him to also live lives of love. In his Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus calls on all Christians to share this Good News of love with everybody. As an Episcopal priest and vicar of two congregations, I have my pulpit to proclaim this message of love to my local community. Now, through social media, the community that sees me as their vicar has grown wider and globally. Many in my social media community are LGBTQ+ people who at one time or another were rejected by other Christians, who also want to know, “Does God love me?” Thanks to social media, I can reach out to my LGBTQ+ siblings and tell them the same thing I told that LGBTQ+ youth three years ago: “Yes, God loves you. God loves you just the way you are — which is perfect.”
Rabbi Yackov Saacks
Director, The Chai Center, Dix Hills
The Kabballah, the esoteric teaching of Judaism, teaches that everything we see, hear and use can be used for both holiness and ungodliness. The same is true for social media. The internet has allowed us to witness things that should not be seen, such as pornography. On the other hand, social media is probably the greatest tool for teaching God and His Godly attributes. Here at The Chai Center we use social media in a number of ways. Our webpage has an overwhelming amount of information on our programs as well as online classes and courses. Our preschool, Hebrew school and special needs programs all have their own individual websites. We send a weekly email to 1,500 homes which includes insights into the Torah portion of the week as well as what is going on at The Chai Center. We use WhatsApp to share thoughts, insights and news to our preschool parents. We text and tweet every day to assure that we have enough people for a minyan (prayer quorum). We have designed our very own app for our teen groups, which allows the teens to communicate and to remind each other to do a mitzvah (good deed) today. The crown jewel of social media at the present moment — at least in my opinion — is Facebook. We post events, Torah thoughts, Jewish news, rabbis’ opinions, etc. There is literally no end to the amount of people you can reach and teach. Even people you have never met. I thank God daily for all these tools as life would be much more difficult without these gifts.
Teacher, Global Harmony House (Brahma Kumaris), Great Neck
Social media is a key way for individuals to find out who we are and what we do. We post a lot of our meditation videos on our website, and those videos are shared frequently by others to Facebook and other social media. We also use YouTube to post our Brahma Kumaris Meditation Commentaries in English, Hindi and other languages. These commentaries help people discover meditation, support their practice and guide them in how to create a positive meditation experience. We can’t be with everybody all the time, so the YouTube and Facebook commentaries are very helpful, we’ve been told, to those who cannot come in person to our centers in Great Neck, Queens, Manhattan and upstate New York. Facebook is very supportive when we use it for sharing positive thoughts and inspirational quotations. Part of our meditation is to be aware of the thoughts that you have and the experience that comes from those thoughts, and to choose the thoughts that create a positive experience. If you think about anger or upsetting things, you will tend to feel disempowered. However, if you are given a daily, positive, inspirational and uplifting thought, this can effect your day in a positive and energizing way. When someone comes to a center and learns basic meditation skills and techniques, social media is a way to support that self-discipline and growth. If you don’t do something regularly, it doesn’t grow.