Political Pundits Talk About Faith on Social Media

Twitter screenshot

On March 5, Fat Tuesday, Paul Begala, a consultant for CNN and veteran D.C. insider who has spoken publicly about his Catholic faith, made a public act of contrition, tweeting:

“I love Twitter, but I fear it’s making me more superficial, snarky, and judgmental – flaws I already have in abundance,” Begala announced. “So I’m giving up Twitter for Lent. I want to apologize in advance to my neighbors for shouting out the window in rage for the next 40 days.”

Then he signed off.

Begala wasn’t the first to admit his Twitter sins.

In February, columnist and cable news commentator Kirsten Powers, who has spoken in many forums of her conversion and Christian faith, also committed to a Twitter timeout. Then she apologized for being part of a “dangerously toxic culture” on social media.

“I want to stand on the side of justice and equality but also of grace and I have failed to do that. Part of grace is recognizing my own fallibilities and imperfect judgment and reminding myself that there but for the grace of God go I,” she wrote in one of a series of tweets.

Powers’ “mea culpa” moment, and her willingness to shift gears in a more positive direction, was “the kind of attitude we need more of, because the country is deeply polarized,” said Peter Wehner, senior fellow at D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center and a veteran of three Republican administrations.

“It takes some of the worst aspects of human nature, amplifies them and sends them out into the world unfettered,” he said.

Wehner suggested that pundits and others who are public about their faith affiliation need to be aware that they are seen in that light, and act accordingly to the tenets of that faith.

Part of his own social media strategy includes posting nonpolitical content to his feed, sprinkling it with quotes from Christian authors such as Frederick Buechner and other books he’s reading.

Social media apps on a smartphone. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

On the other hand, Wehner said, his faith obligates him to speak out. “I have no problem calling out individuals with bad ideas. That can be a useful thing. Jesus used strong language.”

Christian activist Lisa Sharon Harper said Powers’ tweets (and her follow-up “confessional” in USA Today) made her rethink her relationship with social media.

The power granted us by new technologies doesn’t give users the power to regulate themselves, she said. Instead, the platforms’ relative anonymity means that people say what they want, whenever they want, without repercussions, said Harper, founder and president of the consulting group FreedomRoad.us.

“The Bible tells us that words can be like double-edged swords,” she said. “Words do actually have the power to harm me or cause me to hurt people.”

Harper said she feels obligated to call out cruelty and injustice online, but not in a way that diminishes the image of God, in herself and in the person she’s addressing.

Harper has also become slower to respond on social media. If she gets a snarky comment, she said, she now resists the temptation to speak from her gut.  If it’s a troll, she ignores the tweeter. But if someone demonstrates that he or she truly wants to engage her, she will respond to the questions or comments if she has the time.

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Source: Religion News Service