By now you are no doubt aware of the Duggar Debacle. But in case you’ve been off on some sort of excommunicato retreat, here’s the lowdown: the TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” family that everyone either loves to love or loves to hate has been pulled from television in light of the revelation that Dugger son Josh molested several kids including his sisters back when he was 14.
Given the high moral standards the family exhibits and their close ties to potential Republican candidates for the Presidency, it’s no surprise that the internet exploded. Everyone from official news outlets and political pundits who are using the opportunity for political cannon fodder, to blogs, tweets and viral Facebook posts are shouting out their opinions on the matter.
But on this site I’m not interested so much in that discussion as I am in the question: what lessons can we learn from this situation about how to handle our past in this social media world.
The internet is unforgiving and can be ruthless. It often brings out the worse in people and as a leader in the faith, treading the line between using social media for God’s Kingdom and remaining vigilant, private and protected can be quite tricky.
So here are three lessons we can learn from the Duggar Debacle.
Lesson #1: Don’t Get Too Comfortable
I’ve done some things in my past that I’m not proud of. Nothing remotely as heinous as what Josh did. But one thing is for sure, whether you fondled some girls when you were 14, spent a couple of thievery years in your later teens, or shared some dirty pictures in your early twenties, nothing goes away forever. Even if you did something pre-digital age, if someone digs deep enough it can be found and if that happens in today’s digital age, the consequences could be devastating.
We know that God forgives our sins, but the consequences could live on and even be given fresh fire, even if you’ve worked hard ever since to turn things around.
So the lesson is a hard one: don’t get comfortable. Don’t think, “well that’s in the past, and it won’t affect me any more.” In today’s digital age, nobody is protected from their past mistake. If you think you’ve deleted it, you haven’t. It’s somewhere. Especially if a comment, picture or action was posted on a social networking site like Facebook. Facebook may *hide* what you delete, but they don’t destroy it. And this brings us to our second lesson…
Lesson #2: Live Above Reproach
In 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul writes,
Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…”
The reason Paul centres out the overseer is because this person is to be a model citizen in the Christian community. The idea is that the overseer is to live “above reproach” so that the people can see the example and follow suit.
But it is harder than ever to live above reproach. Everything you share and post, ever image, every status update, every tweet, brings with it the potential of being misunderstand on social media. Or sometimes properly understood and what was tweeted would have been better left in the head.
When we share something on social media we have to ask ourselves every time, who can see this and how will they interpret it?
It’s not just about praying that our past doesn’t find us, it’s about operating with wisdom today so that our present doesn’t destroy our witness and ministry.
It is easier than ever to cross the line with the opposite sex thanks to social media. And when that happens, say goodbye to good relationships. People are watching. Testimonies are destroyed. You void your witness and bring disrepute to God.
Live a life above reproach. That lesson is more needed today than ever.
Lesson #3: Plug away faithfully, humbly and consistently
People may define you by your past, but God defines us by our future.
If you’ve done things in your past that has just now found you out, own it. It doesn’t matter if it happened one year ago or twenty years ago. By the grace of God you are not who you were, but you still have to account for your actions.
So take responsibility, lower your head and with as much humility as you can muster, continue to plug away faithfully and consistently. Sometimes we fall from lower steps (maybe you’re lowly blogger) or sometimes we fall from higher steps (perhaps you’re a Joshua Duggar). It doesn’t matter. Put your head down. Accept the consequences. Learn from it. Then put your hand to the plough and don’t look back.
I know a pastor who had done some pretty jerkish things to some friends of mine. I’ve never personally interacted with this man, and I chose to keep it that way because of what I saw in his character. But recently he decided to connect with me and opened up the conversation with an apology. Cool.
So I let him talk while I just listened.
Unfortunately it didn’t take long before his apology turned into a blame game. Rather than apologize for his conduct he began to blame his actions on everyone else. He did what he did, said what he said, acted as he had, all in response to other people. His actions were really their fault.
I let him leave cordially, but have not interacted with him since. He didn’t own his actions. Without owning our mistakes we can’t move on from them. Without humility our past mistakes will continue to drive our downward spiral.
I’ve seen it over and over again.
Conclusion: Why Your Church Should Be On Guard
Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we’re misunderstood. And sometimes we’re simply hunted down by someone (or a group of someones) who don’t like what we stand for and are waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Churches stand the risk of all three – but especially the latter. Which is why as institutes reflecting Christ we need to be more on guard than ever.
Balancing an “above reproach” standard while engaging this world in the digital space is definitely a high-wire act that requires great skill. For that reason many churches choose to stay away from social media completely. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus would want from us.
Can you imagine if Jesus had said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations – just stay away from that massively powerful communicative tool called social media. Don’t use that.”
Jesus was the King of social networking. He practically invented the idea.
We shouldn’t allow fear and dangers prevent us from spreading the Kingdom message. Remember, all of Jesus’ disciples were killed for spreading God’s Kingdom message (except John), and some of them were wildly unsuccessful in their mission with few to no converts. But that didn’t stop them from taking the risk. They believed the Kingdom was worth it. They believed the people they were trying to reach were worth it.
Where risks abound, so does faith. Nothing worth doing is ever safe.