Ah Facebook. All social media, but particularly Facebook, has become a treacherous digital ground for me, especially during an election and especially during this election.
Let me back up for a minute. I am a journalist and a journalism professor, so staying up-to-date on what’s happening in the world is important and necessary. Generally, I keep my social media accounts open all day when I am at work and check intermittently when I am at home. I also use social media for more than news—posting pictures of my cute kids and for connecting to professional groups and friends from my past. But in this election cycle Facebook has become a treacherous digital ground fraught with opportunities to offend, jump to conclusions, misunderstand, polarize and (as the research tells us) isolate.
In James 1:19-27 he speaks directly to our behavior and communication. Carefully and concisely James explains that we should listen with intention, act on the Word, and control our tongues. Listening, doing, speaking… wash, rinse, repeat, right? This is a passage that was made for a Sunday school curriculum— James is direct and clear and it might seem simple to hold that triangle of behavior up to our own lives and find certain flaws. And perhaps we’re just a little bit comfortable with those flaws. Of course, we have all failed to listen (or we have heard and then wiped our minds clean); we have all failed to act; we have all spoken out with angry words (or is that just me?). Certainly James is referring to our life as Christians, not as Facebook users, but it’s easy to see connections into specific aspects of our lives.
But James asks a lot of us. Or perhaps more precisely, the book of James asks a lot of me. At the end of that passage (discussing listening, acting, and speaking) James wallops us with a heavy hammer: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This is what our Christianity should look like—caring for the needs of others.
It’s easy to miss—the first time I sat down to read this passage for this piece I didn’t even notice it, but James is steadfast and clear: take care of widows and orphans; take care of the needy.
There are 153 and 170 million orphans worldwide. The range is wide because it’s difficult to get an accurate estimate government agencies around the world track (and define) “orphans” differently. But by either a conservative or liberal estimation the number is large. It’s almost impossible to get a clear estimate on widows for more complicated reasons, one being that numbers of widows are not consistently tracked within communities, much less governments. In James’ world, widows and orphans would have been the most vulnerable. Who are the most vulnerable today?
This passage in James is easy to think of as prescriptive, and it’s easy to use as a magnifying for our own flaws. But James reminds us at the end that the point is to take care of the needy, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27).
Elizabeth Smith Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA