I recently joined Twitter. I told my fellow pastor and friend, who has been on Twitter since 2008, that I was interested in how the platform could “inform my ministry.” She replied that her goal on Twitter was “to animate a community”.
“Curate” is derived from the Latin “to take care of”, and modern usage usually refers to running a museum or art gallery. But in the Middle Ages it applied to a spiritual guide, usually a parish priest – a curator of spiritual welfare is someone who cares for souls.
My idea of spiritual healing was expressed by the 13th century Muslim mystic known as Rumi: “Lift up your words, not your voice. It’s rain that makes flowers grow, not thunder.
I confess my skepticism about maintaining a community on Twitter or on the Internet. When I couldn’t get together with friends, family, or church during the pandemic, I deeply missed face-to-face conversations — words that fed my soul like gentle rain.
It’s also true that viral tweets often spark thunderous outrage. In our public discourse, we attack our adversaries and even speak of “destroying” or “annihilating” them. On many social media platforms, someone can post words that the user probably wouldn’t say in front of someone. In a short time, I read many rude and cruel tweets.
But I also witnessed deep and constant care.
My first foray into Twitter coincided with breaking news of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. A seven-month investigation into top leaders of the country’s largest Protestant group has revealed abuses such as rape and paedophilia. Senior officials were not only aware of these predatory pastors, they actively denied the veracity of the allegations as well as denigrated victims.
Many pastors tweeted angrily and denounced the abuse. Others claimed the allegations were false and defended Baptist leaders. There was a lot of shouting back and forth, a lot of thunder.
There was also a trending hashtag – #SBCtoo. In reference to the first-person testimonies of the #MeToo movement, #SBCtoo collected stories from survivors of Baptist clergy sexual assault. Many of the victims were young teenagers at the time of abuse by older pastors – men who picked on them rather than prayed for them. There are horror stories.
Yet there was also an outpouring of support in Twitter feeds. Person after person commented on the bravery of the victims to reveal the truth and expressed hope for healing as well as justice.
We often hear the phrase “thoughts and prayers” in response to tragedies. I understand that this sentiment may seem flippant, even justifying inaction. Members of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee even offered thoughts and prayers as they denied culpability in these atrocities.
But I saw how supportive tweets organized a caring community. There was something sacred about seeing the words, of people who had never met, gathered in one place. It reminded me of the mystical idea of ”the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
In his book “Care of the Soul”, Thomas Moore said, “It is only in mystery and madness that the soul reveals itself”. There is a lot of “madness” on the Internet; perhaps the mystery is that Twitter can also rain down words of love.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the chapel pastor at Pines Presbyterian Church. Her recently published book is a collection of her columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons”.