Religion in Society

Houston Church Calls for One Day "Facebook Fast"

| by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, TN -- A church near Houston is leading a National Facebook Fast, calling on people to refrain from using social media for one day, Wednesday, Aug. 25, and instead to focus on building face-to-face relationships.

Kerry Shook, pastor of the Woodlands Church in Texas, and his wife Chris are challenging people to disconnect from Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, cell phones and even computers for one day in order to focus on the lost art of personal communication.

"We aren't bashing technology; we're simply issuing a challenge for participants to take one day, set it aside and act intentionally in their relationships," the Shooks said in a news release.

"For one day we're getting back to the basics and we're inviting everyone around the nation to do the same. If you have to rely on these methods for schoolwork or business, of course do so, but outside of that, get unplugged."

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Modern communication, the Shooks said, too often becomes a complete substitute for sitting down and spending time with people, which is vital for building deep relationships. The popularity of social media has led to a misperception that relationships can be managed from a distance, they said.

"We're forgetting the amazing power of connection found in looking into someone's eyes, giving them our undivided attention, sensing their body language and being in their space," the couple said. "Or the transformative effect of an embrace, a handshake or a hand on someone's shoulder. As much as we want to tell ourselves otherwise, rewarding and healthy relationships take time and effort."

The Shooks recommend that on Aug. 25 people meet with a friend for face-to-face conversation, plan a family dinner night with no electronic devices to interrupt, get acquainted with a neighbor, take a meal to a shut-in, visit someone in the hospital or mail a handwritten note.

Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press that in about 75 references to fasting in the Bible, only fasting from food is mentioned, but theologians have written for years about fasting from other legitimate freedoms in order to cultivate spiritual disciplines.

"I think the Facebook Fast by the Woodlands Church is in the spirit of that understanding and recognizes the biblical principle that there may be times to voluntarily and temporarily withdraw from something that in itself is morally neutral in order to keep it from having too great an influence in our lives or from distracting us from something better," Whitney, who also is senior associate dean of the school of theology, said.

For many Americans, it is easy to live through nearly an entire day looking at the world through glass: the glass of a windshield, the glass of a television, the glass of a computer monitor and the glass of a cell phone, he said.

"Despite the incredible benefits of these technologies and their abilities to help us connect with people, they can also hinder our relationships and our spiritual health, much as food is a blessing and yet too much of it becomes harmful," Whitney, author of "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life," said.

Even in the New Testament, before the advancement of technology, Whitney noted, the Apostle John knew some things were better said in person than by letter.

"He was willing to delay telling them until he could communicate it while looking them in the eye: 'I have many things to write you, but I don't want to write to you with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face' (3 John 13-14; and note that he also repeated this statement virtually word-for-word to his readers in 2 John 12)," Whitney said in an e-mail. "There's a timelessness in that example that we don't want to lose, regardless of how sophisticated our communication technology becomes.

"Let's also remember that God has given us an example of the importance of incarnate communication. He didn't just speak to us with a disembodied voice from heaven or send us a written message in the Bible, as perfect and irreplaceable as the infinite treasure of Scripture is," Whitney said. "Rather He came to us in the flesh -- in person. And by doing so God accomplished for us through His Son Jesus, what written words alone could never do."