Jamie Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
TURNING YOUR DIGITAL INFLUENCE INTO GLOBAL IMPACT
I was recently asked if digital communications could really make a global impact when only a third of the world’s population is on social media. This reminded me of one of my first campaigns for the Church.
In the summer of 2016, I worked with “Your Best Pathway to Health” to help create community awareness for the free mega-health clinic that was coming to Beckley, WV in the heart of Appalachia. A quick search in Facebook Ads manager revealed that around 200K people were on Facebook within 50 miles of the convention center where the clinic would take place. With a small budget of $200, I started a community awareness ad campaign targeted at those living within driving distance of Beckley. This digital effort was part of a larger multi-channel campaign that included newspaper ads, 30K hand-out flyers, and all other traditional media.
It is said that “familiarity breeds contempt” or, at least, presumptuous behavior. Soon after launching the campaign, I received a call from a long-time friend who felt very strongly that I was out of line with this use of church funds, and that I was out of touch with the realities of this community. After all, “this was Appalachia, and those people don’t even have running water and electricity.” After two hours of conversation, I still call her friend, because this was a teaching and learning moment. I had an opportunity to share the potential this technology offers for our mission, as well as gain a better understanding of the cultural paradigm I was up against (in terms of encouraging the church to embrace digital strategies and the perceptions that may result). What she didn’t know, was that I made a decision based on data and not assumptions about the “least of these.” In fact, she didn’t know that I had been raised in the same economic class she felt I was so disconnected from.
I asked her one simple question: do you know someone who is not on social media? She said yes. I followed up with something like, “If you saw an online advertisement about free medical treatment with no strings attached, and you knew they needed help, would you tell them?”
What I had done was make a strategic decision to activate the sharing power of the 200K people who were online and, most likely, connected to others in the community who were not on social media. It’s human nature to share a good thing when we see it, especially with those we care about who need the services offered.
According to an extensive study conducted by the New York Times, 94% of people share content online because “they feel the content will improve the lives” of others. This act of sharing goes beyond the digital space.
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him: John 4:28-30.
However, my ten years of digital marketing experience was entirely secular. I had never done an advertising campaign for a church project before, and consequently prayed a lot in the weeks leading up to the clinic. When the event began I was overjoyed at the testimonies of people who said their family member, friend, or neighbor saw an ad online and told them to come. According to the exit surveys, social media outperformed all the traditional advertising, and was second only to referral by friend or family member. Based on the anecdotal testimonies, word-of-mouth (friend/family) was also largely driven by the social media campaign. Click here to learn more about this case study in community awareness.
Social media is the modern School of Tyrannus, a place where the ancient Ephesians gathered to engage with new ideas, pass the time, share thoughts, and participate in discussions. Paul spoke at the School of Tyrannus in Greece for two years (Acts 19:8-9), essentially getting the gospel to go viral in his day. (A podcast about Paul’s influence at the School of Tyrannus by Dee Casper, Brand Evangelist, ARTV, can be found HERE.)
This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks: Acts 19:10.
PAUL STAYED IN ONE PLACE, AND YET HIS TEACHINGS SPREAD. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Ephesus was an important port for trade and commerce (like the internet), attracting people from all over the Roman Empire. People would come and hear what he had to say, go home, and tell others what they’d learned. In today’s terminology, they hit “Like” and “Share” on social media, and their friends and family were exposed to Paul’s teachings of the gospel. Social media has the potential to do this on a much larger scale. By reaching the connected, we can reach the unreachable.
In other words, if approximately 33% of the world’s population is on social media, it’s highly likely that they know the other 67% of the world or know someone who is connected to someone who is not on social media. You get the idea.
What starts in the digital space, isn’t confined to the digital space.
We must put our assumptions about those people aside (whoever those people might be), and work with who we can reach.
Evangelism experts tell me that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community. Your average person is as likely to have moved several times, as to have lived and died in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, perhaps messy. Even for those who never change their geographical location, they are globally connected to people through social media in ways that were unheard of just twenty years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures and communities.
The city of Ephesus experience is now reflected in every major city in the world and online.
I, myself, am a mid-western transplant to the D.C. metropolitan area. There still is no cellphone reception in my home town. My parents access the internet and phone through satellite. Until recently, our roads were unpaved and my family was on well water. I go home once or twice a year and call my parents regularly (when the satellite phone is working). I had never heard of Adventism until I went to college; now my parents are closely connected to two Adventists (me and my husband). During our conversations and interactions, I share my experiences and new ideas. While my home town is not as remote as some other countries or communities that still exist in the world, the concept is the same. We can reach people online who have migrated to the digitally connected parts of the world. These people probably maintain ties to their home communities in some way, and since they are from that community, they are in the best position to share the gospel within the cultural norms, language, and expectations of those communities. When they visit their friends and family, they can share the gospel just like the ancient citizens of the Roman empire did back in the first century. This is how we can obtain global impact through digital communications. It’s the same strategy that Paul leveraged, but scaled up by modern technology.
And for those isolated communities with, assumed, no access to the outside world, give the Holy Spirit a little credit for being able to carry the message the rest of the way.
If the message went global in Paul’s day without the help of modern technology, let’s not assume limitations on the Holy Spirit in our day.
We aren’t expected to accomplish this mission alone, but we are called to “…Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). The world now includes the digital space. We need to dream bigger when doing God's work. Can you imagine what would happen if each of us committed to sharing the gospel online for two years? And remember, it's not like we have to physically go somewhere or leave the couch for that matter. But then again, who knows where God will lead us when we step out in faith.
Jamie Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
Fulfilling Your Role in the Great Commission
With the recent spotlight on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, many users are now wondering how to respond to the revelation that the social media giant not only mishandled access to user data, but also actively suppresses expression of Christian and conservative values, playing political “favorites” throughout the world. Given that Facebook, who also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, has almost no social media competitors, it’s easy to understand why most people feel upset. Facebook is the largest country in the world with over 2 billion active monthly users. WhatsApp boasts over 1.5 billion monthly users, and Instagram has over 600 million monthly active users. That is an impressive share of the digital market, and a misuse of the data and/or power wielded by these platforms constitutes a formidable threat to a free society.
However, this reach is the very reason why Christians who are serious about fulfilling their role in the Great Commission should not hesitate to stay on these platforms. Social media has become part of the very fabric of our society. We can connect instantly with friends and family from around the world, share our ideas, and embrace what it means to be human. Humans, by nature, tell stories, desire connection, and share experiences and ideas. Social media platforms have saturated our lives because it speaks to these basic human needs. That need is never going away this side of Heaven. Advancements in technology are often continually driven by this need to better communicate and connect. Think about the history of communication technology: cave drawings, smoke signals, boats, domestication of horses, letters, the printing press, the railroad system, telegraphs, phones, cars, radio, planes, TV, internet, social media, and whatever comes next. With each of these advancements in technology has also come the advancement of the gospel. For example, the Gutenberg printing press brought about mass production of the Bible and religious literature, allowing the gospel message and reformation ideas to spread throughout Europe.
I believe that the next Great Awakening will be a digital one. If we unite in purpose to spread the Gospel online, we can proclaim the three angels’ message with a loud voice throughout the world. During the apostolic period, the gospel was spread by dedicated teachers and evangelists who often faced ridicule, persecution, and sometimes death. They took the gospel where the people were, regardless of the personal cost. Today we are often hindered by fears of what people might think of us, or who might be offended if we share our beliefs online for all to see. In the Western world, we do not face persecution for our religious beliefs in the same way other Christians do around the world. In the case of social media, our posts may be removed or reach restricted, and, in some cases, expressing our religious convictions could threaten our employment. These are some less severe consequences we face as members of Western society, but it is enough to stop many of us from engaging at all. We may not be spiritually ready to stand in the fires or be persecuted like the young men in Daniel 2, but at the moment, God isn’t asking us to. He has, however, asked us to use what is in our hands (Exodus 4:2) to connect with the children of God and share the gospel. With 20 million members worldwide, we as a church body could work together as content creators, engagers, and distributors to generate a mighty voice for sharing the gospel message.
Social media is the modern School of Tyrannus, a place where the ancient Ephesians gathered to engage with new ideas, pass the time, share thoughts, and participate in discussions. Paul spoke at the School of Tyrannus in Greece for two years after being kicked out of the synagogue (Acts 19:8-9), essentially getting the gospel to go viral in his day. (Dee Casper, Brand Evangelist, ARTV)
This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks: Acts 19:10.
Young people spend up to nine hours a day engaging with social media; they go there to fill time, share with friends, and see new things. Like Paul, we must take the gospel where they are and engage them in discussion where they spend their time. We must make use of this technology before it’s too late. We don’t know for certain what the “Time of Trouble” will bring upon us, but I’m sure censorship will be a dominating factor that will lead to persecution.
I have dealt with censorship issues repeatedly while working for the North American Division. It has often shocked me and frustrated my efforts to promote life-changing medical services, healthy living principles, spiritual messages, and services for those struggling with addiction. It has been a grave concern of mine since taking this position after my time at the Smithsonian and realizing the dramatic differences in treatment of the content and campaigns I’m now tasked with running. This has only made me more committed than ever before to utilize these technologies to accomplish our mission. After all, if we are doing the Lord’s work, the Holy Spirit will grant us favor when the algorithms won’t. While our department adapts and readjusts to make social media successfully work for our mission, our goals would be better served by fair and equal treatment on the platforms. To be clear, Facebook does not give advertisers access to an individuals’ data, but it allows advertisers to run highly targeted ads, maximizing impact while reducing costs.
I’m hopeful that these recent events will ultimately result in making Facebook, as well as other giants like YouTube and Twitter, a safe place for free speech, religious expression, and the exchange of all ideas. Religious organizations will stand to benefit from the removal of discriminatory biases that limit reach and access to advertisement of our ideas and resources. Furthermore, I think it is essential that everybody take the time to watch the entire stream of the Facebook legal proceedings and avoid basing opinions on a few strategically edited compilation clips that are not reflective of the whole committee proceeding. We should be careful to not let the various stakeholders exploit our busy schedules and consequent short attention spans to shape our understanding of the issues.
The outcome of these legal inquiries will undoubtedly shape the future. These proceedings are ultimately about every individual’s constitutional right to free speech, religious expression, and privacy of personal information. Please invest the time to watch and understand the implications of Facebook’s breaches of trust. This is hopefully the first of many conversations around this topic. We must pay attention and hold these companies accountable, otherwise they maintain monopolies with the power to decide who has a voice, who has your data, and what they do with this information. Not only is this problematic in a free society, but also problematic to our mission as Seventh-day Adventists.
As Christians we must continue to advocate for free speech. Our ability to spread the gospel in the public forum relies upon it. Regardless of what ultimately comes out of these recent events, we must press forward, and speak Bible truths with this powerful technology. Stay, but stay with purpose. Share your faith online. We cannot wait any longer. This is our generation’s great commission.
But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”: Matthew 28:16-20.
Jamie Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
The proper care and feeding of followers.
Global social media usage is on the rise, and this year, 33% of the world’s population will be on social media (TrackMaven). Depending on how we respond to this reality, social media presents either a huge opportunity or a huge challenge for the gospel.
Social media is a valuable tool for listening to the needs of your audience and building relationships. Simply having a social media presence is not enough anymore. Your audience expects a response when they engage with you online—often within a few hours. Your goal in using social media for ministry should be to ultimately understand and fulfill a need, making a tangible impact in the real world. This means listening and taking action on a daily basis.
How your online followers perceive your ministry influences their perception of not only the Adventist Church corporately, but God. Your digital voice may be the only opportunity your followers have to see Christ’s love demonstrated in their life.
Strong digital brands create connection and take a comprehensive approach to the member experience. Treat your members online as if you’re talking with them face-to-face. Their online interactions with you should make them want to experience your faith/mission in person. Then, when they to come for that onsite experience, it should be a continuation of the positive relationship you’ve built with them online.
There should not be a disconnect between how a person is nurtured in the pews and how they are treated online, or vice-versa.
Every opportunity to connect is an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. Do not waste your digital influence. Social media provides a unique opportunity for long-term member care that can enhance and strengthen the relationships you cultivate with the members, as well as the community, your ministry serves.
People search online for answers to their problems–what better place for the church to engage them?
Your content may answer some of their needs or questions, but not all. Be the voice that answers back and engages with them in a meaningful way.
According to the Q2 2016 Sprout Social Index, 90 percent of surveyed consumers have used social media in some way to communicate with a brand. What’s more, over a third (34.5 percent) said they preferred social media to traditional channels like phone and email.
Member care includes addressing the negative. By being actively engaged online, you have the opportunity to turn negatives into positives by addressing issues and resolving problems promptly. This is especially relevant to younger generations who naturally turn to social media first to share their thoughts and feelings. Through a culture of online customer service and digital discipleship, you can build a reputation as an organization that truly cares about its members and the community it serves.
Nearly half (46 percent) of people have used social media to “call out” or complain about a business. That number jumps even higher when you slice the data by generation. Unsurprisingly, millennials are quick to take their frustration to the keyboard—56 percent of them have complained or called out brands on social media. That means that millennials are 43 percent more likely to call out a brand on social media than other generations (sproutsocial).
Do not underestimate the power of engagement. There’s no ROI (return on investment) without it!
Invest the time; build a committee of digital disciples who are available to respond to comments and messages online promptly, while being human. That means engaging with a personal tone that conveys Christlike care. It will pay dividends for your mission. By living out our mission online and exemplifying the character of Christ, we can create social media ambassadors for the gospel, who eagerly share your content and messages.
Social media interactions should be treated like a real-life conversation. Respond to your audience, share their content, and like their comments. Follow the conversation and actively participate. Seek to understand their needs, and respond in a meaningful way. Building relationships can impact brand awareness, trust, financial support, and more. Your goal should be to break down the perceived barrier between the individual and your corporate brand. Strive to be authentic and as transparent as possible. This is how you build trust.
I believe that the next great awakening will be a digital one. We have the ability to preach and live-out the gospel in view of millions of people, so let’s do it. We need every single one of us to commit to being a digital disciple, using social media as a vehicle to reach out and care for God’s children.
Some tips to get you started:
Executive Director, Digital Research global media outreach.
The internet can cross borders, but is its reach in danger?
“You’re the only Christian I know.”
Those were Anon’s words to me during an online Bible study chat. That’s when it hit me—online may be the only way some people have to find out about Jesus and grow in their spiritual journey. This way of sharing the Gospel called Digital Evangelism and Discipleship continues to grow worldwide despite government crackdowns, bandwidth issues and access around the globe.
Anon is from India but lives in Pakistan. Working on an oil rig, he only sees his family once or twice a year. At the time, he knew no Christians and was likely afraid to talk about it after coming to faith in a 98 percent Muslim country. But there we were on the Internet, chatting and learning together. Over time, I found out I was the only Christian he talked to on a regular basis. As his faith grew, he began talking to a few other Christians and was able to meet occasionally, but in the beginning, I was it.
A Big Responsibility
I felt like most people would after I heard that: scared to death. What if I said the wrong thing? What if he said the wrong thing and got in trouble for his beliefs? There was a safe distance doing this over the internet, but it sure didn’t make me feel better with the responsibility.
In the U.S., we talk to people, and there is no danger of dying for being a Christian. I had to trust God that He would protect Anon. This feeling of safety and the ability to share things is often called “anonymous intimacy” in Digital Evangelism. Thousands of volunteers (we call them online missionaries) provide that area of safety for seekers all over the world every day, praying for people, answering questions and connecting them to churches close to where they live.
One powerful example of this idea comes from one of Global Media Outreach’s online missionaries, Sarah. She has cerebral palsy and can’t speak or even feed herself, yet she is helping people each day online. She uses a stylus on her head and a customized computer to communicate as she helps people grow spiritually. Sarah has helped 2,522 people, including 31 in Middle Eastern countries. She has helped disciple 13 people in Iran alone, one of the most dangerous countries for Christians on Earth.
We can track a seeker’s city and country when they contact us, but personal information such as their email address is kept “walled off” for security reasons. So the seeker can feel comfortable sharing. Neither our volunteers nor the seeker can see each other’s email address. All of that information is kept secure.
A Changing ‘Mission Field’
Social media has changed the way people all over the world organize and build community. Think of the uprisings in Egypt where Facebook and other social media tools were used to communicate where to meet and when to protest.
At times, the ability to reach out from behind the curtain allows people to search for God safely. What we call “anonymous intimacy” gives a seeker a way to deal with the issues in an environment of freedom.
But is anonymous intimacy, one of the hallmarks of Digital Evangelism, in danger? One of the advantages of helping people online is the ability to build trust without the bias of how you look, how you sound, your economic background or geographic location. In many countries, it’s just not safe to talk to others about spiritual issues, especially if you are looking at different religions.
One of the reasons Digital Evangelism has been so successful is this environment of safety. Today’s environment of fake news, social media bullying and hacking may be affecting our ability to continue to trust online. As more people use social media and the internet, we have seen new ways to build relationships.
Who would have imagined 30 years ago how easy it would be to have conversations daily with people you would never meet face to face? But with those new abilities, along with an increase in cyber-attacks, hacking and government surveillance of citizens’ online communications comes a great deal of fear.
Pew Research just released a fascinating study on the future of online trust for the next decade. They noted that, “Those who are hopeful that trust will grow expect technical and regulatory change will combat users’ concerns about security and privacy.” Of those surveyed, 48 percent chose the option that trust will be strengthened; 28 percent of these particular respondents believe that trust will stay the same and 24 percent predicted that trust will be diminished.
As communication channels and methods change, businesses and organizations have to think through both technology and approaches to building trust.
We have found that protecting the security of the people you talk to online is key. From the beginning of the ministry, we’ve had a “black box” approach to make sure personal data is secure for both our volunteers and the people who are searching online to protect their identities.
When a seeker responds to a volunteer, they aren’t connecting to that volunteer’s personal email account, nor is the information they share publicly available. Now, of course, new technologies are quickly developed to beef up online privacy, and we continue to look at ways to protect shared information.
Unfortunately, as Pew notes in their study, “the internet serves as a conduit for the public’s privacy to be compromised through surveillance and cyberattacks and additional techniques for them to fall victim to scams and bad actors.” Most organizations have some policy, but I would recommend reviewing it at least once a year and testing it for holes.
Transparency is also the key to building trust. People can easily see through clickbait, and even inbound marketing techniques have to be focused on providing value because prospects do not want to feel like sold to. Providing upfront who you are as an organization and what you do goes a long way to building relationships. Online missionaries are trained to share what God is doing in their lives personally, yet not reveal so much personal information that we compromise their safety.
Trust often takes a long time to build but can be lost in a moment. We should all be mindful of the trust someone is giving us when we post on social media or respond to an email. It can be easy to forget you we are still a witness online because our posts may feel “safe.” Our personal witness crosses from face-to-face to an online environment, but we are still representing Jesus.
Re-posted with permission. Blog originally from relevantmagazine.com.
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
Digital Strategies Intern for the North American Division
People often ask me, “How do I make my content more relevant to young people?” My response is, “Why are you asking me, I’m 35!” If you want to reach young people, involve them, and listen to them.
It stands to reason that young adults would know best how they can be reached and what is the most relevant content for them. I find myself in-between generations. I’m not really a Gen X-er, nor am I a millennial. I grew up in an analog world but became an early adopter of emerging technologies in my 20s. I also learned patience while waiting for the AOL CD to load so I could connect online (Don't understand this reference? Click here while I go check the mirror for wrinkles). I played outside all day without supervision (at that time it was still called childhood, not free-range parenting) and if I wanted to know what my friends were up to, I showed up at their house (nowadays that would be considered rude and/or creepy). Bullies were confined to schools, and informal sex ed was limited to school yard rumors. My micro-generation has now been termed Xennials or, my favorite, The Oregon Trail Generation. Perhaps this is why I feel well suited to act as a bridge between generations. I’ve lived my life there, not really being one or the other. As a digital strategist, this is a unique advantage. I have learned to work with both, and find value in either.
Millennials want to hear the wisdom of the older generation, and they can be eager to learn. They also need respect and understanding of their unique circumstances. The issues I faced as a teenager in the ‘90s are nothing like what they are dealing with now. I can’t imagine or relate. So what would make me think I know what content is most relevant to them? No, my role is different. I have knowledge regarding strategy, communications, advertising, planning, etc. They speak the right language and understand the culture; they simply need guidance. Spiritually, they need wisdom from the older, more experienced generations. But they know best how to translate it to reach their own.
You’re not going to like this, but it’s not about you. It can’t all come from us. It’s about them and what they need. It’s about the language they speak and issues they face. Now, there’s a lot of knowledge that can be passed onto them. They need guidance to achieve goals while maintaining the freedom to be creative and relevant in ways that make sense to them. It’s my job to equip and train young people to implement a comprehensive digital strategy: empowering them to become life-long digital evangelists, while challenging them to think differently. This means letting go of complete control, letting them do what they think is best. But before you cringe, let’s remember that the Seventh-day Adventist church was founded by teenagers. They are capable. Society tends to infantize them, instead of recognize them as young adults with passion, energy, and drive. They may want to do things differently, and that’s okay. If it goes badly, we can help guide them out of a predicament, but
We can’t both reach them while simultaneously excluding them.
The family unit was meant to be more than just a mother, father, and children. Traditionally, a family unit consisted of multiple generations working together as one for shared goals, survival, support, and spiritual understanding. We don’t have this structure in North America anymore. Some “smart” social scientists convinced society to separate children and people by age. Over time, this broke down the family unit of society. Not only did we accept this model in our schools, but in our churches. We now have an us-versus-them mentality when it comes to people outside our age bracket. What I’m advocating for is bringing back that cross-generational model for evangelism. Let the generations not only coexist, but co-function in our churches and community.
So my answer to you is: ask a young person…Now for a word from our current resident millennial, Jacklyn Ruth:
Jackie talking now...
To me, it seems obvious that figuring out how to reach my generation means actually asking one of us. It would be like me trying to reach my grandparents’ generation and not asking them for help. I don’t fully understand them or the values they grew up with.
Now, I’m not saying that I know everything, but I have interacted with people my age for a while. When deciding on what to say or what to post to reach my generation, it’s mostly just me talking to myself. How would I want to hear this? What topics do I want to hear about? I’ve also heard what some of my peers have to say, so I know some of the topics millennials would like to hear more about.
I think my generation is the greatest untapped resource. We are consistently condemned by older adults for being full of ourselves or glued to our phones. You say you want to keep us in the church? Then let us help you. Reaching people online is not about becoming internet famous, so if you let us help, I’m sure we could make a real positive difference for Christ.
You want to reach us. You want to be relevant, but don’t know how. Listen. Give us the space to share our insights and listen to our ideas. Then, let us do it. We have the understanding, you have the know-how. Show us how to do it, and we can do it.
There is no one better to reach my generation than my generation.
Don’t believe me (Jamie Jean Schneider speaking now), here are some real-life examples…
To help with #Gorgeous2God, a blog aimed at teen girls, we brought in a young female intern to help with social media and to hopefully increase relevance. Guess what? Our target audience liked her posts better than mine on social media. Of course they did; she’s closer to their age and speaks the same language. That’s not a failing on my part. I can’t do everything, nor am I all knowing. My job is to teach, guide, and mentor. Also, #iBelieveBible has now reached over 65,000 followers on Facebook. Why is it successful? The #iBelieveBible project is built upon content created by young adults for young adults. Young people are choosing, directing, and creating the content with strategic guidance and input from the older generation. See the pattern?
Practically, what you should do is include young people on your creative team. If you produce videos, involve them. Oh, and actually include their input. They will figure out quickly if you’re disregarding everything they say. It’s okay to have the older generation in videos too, but it should be a dialogue between the generations.
Agree? Disagree? Have a different opinion? Share your thoughts with #DigitalEvangelism.
Director of Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
Part 3 in our series on "Politics, Race & Religion."
Bureaucratic activist and/or people with strong political convictions loosely throw a phrase like “American Values” about when the honest statement is, “The values of the party / group I identify with or represent.” Rhetoric feels good. I get that. It’s a comfortable place to pitch your tent, mingle with like minded people, laugh at the ludicrous extremes of the other side. But it’s still only half of the pie.
For example, special interest groups exist to give voices to the values of the constituents and parties they represent. They are both beloved and hated universally for being singularly focused and narrow minded.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) will tell you that it lobbies on behalf of people who care about its “second amendment right to bear arms.” For people to sustain their constitutional right to carry weapons such as handguns for protection, or shotguns and rifles to hunt. All true. What they don’t want to talk about is gun registration, background checks to ferret out criminals and the mentally unstable, or banning assault-style weapons or high-capacity ammunition clips that are the hallmark of shooting massacres.
Labor unions will tell you that they provide better working conditions, higher wages and benefits, job protection and the influence of a collective voice. All true. What they won’t tell you is that they also protect unproductive employees, cause prices for services and fees to increase for employers, which are often passed on to consumers, and contribute to environments that are as combative as they are cooperative.
Politicians, special interest for both sides and voters on the left and right do believe in and represent American values, but speak completely different languages. Their framework of value is biased, and the heart of why the right and the left are so far from one another may come down to where each party, and individuals within those parties, reside on the continuum of ethical values versus moral values.
These words are not to be confused and are not interchangeable, nor does it mean that people have to be one or the other. People can be both, or neither, but have the proclivity to let ethics or morals define a greater part of their lives and beliefs.
So what is the difference?
Ethics is a fundamentally utilitarian belief that good and bad choices should be based on outcomes rather than on the actions needed to get there (outcomes > intentions). Ethics also refers to rules that groups provide. This stands in contrast with the moral reasoning of the Judeo-Christian tradition that there should be an objective standard for right and wrong (intentions > outcomes), and an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong should guide that reasoning. To speak to both points, the means and the ends should be morally and ethically permissible, but they are not.
Ian Welsh, the blogger, says the best short definition he’s heard is “Morals are how you treat people you know. Ethics are how you treat people you don’t know.”
A better understanding of ethics based and moral based upbringings may explain why many foster these values throughout their lives.
From an early age, Republican homes focus on strict parenting that creates self-reliant children who are told that “the world owes you nothing.” This atmosphere of rewards and punishment is thought to build character from hard work and discipline. The young are taught to believe that life is difficult with tangible evil, and it rewards none with participation trophies. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Preserve the good things in life, and build your community on the moral-based principles of “Do unto others…,” weakness of mind, body and character and the tolerance of it is immoral, because it implies being unable to stand up to evil. Punishment is required to balance the moral books: If you do wrong, you must suffer a negative consequence. Self-reliance is key to all good accomplishments.
Democratic homes by contrast have an atmospheric presence of protection and communication. Empathy and empowerment help to ensure growth rather than punitive fear. In the Nurturant Parent family, it is assumed that the world is basically good…or could be with oversight. And, however difficult the world may be at present, it can be made better, and it is our responsibility to help to make it better. Correspondingly, children are born good, and parents can make them better, and it is their responsibility to do so by providing safe spaces for them to maneuver and grow.
It’s no wonder we see the world so differently. But would you be surprised if I told you that it’s not what one believes that is the only or the greatest source of friction: It is the byproducts of our ethical and moral values.
We can theoretically agree that many of the same things are good or bad. For instance, let’s start with crime. The Public Religion Research Institute, which is an American nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization that conducts public opinion polls on a variety of different topics, says that 57% of Democrats say crime is a critical issue compared to 53% of Republicans (The largest differences between the priorities of Democrats and Republicans are on the issues of economic inequality, cost of education and climate change ).
It’s an area where both showed slightly higher-than-average levels of concern. It’s a difference of 4%, but it may as well be 400% because both view crime through vastly different lenses.
Democrats focus on the idea that:
Republicans, by contrast, focus on the idea that:
And this is the heart of our conundrum. Alone, each statement is something with which you may or may not agree, but when paired together with its core value counterpart, it becomes toxic. Each is an example of what I’d like to call core value byproducts.
Let’s look at the following image as an example…with definitions.
Core Values are things or ideas that are held in the highest regard by an individual or a group. Neutral values are things or ideas that may or may not be valued by individuals or groups. Core anti-values are things or ideas that are despised by an individual or group. Core Value byproducts are fundamental values from one group that contribute to byproducts that clash with the core fundamental values of another group.
With this in mind, let’s revisit the values…
A Core Republican Value = Punish the guilty.
Most Republicans believe that punishment of the guilty is not only desirable but necessary. That is a core value focal point…but doesn’t tell the whole story. In today’s society, many innocent people have also been wrongly convicted. There is also a disparity in criminal sentencing, which has ruined lives and caused justifiable outrage in communities most affected by these actions.
The National Academy of Sciences has used a survival analysis model to determine that 4.1% of defendants sentenced to death would be exonerated if they remained on the sentence indefinitely.(#5) The actual rate isn’t as high because many defendants plead out death sentences for life sentences. That speaks as much to fear of death as it does to a person’s guilt. It also makes one wonder how many innocents are serving life sentences. What it the effect on these men and women, and their families?
The Ohio State University has estimated that about 10,000 are wrongly convicted of serious crimes each year. (#6) That’s alarming. As a visual comparable, according to the 2002 U.S. Census of Governments, there were more than 31,000 local general-purpose governments with fewer than 10,000 residents in the United States. The “wrongly convicted rates” could be likened to gathering up entire communities and then bussing them off to be locked away. That’s frightening, and more so when you think a community of that size is gathered up like that on a yearly basis.
On the flip side…
A Core Democratic Value = Protect the innocent.
If you are a Democrat, one’s plight to protect innocent people may mean that you are sometimes willing to turn a blind eye to major and petty crime if it “balances the books.” But how harmful could that be? Criminals are often repeat offenders, so everyone that avoids punishment is more likely to steal, assault or murder someone again than not. By keeping offenders free, everyone is put at higher risk. And those that are incarcerated also pose a risk when released. A study from the Bureau of Justice showed that the recidivism rate of criminals released from 2005-2010 within a 30 state sampling was 68% within three years, and 77% within five years. (#7)
Iowa State University did a study that calculated the societal cost of the five major crimes of: murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary. Societal costs included victim costs, criminal justice system costs, lost productivity estimates for both the victim and the criminal, and estimates on the public's resulting willingness to pay to prevent future violence. The numbers are mind boggling. Murder $17.25 million; rape $449 thousand; armed robbery $336 thousand; aggravated assault $145 thousand; and burglary $41 thousand. (#8)
These are facts. So why is it so hard to acknowledge that both criminality, and wrongful incarceration, are things that we should both be very concerned with and work toward?
The Psychological Bulletin, a journal published by the American Psychological Association, analyzed data from 91 studies involving nearly 8,000 participants. University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores Aibarracin, who led the study, noted some interesting findings.
It seems sinful to be so focused on our own values, that we are unwilling to expose ourselves to other ideas, or to debase the views of others without really understanding them.
I am struck by the clarity of God’s word about crime, punishment and innocence.
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” Leviticus 19:15
“For I the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrong doing. In my greatness I will reward my people and make a covenant with them.” Isaiah 6:8
“Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come on them.” Proverbs 24:24-25
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
“Punish crime and defend the innocent. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” Colossians 3:25
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:12-13
Punish the guilty. Bestow mercy. Show no favoritism. Defend the innocent. It seems pretty clear.
Let’s look at two more core values with their charts.
Again, the values are largely noble, but the value byproducts go against the core being of those that don’t share your values…and again speaks to the ethical versus moral worldview issues that we have.
A Core Democratic Value = Help the Disadvantaged
A Core Republican Value = Reward Hard Work
Do you see the endless cycle? Again, two noble values. And again, value byproducts that essentially render our agreement on the initial values as moot points. I recognize your value. I may even feel positive about your value. But the value byproduct of your core value is so offensive to my being, that at best, I’ll ignore your value, and at worst, I’m willing to destroy any chance you’ll have at seeing it come to fruition if I know my core value is being ignored and trampled upon.
(#5) http://www.pnas.org/content/111/20/7230 & http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/28/how-many-people-are-wrongly-convicted-researchers-do-the-math/
Director of Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
Part 2 in our series on "Politics, Race & Religion."
Read the following statements about the past two elections.
What do you think?
Your answers will likely come from a bevy of factors, which will include ethnic origin, socio-economic background, geographic locale, upbringing and political persuasion.
On top of this, neuroscientists say that biology may play a part in the structural differences within the brains and identities of Democrats and Republicans. Our political biases, predispositions, and values are tied into a part of the cortex that rewards us for defending our own political perspectives and resisting ideas that do not jibe with our views or lifestyles. (#3)
So depending on your affiliations, your leanings and some science… the reasons people voted for these parties, or opinions about why others voted for those parties will vary greatly.
That’s not unusual. However, it is troubling that the most consistently conservative and liberal bases are quickly sliding apart, signaling a shift toward a more drastic view of those who don’t look and/or think like you do. The middle has lost ground, and the most extreme ideological groups within both parties are shifting even further along the fringes of those floating bases.
This would work for any of the responses, but let’s select one listed above from Republicans and one from Democrats regarding why they voted for a particular candidate or party in 2012 and 2017.
Some Republicans said, “I felt that the Democratic party focused on issues that aren’t relevant.” If you are a Democrat, I’d like you to think for just a moment what that means to you.
Some Democrats said they voted the way they did because, “He (Obama) embodies my hopes, dreams and aspirations.” As a Republican, what does that mean to you?
When people know that you are tracking their responses, their words become measured. Their emotions and deeper feelings about an issue are masked to protect themselves from criticism and something that disrupts their stability and balance.
So for this part, I’ve asked several people I know about those statements. But as open and honest as I know many of them to be, they, like you or I, still might hold back.
I asked the Democrats what they thought about the Republican response of “I felt that the Democratic party focused on issues that aren’t relevant.” But rather than waiting for their responses, I offered my own: “You know, important issues like inbreeding,” followed by “Like keeping White hope alive since 1776!” or “Like keeping Mexican food inside the border…at least the food part.” The responses? Smiles, light laughter, some nods.
I asked the Republicans what they thought about the Democratic response of “He (Obama) embodies my hopes, dreams and aspirations.” And again, rather than waiting for responses, I said, “You know, aspirations like collecting a bigger welfare check to cover their luxury car payments?” followed by “Like being tolerant unless someone disagrees with them.” Or, “Like dressing up as a Democrat for Halloween and forcing people to hand over candy.” Same responsive cues.
When I made the same digs about their political parties that I’d shared with the other group, the laughter was less robust, or muted. Even a few icy stares. (We’re all still friends…).
I did this because I wasn’t chasing canned responses, but wanted a gut-check reaction to see if I could tap into the worst fears and thoughts we have about others. Laughter is harder to mask than thoughtful insight…because it’s instant. And I don’t think it’s because any of those people (White, Black, Hispanic and Asian) are bad…it’s because we’re human. It’s because the worse you appear and the lower I can depict you, the better I seem.
It’s easy to demonize people who don’t look or think like we do. To reduce others to caricatures of laziness or racism. Of sexist xenophobes or entitled race baiters. If one wants to find the bad in people, one can, and one will. It’s convenient to think of ourselves and our views as forward thinking, noble and above moral scrutiny. The Bible says otherwise.
“Do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.” Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
The apostle Paul wrote, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” Romans 7:18
You remember those two original statements… “93% of African-Americans supported Obama in the first election, and 81% of conservatives voted for Trump in the second.” The statements were facts about voter actions, and that’s all that we can and should gather from them without additional information. And people’s reasons for voting for people or parties?
The answers are thoughtful when we see them as complete sentences.
Republican: “I felt that the Democratic party focused on issues that aren’t relevant. Homosexuality in our town, or immigration…frankly aren’t important to the people I know. The industries that fuel this region have left or are being shut down. I worry about putting food on the table. Those other things have nothing to do with where I live.”
Democrat: “He embodies my hopes, dreams and aspirations. It’s nice to see someone that looks like me leading the nation. His election says to my children that you can be anything that you want to be despite what anyone else says or thinks. And on those days that I don’t think I can do it, he also reminds me that I can.”
Neither of these statements were anything more than statements. But some prefer the shorter sentences without the context because soundbites leave room for assumptions and justifications of fear and/or hatred. One speaks to the realities of people’s lives, and the other to their hopes for the future. And if I put myself in their places, who am I to disagree. Survival and hope are values on which every racial group and political party can agree. They are American values. But that phrase itself is loaded because what are those values that define our country?
Director of Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
"Politics, Race & Religion"
It’s time to fundamentally change the way we think about others. The old model is irrelevant, and as this series will demonstrate, harmful and misleading.
Your average person is as likely to have moved several times, as to have lived and died in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, perhaps messy. But, even for those who never change their geographical location, they are globally connected to people through social media in ways that were unheard of just twenty years ago. This also means increased exposure to people, on a daily basis, who may live and think radically different from them. People on the other side of the screen come to social media conversations with a wealth of experiences and perspectives that are unique to them.
The apostle Paul admonishes us to “become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). To accomplish this in modern society, our definition of culture needs to be expanded. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple different communities simultaneously. The old marketing strategies of putting people in target groups based on a few identifying factors is no longer reflective of reality.
The assumptions we make by a surface examination of another person are simply false and limited to our human perspective. Perception is not reality. To reach across the gulfs that divide us, we must first listen. Basic human needs and desires have not changed. However, it’s easier to cast a stone than to truly examine ourselves and question the validity of our experience-shaped perspectives.
How often do we seek understanding but refuse to give it to another? Are we brave enough to place ourselves in another person’s shoes and objectively listen? Are we too quick to cast judgment based on nothing but our limited world view? We are called to represent Christ, but not take on His role as judge.
Perhaps we are afraid to listen because if we listen long enough, it may change us. We may realize that our neighbor is not our enemy, and that we fundamentally have more in common than we care to admit. We may find out that our neighbor’s perspective, although radically different, is just as valid as ours. Then what? We may have to compromise; we may have to admit that we are wrong. This is a risk we must take in order for our country and Church to survive and thrive. Social media has unprecedented potential as a means for sharing the gospel, but we are distracted by our differences. We misuse the tools at hand and find ourselves even more divided than before.
Janice Barton, founder and partner at Performance Plus Marketing, says, “Social media’s instant access means instant engagement.” That engagement she speaks of can be both good and bad. Words, like the ideas behind them, have enormous power to both connect people and fracture relationships. The immediacy of the platforms at our disposal has emboldened us. And the anonymity has permitted us to type faster than we can think with few real consequences.
The 2016 election is an intriguing case study that, interestingly, parallels many of the issues the Seventh-day Adventist church in North America faces today. The membership of the Adventist Church is a microcosm of our nation. The distrust, accusations, frustrations and fears of many in this country can be heard in our own homes and in the company we keep. But in our interactions, does what others think, feel, or want even matter? Is change necessary? These are questions worth answering. Whether it’s politics or doctrine coloring our relationships, we all have something to learn.
Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of physics does not answer those questions, but it brings us to a salient point. “Objects will remain in their state of motion unless a force acts to change the motion.” In other words, we’ll get to where we’re going, and perhaps to our own detriment because we’ve done nothing to stop it.
Seven months should be enough time to put the rawness of the election process and the inauguration into perspective, but time has only magnified the emotional intensity of the election cycle. A lot has been said and written since then. Message boards, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts—are all rife with opinions, anger, and celebration. Race, politics, and religion are often major elements of those expressions.
Let’s put aside our assumptions and our sacred cows. Let examine the difficult issues at hand in an objective fashion. Let’s get uncomfortable. Let’s challenge ourselves. Ultimately, data doesn’t lie, but people do. We no longer have a choice. Either we sit down at the table and civilly discuss our differences, or we perish as church and a nation, failing our mission.
When standing their ground, a Marine asks, “Is this the hill you choose to die on?” We have a choice: the hill of Calvary or one of our own invention. And thus begins a journey I hope we can go on together. We promise it will become uncomfortable “for everybody.” But discussions that matter about topics that are hard…can’t and won’t be comfortable. They shouldn’t be.
Questions to consider:
Part 2 - Politics: "I" Define Your Message
Part 3 - Politics: American Values