The Separation of Church and Twitter

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This is post is not intended to bash anyone or any religion.

When I click on someone’s Twitter profile and it tells me they are a Christian or follower of Jesus, I take pause. I wonder how long it’ll take for them to hate me, unfollow me, pray for me. Because, believe me, I’m not their cup of tea.

But, I also cringe at the too much information factor. Maybe this is because, for me, Twitter is simply an incredible business marketing tool (that happens to have a delightfully fun social component.) And, let’s be fair, sometimes I tweet things about my personal life that others might not care to know, I don’t deny that.

But, why is it only the Jesus followers and the Christians that find stating these religious preferences so compelling? I’ve never seen someone write ‘Jewish’ or ‘Moses follower’ in their profile. I haven’t seen Muslims or Catholics stake their claim. Nor the agnostics. Though I haven’t viewed all 6 million+ profiles, so I might just be missing those.

Statistically speaking, however, I have viewed roughly 6-7,000 profiles and based on today’s tallies alone, about 10% of those contain Christian information. Haven’t seen any other religion.

Again, this post is not meant to Christian-bash. I simply do not find it necessary to discuss my religion on Twitter. It doesn’t define me. (And I’m guessing some people might see that as a flaw.) And I wonder why other people do think it’s so important. Is it the same as me putting down ‘writer’ and forming a community of fellow writers? I can see how it is.

In the end, social media invites us each to showcase who we are – and I love that. So why does this freak me out (a little)? Is it because of people like Michele Bachmann? Carrie Prejean? The entire Christian Conservative movement?

Yes, yes it is. It’s a travesty because I’m sure many of these people on Twitter are just lovely, but the hate in our country has made me, well, a little follow shy.

What do you think? What makes people decide to list or not to list their religion in their Twitter bio?

Images courtesy of Josh Semans and fab4chiky

Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • Emma says:

    Interesting post. Living in Los Angeles, I find myself often intimidated into not stating that I am a Christian, due to the hate in this part of the country.

  • DEE says:

    In my business mode, I would never state religious or other personal affiliation.

    I also have a separate twitter account and blog, that I use for myself as a Buddhist monk, and I identify as such in order to meet other folks who want to talk about that kind of topic, in that context.

    Like you, for my business twitter I not only wouldn’t share my personal affiliation but when I see that kind of affiliation listed, I check that person’s updates quite a ways and they have to be pretty darn good and NOT filled with religiosity for me to follow them.

    Emma, I do not hate Christians, but I sure hate what SOME of them have done in the name of Jesus that have nothing to do with what he taught or the kind of life he exhorted us all to lead.

    My life has been made worse personally and not just my feelings hurt, by their activities.

    Unfortunately it sounds like you get tarred by what others do, and that is too bad.

  • Emma says:

    Also, speaking for myself, being a Christian shifted the way I look at everything. Using the analogy you alluded to, for example: since you and I are both writers, I know that we will automatically related in a few possible ways. It’s something for which we each have a passion, and that passion tends to take several standard forms. With Christianity, the idea is that Christ is at the center of your being. So if you have that in common with someone else, that’s kind of a lot.

    Obviously, anytime human beings are involved, things get convoluted and screwed up. By which I mean: the group known in this country as “Christians” includes a lot of people who spew a lot of hatred and practice a lot of decidely un-Christlike behavior. And although we go by the same label, I can’t say that those are “my people” if you know what I mean. Christ loves me with all my ugliness, and it’s my job to try to emulate that. I fail miserably, every day, but I try. That’s the best anybody can do.

    I hope this was somewhat helpful.

    xo

  • Emma says:

    Dee, I know exactly what you mean. I actually did hate Christians, once upon a time.

  • Wendy says:

    Very interesting observation. I think there are a few reasons for this:

    1. Following Jesus’s teachings really is supposed to define and impact every area of a Christian’s life. If it’s the most important thing about you, why wouldn’t you say so when trying to encapsulate who you are? There’s a (sub)cultural expectation—or reinforcement, anyway—that being up front about your belief is a good thing.
    2. Christianity, especially in its more conservative forms, puts a stronger emphasis on the believer’s responsibility to tell others about their beliefs than other religions. More reinforcement that it’s good to be clear/“bold” about what you believe.
    3. Specifically to Twitter or other online profiles, it depends who you’re trying to connect with and why—if that’s Christians or spirituality bloggers or those in Christian-related fields, maybe it makes sense.

    Now I personally agree that my Christian faith is an important thing for people to know about me personally, but I don’t feel it needs to go in my profile, because I think people will/should figure it out in other ways as they get to know me. On the other hand, my professional niche is editing for Christian publishers, so it might not be a bad thing to make this clear to other businesses and individuals who see my profile (though again, I haven’t gone that route).

    I can see why it seems a like weird though. I think it’s because of the associations brought up—what you/we assume a person who puts this there must be trying to say about themselves, others, and the world. And unfortunately because of certain types, you and many are wary of what this might be, because too often it’s a narrow political view or whacking people over the head with beliefs. I hope some of us who speak more softly and, you know, sanely can make up for the Bachmanns of the world. She don’t tweet for me!

    Wendy Wetzel

  • Julie,

    I have noticed this, too, and often times those who identify themselves by their religion will follow me in groups, Christian clusters, if you will. So I like to play a game where I check my tweets from the last couple of hours to see what the lure was. It is often on days that I am taking my children to choir or tweeting my thoughts and prayers to someone.

    I, too, take pause when I see this because although I am a Christian – very happily so – I have experienced a level of judgment from many who identify first and foremost as such. That said, I have had NO problems like this on Twitter, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised!

    Also, in terms of the “other groups” – I have had quite a few followers who are Muslim and state this in their profiles, as well as many who make it known that they believe strongly in radical Islam. I have also had quite a few followers with atheist in their profile, but never agnostic – perhaps because caring enough to say so would break the definition of being agnostic. ;)

    Great article! Interesting points!

  • Nikki says:

    Wow. Thank you for this post. You pretty much summed up my exact thoughts when I see someone who posts that they are Christian.

    That’s not to say I don’t follow Christians but they are not who I seek out when I’m looking for followers and yes, I do take pause just as you do before choosing to follow them. I guess it’s the thought that I will offend someone who does not label themselves as a Christian less as opposed to someone who does say upfront in their profile that they are. I don’t want to offend, but I might.

    And maybe that’s a prejudice I have too about someone who puts that label on their profile but it doesn’t keep me from following; it just makes me think really hard first.

    I don’t think you stirred up trouble, I think the fact that I’ve commented and so has others means that you’re not the only one thinking about it.

  • Jason says:

    I have studied the philosophy of religion. From that perspective, I can relate this: in Catholicism, Jesus saves. No, not with coupons, but by converting others to that faith. Salvation is where the Catholic Church finds its power. Salvation Army? Yes! So, they spread the word of God. After observing ACTUAL bible thumpers on the campus of UF, I can say that hate and guilt mongers reside in more than one religion, and wow, what a concept. Okay back to this blog… While I think politics and religion run neck and neck in heated debates, followers of certain religions seem to be a bit more vocal in their “devotion”. Most have some character flaw or lack some “faith” in themselves, IMHO.

  • Andi says:

    I don’t know what to say, you said all the things I wanted to say. If someone calls out their religious beliefs in their Twitter profile, or for that matter in their blog, I “generally” turn-around and run. I say “generally”, because there are exceptions. I have had too many experiences with real life born-again Christians, that I am burned.

    P.S. I looked for you today, but didn’t find you – hopefully I will catch up with you tonight (or tomorrow)!

  • Well, since my business is a camp owned by a church—can I have dispensation for mentioning it in my Twitter profile?

    I do some tweeting about “religion” but not a lot. More often I converse about events and the fun things we do at camp. If my business was a UU church, I might still do the same, since the community is what feeds me, not the ideology….but then again that gets into the “what is this religion about?” question too.

    I did tweet a link to an article about Unitarian Universalism the other day and garnished a response from a Christian camp manager from close by that made it pretty obvious he hadn’t read the article. He deliberately misrepresented what I had said to make his own point, but, hey, I guess everyone gets to have their say in an open forum.

    I didn’t respond and got a hug from him the next day at a meeting. He told me that I always am so polite even when I disagree and that he respected me for that. I had been a little concerned about our next face-to-face meeting because his respect had not come through in his comment.

    If you live in your spiritual/religious life and your “business” is not apart from that, then I’m sure you will tweet about it.

    The labels are kind of interesting though: “Christian” is not just one thing, just as “Muslim” or “Buddhist” or “Jewish” is not one thing. The label implies that you belong to something that is homogeneous, when it really isn’t.

    But humans are tribal and want to be identified as belonging to their tribes. I think mentioning your religion in your Twitter profile may be somewhat like the “guy-speak”, “Hey, how’d you like that game last night?”, an opening and way to find something in common, a differentiation from the crowd of all humanity.

  • Liz Jenkins says:

    Julie – thank you for this post – where I live – there’s a lot of christians who feel the need to share. In fact, you can pretty much bet that one of the first things a new person you meet will ask you is, “what church do you go to?”.
    It’s hard to completely separate personal stuff when you are blogging and twittering but I agree with some previous posts that I wonder why people have to profess their religions. I always check their profiles to see if they look like I’d like to follow them and if not, I don’t. I’d expect others to treat me the same way. I’m looking for interesting content and converstaion, not religious conversion. Honestly, if I see a religious tone to their talk, I run away. A comment once in a while is one thing, but when that is their identity I find it disturbing and annoying.
    I rarely, if ever, discuss my own personal beliefs because it just isn’t a part of my business persona. I don’t want to hear about others beliefs either. The ones that get me on twitter are the ones that don’t mention it in their profile and follow you. They look interesting, so you follow them. Then all of a sudden, it’s all bible talk. What’s with all that bait & switch?
    Anyway, good post – and I’m with you on this.

  • I am a Christian, but not the conservative kind. Well, technically, I’m pretty theologically conservative, but socially I am quite liberal. Maybe that’s why it never occurred to me to put “Christian” in my profile. Hmmmm. Haven’t really thought of that before. I also don’t put Bible verses in my blog sidebar, although I do love me some Bible.

    Such an interesting insight – I’ve enjoyed everyone’s responses, too.

  • While I recognize the right of all to express their religious beliefs how they see fit, I find the expression of those beliefs to be exclusionary in business. Hiring a plumber with a symbolic fish or a Jewish star on his business card does not make me feel any better about him as a plumber. As a matter of fact, I feel that by displaying this religious symbol he is excluding me as a customer because I don’t have the same beliefs. I would never think to ask his religion before he services my broken dishwasher. But since he has chosen to make it part of his business identity HE has made it an issue. Will I get worse service if he sees hints in my home that I have different beliefs? Will he give my neighbor better service because she has a symbolic fish on the back of her car or a mezuzzah by her front door?

    If you join a social network to congregate with others who share your beliefs I say, have at it. But if you are there to build your business, possibly among a larger group than those that have the same religious beliefs as you, know that you may be intimidating or offending many potential customers. Its not that they are prejudiced against you, but that they fear you may be prejudiced against them.

  • Julie Roads says:

    Caroline – Thank you so much for your comment – and to everyone for all of these amazing comments. I just wanted you to know that I’ve never felt ‘that way’ about you and enjoy our Twitter relationship very much. It might because I understand and have even participated in Unitarianism, or that it’s based on acceptance, equality and inclusion.

    But I also think you are incredibly right about the business aspect. For instance, I’ve followed and been followed by people that are Ministers for example, or rabbis, and I think it’s completely different – that is your business – and it makes perfect sense that you’d share it.

    Thanks again…Julie

  • Ari Herzog says:

    As long as there continues to be an intermingling of church and state, there will continue to be one of church and social media.

    The extreme is with former US President George W. Bush. Days after his first inaugural address a decade ago, I attended an event at the Jesuit-founded Boston College and spoke to some nuns. They felt the address was reminiscent of a clerical service and they did NOT want the President evangelizing Jesus and faith to the country.

  • I understand your hesitation. The problem is that Christianity is so broad in the way people represent Jesus. Your have experienced more extremism and that makes you and many other cautious…understandably. Makes me feel sad really because that just means people have not represented Jesus well around you.

    In Twitter, I do an review of a person’s tweets over the past week or so. It gives me a sense for their “dialogue”. If I like or appreciate their perspectives then I follow them. If I feel there is anything inappropriate, extremist, or simply not interesting, then I move on. I guess that applies regardless of the faith label they wear.

    Thanks for the personal insights and transparency. I appreciate it!

  • Tyler Hurst says:

    I just assume they’re crazy and move on, same as I do with people that list: husband, father, etc.

    Christ people, be interesting.

  • I had to go check my Twitter profile because I wasn’t even sure if I had listed my faith (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t). Turns out on Twitter I haven’t. Does that mean I don’t tweet about my faith-no. My heart hurts that so many of you have had bad experiences with Christians (remember we are all human and capable of saying hurtful things).
    I am a politically liberal Christian (yes, we do exist)and get just as disgusted by the Bible thumping conservatives as the rest- because they don’t accurately represent the God of Love that I serve.
    Thanks for the interesting post and I have especially enjoyed the comments.
    Have a great week!

  • BarbaraKB says:

    I have seen a dramatic increase this last year in religious identity on Twitter so much so that I began my own @CatholicMeme May 2008. Perhaps because there are bloggers, sites, podcasts, etc who identify & **promote** themselves as places for religious information: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan and many others. This “promotion” of religious faith and identity will always be tricky in our online world. Some are more apologetic and/or aggressive with their opinions. Others of us are available for information and dialogue. Either way, I cherish that unfollow option @ Twitter. Peace!

  • I just got around to reading this post and was compelled to comment.

    For the record, I am a Christian. I am a follower/believer of Jesus Christ. (I just heard everyone sigh…”Oh no, here we go”. And you have every right to. I find that those folks that are constantly throwing Jesus out there are insecure….really.

    As a follower of Christ, I am hoping to be judged by what I do and not what I say. That’s what is important.

    So, I agree with you here in that if you are religious and or spiritual of any denomination, I will be watching what you do and holding it in more importance than what you say.

    I figure that if I am successful in my actions, one day you will ask me my beliefs if you really want to know.

    Good post…..

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