More than a year ago, our ‘Blaster Marc blogged about Socality: “A movement designed with purpose initiated by people and aimed at bringing the heartbeat of God to humanity” that has an inseparable connection to social media.
If you scroll through the #socality hashtag on Instagram, you’ll find what Marc describes as a “minimalist, artistic and heavily edited collection of nature and adventure photography” usually “accompanied by inspirational or Judeo-Christian captions as well as the sister hashtag #liveauthentic.”
It’s an interesting social community, for sure, but to classify all of religiously influenced social media content under the socality blanket would be a disservice to an even larger community.
We decided that it’s about time we took a closer look at religious leaders and their usage of social media. What messages are they sharing? What tactics do they use, and what do followers respond best to? Are we all really as #blessed as social media says we are?
Let’s talk a look at some social-savvy leaders of various faiths.
Recently, priests on Twitter have been known more for their exchanges of shade than their regularly modi operandi.
Jesuit priest Father James Martin, however, is more interested in sharing photos from his travels for those unable to make the trip themselves.
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) February 28, 2017
You don’t have to be a literal priest to be a voice of faith on social media, though.
Shane Claiborne, who just happens to be Philly-based, heads up Red Letter Christians, an organization that “mobilizes individuals into a movement of believers who live out Jesus’ counter-cultural teachings.” They live out what they believe are the most important teachings of Jesus: helping the poor, practicing mercy and posting the occasional anti-Trump blog post.
The fruits of the Spirit are:
Lord, help us be more like you. pic.twitter.com/ZEStSrpA38
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) February 18, 2017
On Twitter, Claiborne weighs in on current events and issues of racial justice, immigration and elimination of the death penalty. The common thread of his messaging, however, is one of love: love of one’s neighbors and enemies alike.
Perhaps more importantly, he defies what plenty of people hold as a stereotype of Christians: That they’re not very progressive. Claiborne’s posts, however, speak otherwise: He’s a supporter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city.
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) February 26, 2017
— Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) February 22, 2017
Meet Allison Josephs, the founder of Jew in the City, a website dedicated to defying stereotypes and offering “a humorous, meaningful look” about Orthodox Judaism. In addition to the site, Joseph uses Twitter and Instagram as platforms for everything from weighing in on fashion at the Oscars to answering FAQs about Jewish cultural practices.
Most of her posts lead back to a blog in which she elaborates in greater detail on the issue at hand, and most have an active, bubbling comments section.
Why Do Jewish Men Wear Yarmulkes (Kippahs)? When and how did this practice begin and when do you not need to wear it?https://t.co/Re2s3RZXyU
— Allison Josephs (@jewinthecity) January 18, 2017
Yes, some of what Josephs advocates (the concept of “modesty” in dress, for one) isn’t necessarily the most popular opinion in common discourse, but she’s adamant about stating that she doesn’t judge other people, especially women, for differences in their beliefs—she just wants to share her perspective as an Orthodox Jew to de-stigmatize the branch of faith.
Suhaib Webb is a Muslim scholar based in Washington, D.C. who is well-known for “translating” Islam to young Muslims via Snapchat. According to Quartz, “As a graduate of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, Webb is not only a shayk, but a mufti, meaning he has earned the authority to issue Islamic rulings, or fatwas. He’s now issued several fatwas through Snapchat, coining the term ‘Snapwās’.”
By offering “eight-second sermons,” Webb tackles questions about dating, drugs and even donating blood from Muslim youth who do not often see themselves represented or their personal issues addressed in mainstream media.
Unsurprisingly, Webb also uses Twitter as a platform for activism against the recent Islamophobic policies out of The White House. Hopefully, his tweets also inspire the Muslim youth who view his Snapchat stories to raise their voices against hate and discrimination.
What Islam could teach Donald Trump about democracy and freedom – The Washington Post https://t.co/JLul26wMB4
— suhaib Webb (@ImamSuhaibWebb) March 9, 2017
On a related note, meet Mansoor Shams, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who is better known on Twitter as Muslim Marine. Shams is on a mission to prove how his faith and his service to his country coexist, and this is how he does it:
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 17, 2017
“What [people] don’t realize is that loyalty to one’s country of residence if part [of] faith,” Shams says on his website. “In fact, it is very Muslim.”
— MuslimMarine (@mansoortshams) February 25, 2017
Shams uses Twitter to chronicle his conversations with people on the street about his service as a Muslim, and his journey is certainly one to keep an eye on.
— MuslimMarine (@mansoortshams) March 13, 2017
The expression of Buddhism on social media has a lot more depth than the frivolously hashtagged posts about being “zen” such as this:
Take Zenju Earthlyn Marselean Pierre-Manuel, a well-known Buddhist thought leader and author of The Way of Tenderness. She posts regular messages of serenity and encouragement on her personal Facebook page, and not unlike most faith leaders, her messaging has displayed a recent trend toward responding to policies and news coming out of the new administration in Washington, D.C.
“If ANY thinking leads to detrimental action to groups of people then that is NOT what the Buddha taught,” she said in response to President Trump’s first Muslim ban. “This is not the time to test your personal capacity for equanimity or excuse oneself because you are about unity.”
Zenju Earthlyn Marselean’s social media presence stands out because rather than spreading information of Buddhist teachings or principles, her messaging is designed to speak to her audience in a manner that sounds like heart-to-heart advice between trusted friends.
Although she doesn’t have her own Instagram account, she’s frequently quoted on the platform by other users, especially those who are reading her book.
Did you know that streaming religious services over Facebook Live are a thing?
Many heavily attended Hindu temples (some in India and some elsewhere in the world, i.e. Chicago) regularly stream prayer sessions and other notable gatherings using Facebook Live as a way of providing a resource for members unable to be there in person.
In addition to the live feeds, these temples tend to have very active Facebook pages that Hindus of many faith variations and geographical locations follow. On that note, we’re curious for what more detailed, location-based demographics for all these leaders of faith might look like. Do their followings have the same worldwide geographic reach that their religions do?
Regardless of location, though, it’s clear that faiths of all kinds have a wide variety of social media advocates. Do you follow any particularly impactful religious leaders? Let us know!