Talk back

Posted Sep 14, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Monica A. Coleman


My parents called it “talking back.” Some people call it “sassing.” It’s that willful behavior that children have when they just have to respond to what they’ve been told—sometimes with attitude, snarky upturn of lip or obvious petulance. The admonition not to “talk back” is a few steps from the adage, “children should be seen and not heard.” It’s one way that many people assert authority and maintain power.

I understand it from a parent’s perspective. Anyone who has been around a teenager understands that adolescence comes with equal parts of creativity, curiosity, eye-rolling, and that I-know-what-I’m-doing stance of the hips. Teaching the acceptance of boundaries and guidelines is an important part of helping young people navigate the world. But when we forget to ask for their perspective or their feeling about our decisions, we may also stymie their growth and suppress their humanity.

There is another way.

After every sermon, Rev. Connie Tuttle asks the members of Circle of Grace Community Church for their responses. What do you think? Do you agree? Did this message touch you in a special way? Did it help you with something you’ve been wrestling with? Or does this strike a nerve? Did I say something to remind you of some of the things you don’t like about Christianity? Have you thought of next steps you will take?

It helps that Circle of Grace is a relatively small church, with members familiar with each another on a personal level, and unafraid of conversation that reveals differences in theological positions. It’s harder to preach this way—knowing that someone may reject the hours of labor one put into a sermon. But talking about faith is what keeps it real. And while I imagine that Rev. Tuttle is not the only pastor who asks for feedback after a sermon, I still find it relatively rare.

Sure, every pastor can tell you about the handful of members who will issue their unsolicited advice and commentary on every sermon, vote, or action taken. But other churches I have attended proceed to something else after the sermon: offering, opportunity to declare faith or join the church, Eucharist, benediction. Worship is programmed; communication flows from pulpit to pew.

The use of social media disrupts that flow and flips it over. This is what makes Web 2.0 technology so different from its predecessors. Previous technology was more like sermons and church programs—offering one way information and experience. There was no way to talk back.

Social media allow for interaction—likes, comments, links. The clergy are no longer running the show, giving monologues, holding the power. We must hear from others.

Social media use in faith communities encourages talking back, which means that people with the power to dominate the conversation have to pay attention to the responses and ideas of those on the other side of the altar. The prevalence of social media requires those who have become accustomed to silent reception to finally hear what may have previously been personal intuitions and questions.

So blog, comment, post, emote, listen, interact, like, share, retweet and respond. This is twenty-first century talk back. It’s real faith.

Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Daphney 31 Jan
    Wow! Open dialog with respect... I love it! Thanks for sharing.

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