Facebook as Rorschach: People Seeing What They Want To See

The man depicted as Pastor Steepek in the online hoax. (Photo by Brad J. Gerrard)

The man depicted as Pastor Steepek in the online hoax. (Photo by Brad J. Gerrard)

Sometime in the future, maybe school systems (and home-school families) will have the good sense to include “Internet Hoax Discernment” in their curriculums.

Meantime, I will continue to raise the banner for sites like Snopes.com and Hoax-Slayer.com that debunk false stories. One recent example came this week, when a friend of mine on Facebook was among the many spreading the word about “Pastor Jeremiah Steepek” and his “gotcha!” exercise with his new congregation.

If you haven’t seen the tale as it makes the rounds, here’s the gist of it:

New pastor of a church pretends to be a homeless man, makes his way into the church, gets treated like dirt—then drops the bombshell on these heartless “Christians” as he walks out and tells them to get their act together before his first “traditional” sermon the next week.

Only…it never happened, as Hoax-Slayer.com recounts in this article.

For some, however, that’s just a tiny detail. Instead, they deflect that reality entirely and point to “the larger truth” and the “moral of the story.”

But it’s not a tiny detail. The story casts indirect aspersions on Christians, painting us with broad brush strokes as insensitive hypocrites.

The fiction paved the way for piling on by other friends of my Facebook friend who posted it, as if the story had actually happened as it was recounted. One response, which my friend applauded: “As Ghandi said, `I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.”

Look, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Christians (starting with me) are not perfect—far from it. There is inconsistency and hypocrisy in all of us, regardless of whatever faith (or lack thereof) that we profess.

After I alerted my Facebook friend to the hoax, she wrote, “But MY point in posting this is that we all need to be nicer to each other!”

Really? That’s what you got out of the story, that we need to be nicer (translation: kinder) to each other?

We all know we need to be kinder to each other. But we’re not. Not one day goes by where I have not failed, at least once, at being kind, in word, deed, or thought. Now what? How do I, how do you, live with your failings?

This fabrication doesn’t address *that* issue. Actually it misrepresents the solution to that issue. And that’s why this story is neither helpful nor inspiring, and is downright lame.

That pastor was not at all kind. He was not at all a reflection of God’s love. When I mess up, which happens multiple times a day, God is kind and patient and loving towards me. He doesn’t shame me and then walk away, as the pastor did to these people he is supposed to be caring for.

I don’t need to be told when I mess up. I’m my biggest critic. My biggest enemy and shamer. In those times, I need the love and grace of God who will never leave me–not a finger-pointing self-righteous religious figure who walks away when I’m not behaving appropriately.

I understand that Facebook is a Rorschach: people will see what they want to see.

In my case, I need to be reminded more of the reality of God’s love and grace, than of how I need to be kind to people. And, come to think of it, when I really “get” how much God loves me, I can’t help but love (and be kind to) others.

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