Social media ‘trolls’ over virtual worship access

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As expected, a social media furor erupted over the online cult.

One person I read a little about and generally think well of surprised me and quite a few others (from what I could tell on social media) by saying that she believed that churches should stop offering online or “virtual” worship, in pretty much any form. She anticipated the question of “what about staying at home”, suggesting that congregations should go back to what many had done before: sending trained leaders, lay or ordained, to bring fellowship or some form of personal presence in these places, but not use video worship as a means of providing this.

Maybe it was some kind of well-meaning trolling. Sometimes people see the word “trolling” and assume it’s a personal affront, an insult that should cut to the bone, but . . . some of the nicest people I know are trolls! By this I mean people can adopt a persona online that is garish and drastic and much more emphatic than they actually are. Even fairly mild-mannered people can post something for effect, opining on the fringes of what they actually believe, in order to get attention, discussion, clicks to engage with their position in much less controversial reality.

And on the “all churches should completely abandon online worship” front, I detect a bit of pushback. This is written quite far in advance, I don’t know what the next chapter will be for this particular blogger, but I’ll follow his point – I think the positive twist of trolling can be accepted, as long as it’s okay for me to disagree. Starting with the point that immediately came to mind and has been posted by myriad others: how ironic are we reading this online worship controversy. . . in line?

Just finished rushing to beat our recent winter storm and stay with an elderly parent, fearing power outages and such. A challenge: the newspaper did not come as usual. Now the local newspaper there, like here, is going through some changes, and obviously the trend is towards digital platforms. People want their news on their phones or devices, et cetera. . . except for those who want it in their hands, on newsprint, leaving ink on their fingers.

Poignantly for me, one of my last conversations with my father was about changes in the frequency of print publications and the growth of online news outlets. He said, I’m not kidding, “I don’t know if I want to live in a world where I don’t get a newspaper every morning.” Well, it may not have resolved as I would like. Meanwhile, in 2022, my elderly relative wanted the morning paper, and showing it to him on my laptop was no satisfaction at all. He wanted his paper! And luckily he came, albeit later in the day.

But we all know that in March, changes elsewhere in the country are coming for us, with Saturday news online and digital, but not in print. And I’m sure the changes will continue, some of which I might not like that much.

It’s newspapers. For worship, we don’t just to want be in person; I’m with the pseudo-troll minister who says we need face-to-face and in-person worship. We do. There’s a lot about the life of faith, like my metaphor last week of “birthing classes and funeral rehearsals” that don’t go so far over video lessons and recorded experiences. We need to get back together. I don’t dispute that.

Yet to ban even the option, lest people use it. . . I think of how Christians have gone a millennium and a half without personal Bibles. No one had personal, private copies of the scriptures. They were handmade, cost the moon, and if you had one in church, it was chained to the preaching office. You have learned the word of God through preaching, art and liturgy.

Then this Gutenberg intruder came along, and the next thing you know is that pocket copies of the Bible are being given away for free by the Gideons. Now we all have access. But do we know better?

Allow me to troll a bit. I think all Bibles should be returned, and we can only hear and learn from the scriptures by going to church, so we will rediscover the community and engagement of the medieval period.

What do you think?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller and preacher in central Ohio; he’s been called a troll once or twice. Tell him how you learned not to feed trolls at [email protected], or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

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