There was another whole committee at the 221st General Assembly that didn’t have a listing on PC-BIZ. They didn’t exactly vote, but they definitely had voice. In this committee, you didn’t have to be a commissioner or an overture advocate to speak. You didn’t even have to be in Detroit to work on this committee and it has done important work on every issue before this GA. This committee has a surprising amount of influence.
OK, it isn’t a committee. It’s Twitter.
I know, I know, another young person in the church talking about the importance of social media: blah, blah, blah. But I’m not a rah-rah promoter of living your life online. I’m actually highly skeptical of social media and, until very recently, I was a Facebook renouncer and a Twitter denier. I thought at best social media was entertainment and at worst a serious waste of time. I joined Facebook in college and then completely got off of it for three years. I started using it again when I became a pastor to connect with folks from my church, but only timidly so.
But now, at my first GA, I’m changing my mind. Who would have thought that I would have a technological epiphany at the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA)?
You sit in these committee rooms and giant plenary halls and things are very formal. There’s a ton of business to do, moderators have a huge job of keeping things on track, Robert’s Rules are flying thick and fast. I like to call meetings like this “Big Table meetings.” They are great for getting a ton of stuff done with a lot of people, and I don’t have a reasonable replacement for Big Table work, but the work that gets done on Twitter during these meetings is important too. Twitter conversations move beyond 90-second speaking limits and give more people at least a digital spot at the table.
I advocated for an overture on common sense gun legislation at this GA and I spent a few hours agonizing over the two-minute statement that I read to the committee. Here’s some of what I said:
Mr. Moderator, I could speak at length with facts and figures about why we need common sense gun legislation, but the frequency with which bullets are flying in our communities does my job for me…
My statement made a good point. It did its job. But I felt a little shaky and nervous at the podium and didn’t really preach my comments like I wanted to. I felt a little unsatisfied, but I sat down and tweeted that I had just made my presentation and quoted a few things I’d said. A few commissioners from the committee tweeted back at me. They asked me how I felt about the parliamentary procedure going on and the vote they’d just cast. It was kind of cool to get to carry on the conversation about gun violence beyond my 120 seconds. As much as GA is about getting business done, it is also about bringing Presbyterians together and having big, deep conversations with each other. Twitter and other social media lets that happen. Yay.
Yay, indeed, but there is a problem with it. Twitter isn’t accessible to all of our commissioners and social media has no real official recognition from the PC(USA). Online, we do the same things the committees do. Presbyterians are discussing, debating, sharing resources, reporting and even voting (well, liking, favoriting and retweeting, but still…) The GA conversation on social media is maybe not 100% decent and in order and not totally on purpose, but it isn’t an insignificant voice. Could the PC(USA) do a better job taking the digital voice of the church into account at GA? What would it do to include more, particularly young, voices at GA if commissioners in committees and plenary had a live feed of tweets relevant to their work projected on the wall during committee and plenary sessions? On the other hand, would making it an official thing totally ruin it?
I used to actively deny the importance of social media and now I’ve been converted. Connecting online with my fellow Presbyterians at GA helped me feel oriented (finally) and accepted here at my first GA, kept me up to date on what is going on, given me a voice to advocate for things I believe in, and connected me to my community back home while I’m in Detroit. I have to believe that God’s Spirit can flow through fiber optic cable and Wi-Fi, connecting us all to each other and to God.
Alex Wirth is an ordained teaching elder doing building maintenance and social justice work at Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He buys vinyl albums more than mp3s, tries to ride his bike more than drive a car, make/bake things more than buy them, and generally stick to a punk rock, do-it-yourself mindset like Jesus did.