#Curate: Can Twitter create a community of care?

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I recently joined Twitter. I told my pastor colleague and friend, who has been on Twitter since 2008, I was interested in how the platform might “inform my ministry.” She replied that her goal on Twitter is “to curate a community.”

“Curate” is derived from the Latin “to take care of,” and the modern usage generally refers to the management of a museum or art gallery. But in the Middle Ages, it applied to a spiritual guide, typically a parish priest — a curator of spiritual welfare is someone who takes care of souls.

My idea of curating spiritually was expressed by the 13th-century Muslim mystic known as Rumi: “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

I confess my skepticism about curating a community on Twitter or the internet. When I couldn’t gather with friends, family or church during the pandemic, I deeply missed the face-to-face conversations — words that nourished my soul like gentle rain.

It is also true that viral tweets often evoke thunderous outrage. In our public discourse, we attack our opponents and even speak of “destroying” or “obliterating” them. On many social media platforms, someone can post words that the user likely wouldn’t say to someone’s face. In just a short time, I’ve read numerous crass and cruel tweets.

But I have also witnessed deep and abiding care.

My initial foray into Twitter coincided with the breaking news of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. A seven-month investigation into the top leaders of the country’s largest Protestant group revealed abuses such as rape and pedophilia. Top officials were not only aware of these predator pastors, they actively denied the truth of the allegations as well as denigrated victims.

Plenty of pastors angrily tweeted and decried the abuse. Others claimed the allegations were untrue and defended the Baptist leaders. There was a lot of shouting back and forth, a great deal of thunder.

There was also a trending hashtag — #SBCtoo. In reference to the first-person testimonials of the #MeToo movement, #SBCtoo collected stories by survivors of sexual assault by Baptist clergy. Many victims were young teenagers at the time of the abuse by older pastors — men who preyed upon them rather than prayed for them. There are horrifying stories.

Yet, there was also an outpouring of support in the Twitter feeds. Person after person commented about the victims’ bravery in coming forward with the truth and expressed hope for healing as well as justice.

We often hear the expression “thoughts and prayers” in response to tragedies. I understand that this sentiment can feel glib, even justify inaction. Members of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention were even offering thoughts and prayers as they denied their culpability in these atrocities.

But I saw how tweets of support curated a community of care. There was something sacred about seeing the words, from individuals who had never met, drawn together in the same place. It reminded me of the mystical idea of “the great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

In his book “Care of the Soul,” Thomas Moore claimed, “It is only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed.” There is plenty of “madness” on the internet; perhaps the mystery is that Twitter can also rain words of love.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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