Obama, Community, and Technology

Yesterday, Devin Dwyer from ABC News reported on the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency from the religious perspective.  In his opening paragraph, Dwyer stated that the Obama attended church only three times during his first year.  Obviously, as the article later explains, it is quite difficult for the President to attend a gathering without causing great disruption and difficulty with the security and additional personnel.  In any case, what intrigued me the most was what followed.  Dywer writes:

But sources familiar with the president’s personal life say Obama remains a faithful Christian while in the White House, practicing his beliefs regularly in private with family and the aid of his BlackBerry.

This sentence, while intending to bolster confidence in Obama’s religious devotion, says something quite alarming about the day in which we live, specifically in two areas: the privatization of spirituality and the advent of mobile technology. It appears that the latter has been used to facilitate the former.

Just this past week, I led a breakout session at the Global Church Advancement (GCA) National Church Planting Seminar on technology, the new media, and the church during which we addressed the influence of technology on the church, not the least of which is the “luxury” of privatized spiritual experience apart from a covenanted community to which you share live and find your identity.  Ironically, in the case of Obama who is well-known for his practice as a community organizer, is deprived from the very community that is expressed and demonstrated among professing Christians.

But I wonder how much of this is true in the world around us at large?  How many people are seeking a more privatized spiritual experience not requiring them to live in community with other people and yet find greater access to “practice their beliefs” through mobile technology?  The rise of internet “churches,” live-streaming services on smart phones, and the readily accessible sermons on iTunes move the emphasis on the local expression of the body of Christ from being the church (as expressed in Scripture) to “going to church” (as expressed in Christendom) to having a downloadable religious experience at the comfort and confines of one’s own choosing (as expressed in postmodernism).

We need to answer the question whether it is possible to be a “faithful Christian” (as quoted above) in the absence of biblical community that is being circumvented through technology and a privation that says my spirituality is “between me and God.”  So I want to pose it to you in closing . . .

Is it possible to be a faithful Christian without regularly participating in biblical community?  Why or why not?

As a follow-up to that question, how should we think about the role of technology?  How can the advance of technology work for the advance of the local church, not the substitution of it?

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12 Comments on “Obama, Community, and Technology”

  1. bobbycapps Says:

    Jesus’ spiritual community was twelve guys and the Father… the struggle we have in our era is that we have predetermined what “Biblical community” or “faithful Christian” looks like, and many are challenging those assumptions on their face and finding wonderful experiences in twelves or threes… which are surely descriptive of much the early church life shown in the Acts.

    The caution that you warn abt however is to be much heeded. God has birthed us into a particular family which much by its nature express itself in community. It’s just “what kind of community that is being challenged and fleshed out in the church today.

    For many, staring at the back of a strangers head, listening to a good rock band and hearing an inspired monologue is not and has never been spiritual community. They’re trying desperately to find something that is.

    Either we help them, with all the necessary paradigm shifts that it will take on our part, or they’ll figure it out on their own. And we’re late to the game.

  2. John Says:

    “Is it possible to be a faithful Christian without regularly participating in biblical community? Why or why not?”

    No. John 17:1-17: you can’t love Jesus without loving his people. Loving his people means more than watching them on a monitor or texting them.


  3. Carolyn Says:

    Church is not made of wood and stone. The Body of Christ is made of ‘lively stones. Only God knows President Obama’s heart…or any heart.

    1co 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

    2co 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

    We depend way to heavily on tradition.

    Good post. Thanks.

  4. Rob Says:

    Recently I preached a series of sermons on community which generated significant backlash. The only thing to which I can attribute the stunning response was that the individualistic, pietistic, gnostic Christianity (if can be called that) that is prevalent in our culture can stand very little talk of biblical community. The blackberry is symptomatic of the phenomenon, in my view. How can biblical one-anothering happen in a meaningful way without face-to-face contact, and in 160 characters or fewer?

    Seems our president truly is leading the way after all.

  5. ARJWright Says:

    Was just pointed to this via a friend over at Twitter – someone I’ve never met in person but would totally define the friendship as that of a brother in Christ.

    Also, my mobile phone is my laptop, phone, music player, cable box, camera, etc., so my use is a bit closer to Obama’s in some cases.

    To your question:
    Is it possible to be a faithful Christian without regularly participating in biblical community? Why or why not?

    If you are defining biblical community as “a fitting of like-minded, believers who are accountable to one another and utilize their relationship with one another to bolster their relationship with God and community” then the technology doesn’t matter at all. It is as its always been, a window towards intimacy.

    What the article that you quote doesn’t, or cannot, get into is the depth of Obama’s relationship to those people whom he does remain accountable with. Nor can we, despite media’s ability to figure out such things, determine who and how often he engages within accountable fellowship – sorry, we just don’t get that lens into his or anyone’s life.

    A faithful Christian is and has always been one who devotes their life to God through believing on Jesus Christ and this faith becomes manifested in the love and depth of relationships they forge with persons around them (the 2 greatest commandments). How they forge these relationships should never come into question – because if we are going to use the oft quoted “forsake not the gathering…” verse, then we need to understand that it was that they were denying accountability with the Body, not forging it through a different lens.

    As a tool, mobile and web allow *some* people to maintain intimate relationships that would otherwise not be possible. These tools also allow people to find their way towards God where traditional media and methods have not been so successful. The implications of self-seeking with web and mobile have yet to be determined, but its probably going to be something along the lines of another revolution for the Body. This can only be assessed when the mobile and web have met their plateau – not when those persons to whom the tool isn’t native ascribe former methods to them. Assessment has always been done in this wise of every biblical trend.

    If we want to foster biblical community, then we need to teach accurately the implications of the tools used and the culture lived – both of these are changing drastically from former generations. Biblical community, as I defined above, hasn’t changed in definition, only in how its being lived out. This is natural for the faith (its not always been orthodox), and will be continual until Jesus returns.

    By the way, I also run the website Mobile Ministry Magazine (mobileministrymagazine.com). It makes a lot of sense to understand the intersection of faith and mobile tech… its something the Body should do more often for everything that intersects with this beautiful faith.

    • zachmabry Says:

      In short, no it’s not possible. Unless it is impossible. The folks I think of when I say this are our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith in such a way that they cannot meet with each other. I think of people like Richard Wurmbrand or more recently Gao Zhisheng who have been imprisioned and totally isolated from other believers. They have been completely cut off from the community and I believe are supernaturally sustained. However this is not the way we were created. We were created for community with each other. And try as we might we cannot effectively replicate real-life community through the use of technology. I think that Marshall McLuhan was right when he said that the “medium is the message”. The medium we use to communicate automatically determines the depth to which we relate. If we do forsake the gathering together of ourselves the depths of our relationships will get continually more shallow. The internet, Blackberries, iPhones, and Twitter only create a pseudo intimacy that deceives us into thinking that we’re closer than we are.

  6. […] is the case with this post (Obama, Community, and Technology) which was forwarded to me through a brother-in-Christ at Twitter. There’s more on this I […]

  7. “Is it possible to be a faithful Christian without regularly participating in biblical community? Why or why not?”

    I can think of three possible reasons why it would be:

    1. There are no Christian churches around.
    2. There are only apostate [and thus so called] Christian churches around.
    3. The only legitimate Christian churches around would make one sign a confession [in order to become a member] that contained content that one could not sign in good conscience.

    When it comes to #3, I suppose a Christian could “show up” [and that might be his best option], but would not be able to become an official member.

  8. SteveM Says:

    What about the police officer, firefighter, military member overseas in a war zone, or simply the blue collar factory worker who is not able to attend and be part of a local fellowship due to work obligations? I have worked in law enforcement for a little over ten years and this has been the case for most of my career. I desire nothing more than to be part of a local body. I pray almost daily about this situation but the majority of churches in my area have only Sunday morning worship. I went to the leadership of my previous church and asked them to start a Saturday evening or Sunday evening worship service and they showed no interest. At least the Catholics care enough about their members to insure there are a variety of times when their people can attend church (which does not mean I am giving credibility to Catholicsm). Some people are quick to judge others. I love the Lord and long to be in fellowship with His people.

  9. […] The President and the e-Church phenomena. […]

  10. For what it’s worth — a brother who knows the Chaplain at CAMP DAVID, says the Obama family has always attended services there when at the camp — which is quite often.

    The larger question about participation is good — for regular attendance at corporate worship, and times of teaching & fellowship, are vital to living the Christian life. I can hardly believe that a (willing) long-term, non-attender has a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I base this on first on John 15, then teh broader metaphors about the nature of the body of Christ.

  11. […] post by Timmy Brister on Obama and the privatization of religion through technology. Yes, they’re […]

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