The social media behemoth has launched a new prayer request function, which some religious leaders are hailing as a cutting-edge method to engage the devout online. Others are wary of it, weighing its use against their fears about Facebook’s privacy and security.
Members of Facebook Groups that use the tool can use it to rally prayer power for future job interviews, sickness, and other major and little personal problems. Other users can press a “I prayed” button, respond with a “like” or other emotion, leave a remark, or send a direct message after they publish a post.
According to a statement attributed to a business representative, Facebook began testing it in the United States in December as part of its ongoing commitment to help religion groups.
“We’ve seen numerous religious and spirituality communities use our services to connect during the COVID-19 epidemic, so we’re starting to investigate new methods to help them,” it stated.
The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, a Southern Baptist megachurch, was one of the pastors who greeted the prayer option with enthusiasm.
During this epidemic, Facebook and other social media platforms have proven to be invaluable tools for spreading the Gospel of Christ and connecting Christians with one another. While every technology has the potential to be exploited, I applaud any effort that encourages people to turn to the one real God in their time of need.
People of religion should support this important endeavour as long as these firms take necessary safeguards and regulations to protect the safety of religiously marginalised populations.
Facebook utilises the information it collects in a variety of ways, including to customise ads, according to its data policy. Advertisers, however, will not be allowed to target advertising based on a person’s prayer postings, according to the business.
On the one hand, the Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Brunswick, Ohio, views the new feature as a good validation of people’s desire for a “genuine community” of prayer, support, and worship, he wrote via email.
But, he said, “although this is a ‘good thing,’ it is not the truly true community that we require.” “We need to combine our voices and hands in prayer; we need to stand shoulder to shoulder and walk through big times and tribulations together.”
Stec was also concerned about the privacy implications of disclosing highly personal tragedies.
“Is it prudent to publish everything about everyone for all to see?
” he declared. “On a good day, we’d all be thoughtful and make sensible decisions. When we are stressed, distressed, or in a difficult situation, it’s almost too easy to reach out on Facebook to everyone.” However, Jacki King, the women’s minister at Second Baptist Conway in Conway, Arkansas, sees a potential benefit for people who are isolated as a result of the pandemic and are struggling with mental health, finances, and other issues.
“Right now, they’re much more inclined to hop on and make a comment than to walk into a church,” King added. “It creates a line of communication,” Bishop Paul Egensteiner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod said of the tool, which is comparable to a digital prayer request previously used by the synod’s congregations.
“I hope this is a real attempt by Facebook to assist religious organisations in achieving their goals,” Egensteiner added. “I also pray that Facebook will continue to improve its policies in order to combat social media disinformation, which is hurting our religious groups and institutions.
The Rev. Thomas McKenzie, pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee, said he wanted to despise the function because he saw Facebook as eager to abuse everything for profit, even people’s faith.
“Facebook’s bad motives could have really produced a tool that can be for good,” he said. His main issue with any Internet technology, he noted, is that it might push people to stay physically apart even when it is unneeded.
“You can’t completely join in the body of Christ over the internet. “It’s not feasible,” McKenzie said, “but these technologies may create the idea that it is.” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union of Reform Judaism, acknowledged that some individuals would be suspicious of the project.
“However, in this moment, I don’t know many individuals who don’t have a significant portion of their prayer life online,” he added. “We’ve been utilising the chat feature for something similar — sharing people we’re praying for.”
The function was made available to Crossroads Community Church, a nondenominational congregation in Vancouver, Washington, about ten weeks ago in its Facebook Group, which has around 2,500 members.
According to Gabe Moreno, executive pastor of ministries, between 20 to 30 prayer requests are posted each day, prompting 30 to 40 replies daily. The original poster is notified each time someone responds.
Deniece Flippen, a group moderator, shuts off the notifications for her postings, knowing that when she returns, she would be welcomed with an outpouring of support.
Flippen said that, unlike in-person group prayer, she doesn’t experience the Holy Spirit or the physical manifestations she refers to as “holy goosebumps,” but she finds the virtual experience fulfilling nonetheless.
Flippen stated, “It’s reassuring to know that they’re always there for me, and we’re always there for each other.”
On Fridays, members are invited to indicate which requests have been fulfilled, and some receive shoutouts during the livestreamed services on Sunday morning.
Moreno said that he understands Facebook’s motive isn’t pure altruism, but rather a desire to increase user engagement with the site. His church, on the other hand, takes a theological approach to it, and they are attempting to follow Jesus’ example.
Moreno stated, “We should go where the people are.” “Everyone is on Facebook. So that’s where we’re going.”