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Is ‘unfriending’ un-Christian?

Social media sites have changed the way we interact with one another in the past few years. If nothing else, we now have all seen some crazy cat photos – of which we were blissfully ignorant prior to the internet age!  We also now have lists of “friends” on these sites. And sometimes, for a variety of reasons, unfriending happens.

As I’m typing this, my computer’s spellchecker keeps highlighting the word, even though it IS in the dictionary.  To unfriend, a verb: “To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.”  That was Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2009.

 

My thoughts today rest on people’s intentions and motivations for their ‘unfriend’ actions. For a tool that can be used to enhance communication and community, it can sometimes be used in negative or unhealthy ways.

I generally ‘tidy up’ my Facebook friends list about once a year; I try to keep my contacts below 250. I scope out the people that I’ve had no communication with in the past year – the woman I met on vacation, the distant colleague who moved away, etc. I send out a polite email that as I haven’t heard from them, I will be unfriending them. Most often that just happens without reply; though I have had some people indicate that they enjoy keeping up to date through the status updates, even though we don’t chat – and so I keep them on. It’s polite and courteous and an honest assessment of acquaintance. If we wouldn’t connect in real life, why connect online?

There are other times when unfriending happens because of good reasons; unhealthy relationships, abusive behaviour, the list can be as long as human relationships are complex. However, I see this type of unfriending to be an establishment or maintaining of healthy boundaries. I also hope that such disconnections are as full of grace and respect as possible.

I know of others, however, who will unfriend because they are angry, or petty, or are acting as some perceived punitive response. People who will go through the process of cutting someone off of their socmed accounts without trying to engage in conversation. People who perceive the act of unfriending to be a definitive statement on the whole relationship.

And this is where I challenge the Christianity of unfriending.

As Christians, we are called into relationships with one another and with God. We are told in Proverbs that a friend loves at all times (17.17), that their counsel is earnest and can be trusted (18.24 and 27.6), and not to forsake our friends (27.10).  We are to serve one another in love (Gal 5.13) and encourage and stimulate one another in love and good deeds (Heb 10.24), to even lay down our lives for our friends (John 15.13).  We are called to enter into communication to resolve conflict (Mt 18.15), to chose forgiveness over wrath and anger (Eph. 4.31). Jesus’ ministry was one of building up community, of loving the world, of joining together to love and serve God.

With this basis, I feel sorry for those who unfriend out of spite or anger.  To me it speaks of a spiritual immaturity or unability (dis-ability?) to live out our Christian calling, an unwillingness to strive to be in relationship with one another. It saddens me to think that there are people hiding comfortably behind the ‘unfriend’ process; who prefer to anonymously break relationship rather than build it. It speaks to me of people who don’t realise that knee-jerk unfriending is less a statement on the unfriended person’s offense (whatever it might be) than on the unfriender’s commitment to community, especially community in Christ.

What do you think? What have your experiences been with angry unfriending? How does your faith impact your socmed practices?

Profile photo of Laura Marie Piotrowicz

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I'm a priest serving a 5-point parish in the Diocese of Brandon. I consider church to be a verb, and I'm passionate about PWRDF, eco-theology, and youth ministry. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, food, and playing with my dogs.
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0 Responses to Is ‘unfriending’ un-Christian?

  1. Kyle Norman

    I really enjoyed the emphasis that you placed on relationship.  My only expereince with unfriending is actually being unfriended by someone I went to Highschool with.  She objected to my place of faith and church in my posts, so unfriended me for it.  I seems to me that theits hard to exist in friendship and authentic relationship if you reject a core of someone’s identity.

    Which brings me to questions:  How does this post relate to the issue of ‘hiding’ someone.  Currently we have the ability to hover over a name and ‘hide’ that person, so their status updates never appear in our feed.  Is the question the same?  Can we have authentic, Christian relatinship if we employ a setting which says that we never want to be informed about what is going on in their life?  Hmmmm

  2. Matthew Griffin

    I think that your question, Kyle, points to one of my frustrations with online interactions in spaces like Facebook. Because the experience is always curated, I see more from some people than others–and that’s whether I’m hiding updates or not. It’s great to be able to run into people by happenstance, and there are going to be some people from whom I want to see more updates. It’s one of the gifts of gathering at church, week by week: I see everyone who’s there, and not a subset. I then talk to a subset. It’s a hard for me not to see that as a better way of living out one of the central reasons why we gather, according to James K.A. Smith–church as a place where we can learn to love everyone–even and perhaps especially those we don’t like very much. Which makes me wonder: is “friendship” at the core of how we are disciples of Christ, or do we need to turn to other images–brothers and sisters in Christ, members of one body, etc–and then what does that mean for our relationships with those outside the Church.

  3. Profile photo of Laura Marie Piotrowicz

    Kyle, your question also leads to the issue of just how much we want to see on Facebook… not the curated selections that Matthew references, but how much some people put up, and of what content – self-expression is fine but I think needs both balance and boundaries.

  4. Profile photo of Allan

    It’s an interesting question. My first thought was just to use Facebook lists rather then unfriending, but indeed that just avoids the question. I think I’m lead to think the Facebook, like life, lets us randomly ‘run into’ people we’ve friended. And potentially carry on that relationship, something unfriending doesn’t allow. Hiding them in this case I think is kinda like unfriending, but somehow not quite as bad. I still think having lists of your close friends you can check all the time and then letting random happen once and a while is a pretty life like way to do things. But what do I know.

  5. Profile photo of Charlie

    LauraMarie, I think you are having a problem with your exegesis here!  :)  The word ‘friend’ as used in the Bible, and indeed in common currency (not the new 20’s btw!) denotes a close personal relationship; any or all of physical, emotional or spiritual. It can be of greater or lesser degree – I am not thrilled when the lol next door asks me to pick up 4 l. milk, adding to the 10 kg. groc. I’m going to be walking home with – oh my dislocated shoulders but for friendship sake I’ll do – knowing full well that I’ll probably not see the $4.49 again. Oh well, it’s just money….   :)

    Now, to sever that tie without good cause would be un-Christian.

    But ‘unfriending’ someone on the social media? is that how it’s put? is really a verb indicating to your list that the person is the equivalent of ‘spam’ in your email. The word ‘friend’ is simply an indication that the person is approved; kosher, halal. You need make no long song and dance – nor even a short one if you, for whatever reason decide to remove the person from the list. The thought just occurred  to me that it would be much more humane than the Way the Lord High Executioner would remove someone on his ‘little list’.  (Mikado)

    I seem to have drifted – but in summary, two definitions of ‘friend’ so two different moral  realities.

  6. Profile photo of Charlie

    sorry, maybe my first paragraph a bit too heavy; ok for an essay perhaps, but for a friendly observation.

Cute images of people