“To tweet or not to tweet?”: Selective empathy in a world of hashtag revolutions (Scholar’s Compass)

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Bat Manyika contemplates social media activism, drawing on his academic knowledge and practiced experience of the New Testament, which he studies as both church leader at CityHill Church, Johannesburg and PhD student at the South African Theological Seminary.


On the 7th January 2015 the world awoke to the harrowing news of an extremist attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris. News outlets across the globe covered this sad incident in intricate detail. Shortly after, political figures of all stripes and sizes marched the streets of Paris, showing solidarity with the people of France and the right to freedom of speech. The hashtag #jesuischarlie trended as the message of freedom was broadcast from stadia and social media platforms worldwide. Meanwhile, in the very same week that 17 people lost their lives across France, as many as 2000 individuals were butchered to death in a separate extremist attack in Nigeria. The difference; no widespread media coverage, no solidarity march. Only a counter solidarity hashtag of #jenesuispasCharlie

With an average of 500 million tweets sent every day (according to www.internetlivestats.com), it is no surprise that campaigns such as #bringbackourgirls, #Kony2012, and the Arab Spring garnered great support in relatively short periods. However, when one weighs the impact of these revolutions against sincere empathy, the reality paints a different picture. For instance, the once global campaign #bringbackourgirls has been largely abandoned, except by those most affected. We can hope that the one year anniversary of the tragic abductions will encourage a more sustained global commitment, but that remains to be seen. Joseph Kony and his LRA are still at large despite Gerard Butler’s machine gun preaching, and the Arab Spring has suffered something of a counter revolution.

In a world of hashtag revolutions, extremism, and selective empathy, Jesus does not introduce himself to us via tweet but as one who comes from above (Jn 8:23). Our Lord brings about a different kind of solidarity, as he incarnates himself into our world (Jn 1:14). We see Jesus as a human being who wrestles with human frailty (Heb 2:5-10), yet lovingly empathises with fallen humanity to the point of death (Mk 10:45; Jn 15:13). So as a student of the Bible, privileged with a host of social media platforms to air one’s convictions, joys, and grievances, I ask myself the question, “To tweet or not to tweet?” or to put it more twee, “What would Jesus tweet?” Will my tweets, hashtags, and sanctimonious Facebook posts and likes change the world? Do relentless tweeting and hash tagging equate to true empathy, the kind we see in Jesus? All these are questions living “rent free” in the corner of my mind. For now I cannot evict them but resolve to “Tweet, pray, and love” for I believe this is what Jesus would do.

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James 2:18-26

Questions for Reflection

How do I engage with Twitter and other social media? Does that interaction reflect empathy for others? In what other areas of my life could I show empathy?


Eternal Father, we ask that you would help us to model incarnational love, just as Jesus modelled. Empower us by your Spirit to this end, all to the glory of your name. Amen.

Image courtesy of Batanayi Manyika


Note: Part of a Scholar’s CompassHelp ESN Create a Devotional for Scholars.

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Batanayi Manyika

Batanayi I. Manyika is one of the leaders at CityHill Church, Johannesburg. He's also an academic at the South African Theological Seminary (popularly known as SATS), with whom he's pursuing a PhD in New Testament. He's married to his best friend Vanesha, and they count it a privilege to relate to God as Father, all because of Jesus our Lord.

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