Paper: Blogging is the new town square

Running head: Blogging is the new town square

Blogging is the New Town Square: Understanding Why Christians Blog
Regina Burgess
Spring Arbor University

Blogging is the New Town Square: Understanding Why Christians Blog
            Web logging or blogging began in the 1990s as personal expressions of opinions in a vast arena of subjects. In 2006, there were more than 36 million blogs (NeilsonWire, 2012), and today according to Neilson Wire (2012), approximately 181 million blogs exist in the virtual space called the blogosphere. Most bloggers are women, with more than half being moms, and all bloggers are well educated with seven out of 10 having at least some college. Bloggers are active across social media with a blogger being three times more likely to post or comment on message boards and in forums. Chen (2011) studied the needs that drive women to blog; and how blogging met those needs. The results of this study caused me to question why Christians blog, and what Christians thought about the ethics of blogging. I chose the study by Martin Kuhn (2007) as a focal point for my study on Christian bloggers. I expected to find one of the needs that drive Christians to blog is the Great Commission; and I expected to discover Christians use biblical principles as the plumb line for blogging ethics. I was not disappointed.
Theoretical and Ethical Framework
            Chen (2011) discovered the data collected supported that women need to express self-disclosure and their voice to influence others; and that these two interconnect in women bloggers. However, it is not the full story. The time spent blogging correlated with the need for affiliation and the need to influence slightly. This lends support to the thought that “needs do not operate separately, but may work in concert as need for self-disclosure and need for affiliation were found to do” (Chen, p. 179). Christian bloggers have exhibited an approach to blogging that does not challenge traditional sources of authority (Campbell, 2010). The themes of blogging in recent years have risen similar to those of Thomas Paine’s cry of “give me liberty or give me death.” The essential component of secular blogging is opinion, be that political, pundit, or agenda related, however Christian bloggers have a grip on factual truth and bow to God’s authority (Campbell, 2010). Over the years, the Internet has been able to traverse boundaries and level hierarchies; and to furnish voices to those without voices (Pullen, 2000). Campbell discovered that instead of resisting traditional authority, Christian bloggers are more likely to affirm that authority with “affirmation of religious leaders the most common followed by religious text, theological ideas and religious structures” (p. 269). In her study, Christian bloggers used references to scripture with God being the most common referred to authority followed by many Christian authors such as John Piper. Christian bloggers will journal about their spiritual journey and offer up apologetics with the most common theme being the daily practice of Christian principles, with the education of others being the central purpose (Cheong, Halavais, and Kwon, 2008). Many Christians use their blogs to give a glimpse into their religious roles such as the pastorate, or other church roles (Campbell, 2010) along with encouraging words.
            Social presence theory lends a strong explanation for why Christians blog. Biocca, Harms and Burgoon provisionally define social presence succinctly as the ‘sense of being with another’” (2003, p. 1). This aligns with Walther’s (2002) discovery of a strong relationship between the online communications and personal perceptions of the one being communicated with to the point of strong intimacy. Norton (1986) identified 10 communication styles that can be associated with online communications (making an impression, litigious, open, dramatic, dominant, precise, relaxed, friendly, attentive, and animated). Christians have that sense of being with the highest authority, God, and with each other. However, the secular blogger is basically behind John Rawls’ veil of ignorance in that no one truly knows who is being impacted by what is being said. The Christian blogger has a greater knowledge of his position in Christ and the work He prepared for each Christian to do even before time began.  Christians are behind the veil of ignorance because the mind of Christ places them there; and because the Great Commission perspective of viewing from the worst-off members of society (the lost) is magnified:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt.:18-20, English Standard Bible)
 This is one reason Christian bloggers cling to God’s authority.
Once I had my thesis questions pinned down, I searched for a previous secular study with questions that aligned with my hypotheses in my own field study. Martin Kuhn (2007) probed into the question of ethics in blogging. It was the closest to Biblical principle questions I could find. His questions about why the blog was started also gave insight into my question of what needs drove Christians to start a blog. Therefore, I prepared a questionnaire using his exact questions; and sent them to about 300 of my LinkedIn contacts of whom I was fairly certain were bloggers. I also posted the questions on my blog, and in my LinkedIn group called Christians Authors, Editors, Publishers, and Bloggers. I compiled all responses to each question and combined like responses. The respondents were asked to rank in order of importance six values with 1 being most important and 6 being least important. The values guiding each blogger were compiled according to how often a value appeared in the top two positions, and then the top three positions.
Within two weeks I had received 30 responses, and in another week I had received three more responses for a total of 33 respondents. Of those, only 24 responses were from Christian bloggers. Eight were from men, and 16 from women. Two women had more than one blog, but the others submitted one. The median age was 36 with the youngest being 24 and the oldest being 68.
            RQ1: What drives a Christian blogger to blog?
            The common response was reaching out to Christians to offer encouragement and as “Lynn” phrased it, “focus on Bible-based beliefs…to promote good press and Good News”. The underlying need was to help others better understand God and His purposes. “Sylvie” is concerned for those who are questioning their sexuality and who “debate God and homosexuality”. She lived that life for more than 14 years. She seriously takes God’s directive to reach out to the gay community as she said, “to give God the glory by being in His service. With that as my guiding principle, I try my best to do so as Jesus would, since my topic is the gay lifestyle and the truth of Christ and free will—you are not hard wired.” She went on to note, “Blogs are the new town square, where people can meet to express their views. Today, blogs break news, provide advice and solutions, support and have become a trusted source for information.” Mark expressed the common desire of the respondents this way,I want the blog to reflect the personal work of the Holy Spirit in my life, the transformation he is doing in and through me, and to share insights into culture that may enlighten others.” Kristine said, “I wanted to share my experiences as I walked my Christian journey. I wanted to inform Christians about the dangers of the occult which they might not be learning from church leaders or popular media.”
            As Cheong, Halavais, and Kwon (2008) said, “In some ways, religious blogging reflects the standard interests of bloggers everywhere. There is a focus on documenting personal experience, followed by interest in teaching and learning, as well as monitoring and making sense of the mainstream news” (p.117). However, as a whole, this study’s results support Campbell’s (2010) findings that religious blogging affirms traditional religious authority which, in the minds of these respondents, is God. Overwhelmingly, the purpose of their blogs relates (either directly or indirectly) to the Great Commission Jesus commands in Matthew 28 stated above. They use their blogs as the Town Square where people can exchange opinions, build community, and have a safe place to build relationships.
            RQ2: Are Christian bloggers’ values Biblically based?
            I chose the values that were ranked from Kuhn’s blogger ethics study. The findings are not all that dissimilar. The secular bloggers in Kuhn’s study mentioned factual truth most often as most important, the next two most important were transparency and minimizing harm. I received the same results.
Factual Truth 15 #1-2
Transparency 10 #1-2
Minimizing Harm 13 #1-3
Accountability 9 #1-3
Free Expression 7 #1-3;
Etiquette 2 #1 & 3
Factual truth was ranked either first or second fifteen times; transparency was ranked first or second nine times, and so forth. The disparity of numbers occurs due to the double and triple positions in which the value appeared. The values of truth, honesty, and minimizing harm all have multiple related Bible verses which include: Jesus is the Truth (John 1:17 & 14:6); Honesty (Luke 2:35); and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).
I also asked what things a blogger must do to be considered a good blogger. The most common responses included abstaining from plagiarizing, lying, and copyright infringement, as well as a commitment to fact checking which aligns with the value of truth and transparency. One response was simply, “Employ the Fruit of the Spirit.” Honoring God, respect for others, community building aligned with minimizing harm to others are values Christian bloggers consistently employ incorporated within the Agape ethics mentality adhering to Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself.
Not so surprisingly, in answer to my question about what things a blogger should never do, the respondents stayed true to their mission and values of truth, transparency, minimizing harm by remaining true to God, and additionally never compromise His word. A common theme was to not take criticism too seriously, “have rhinoceros skin”, but to invite feedback and use it to facilitate discussion. Only one person mentioned never [d]ivulge personal information about themselves or others (their whereabouts, security stuff).” Another mentioned, “Privacy for a response to some readers is important. I won't air their pain and hurt in public or betray their confidence in me,” which is an example of minimizing harm. The nurturing nature of Christ is abundantly apparent in His body of bloggers.
            This study has affirmed research already conducted which is encouraging. The dearth of research on Christian bloggers is slowly being filled. Christian bloggers are taking God’s Great Commission seriously, using blogging as a way to seek out disciples, teaching them Jesus’ commands, and also using their words to lift up the weary and disheartened with the consolation of God’s word. This study asked two main questions the first was: What drives a Christian to blog? The common theme was obedience to God’s call. What they are accomplishing is the Great Commission to the lost and to the Body of Christ.
The other question: Are Christian bloggers’ values Biblically based? The interesting answer is that ethical concerns no matter the religious affiliation are the same in the blogosphere. These values are Biblically based, and that is what is so interesting. Kuhn’s results highlight basic principles which drive people who are writing publically are based on the values truth, transparency, and minimizing harm. Those values come from God’s word. This study’s results support a deeper perception of God’s ambassadors to bear His image and to make Him proud that Christians who happen to be bloggers are being obedient to Him.

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