Redefining Friendship

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As far as I know, my wife Monica and I are friends with everyone at Telkwa CRC who is on Facebook. We are also friends with my mom (who just recently signed up to see what it’s all about) and Monica’s mom. Then there are several of our current and past colleagues as well as acquaintances we have made through our children at school whom we have befriended online.

I’m curious how widespread Facebook’s influence is in redefining friendship. Several years ago, we would not necessarily have thought of everyone in our online friends list as friends – some are relatives, some are colleagues, some are acquaintances. That doesn’t mean we don’t like them; it’s just that all these people are now lumped into a single category: “Friends.”

Rev. Peter H. Holtvlüwer, pastor of Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church in Tintern ON, views this with alarm in his article I read last week. I appreciate his concern of the potential inappropriateness of considering someone in authority over us as a friend, an equal. And his observation is true that having hundreds of friends really does rob the word friendship of its value: A long list of friends may speak more of our selfish tendencies than the authenticity of our relationships with the people in our list of friends. (I mentioned this a year ago, too.)

On the other hand, I wonder if in one way, Facebook is actually redeeming our concept of friendship. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve seen the theme of friendship with God and with one another crop up quite often (most recently here and here). Jesus says to His 1st century and 21st century disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command… I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” When we are in Christ, we are friends with Jesus! It stands to reason, then, that if we are friends with Jesus, we are also friends with each other, regardless of how else we relate with one another.

To put it another way, I am my parents’ son, and the Bible teaches that I am to honour my father and mother. But they are also my brother and sister in Christ, are they not? Thinking of them as such does not negate the command to honour them, but it does remind them and me of how we are equals in a bigger sense – sinners equally in need of and receiving God’s grace!

Facebook friendships can remind us that before we see each other as parents, children, employers, employees, teachers, students, leaders or followers, we are sisters and brothers – and I’d like to add friends – in Christ. Who and what we are in Christ is what defines us first.

One last comment: I commend to you the section in Rev. Holtvlüwer’s article on “The Real You” as it’s a good reminder of how real friends relate – whether online or irl.

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Actually, my observation is that Facebook has added a new term for its unique type of relationship: "Facebook Friend." When I'm talking about someone's post on Facebook, or someone with whom I have little other contact than via Facebook, or perhaps someone who is more of an acquaintance or co-worker than what I'd call a true friend, I will call him or her a Facebook Friend. I've heard many others do the same. 

By using the term Facebook Friend, we differentiate between others we'd refer to just as "friend." It conveys a different meaning, one that conveys the lighter, less deep relationship than friend.

I don't see that there will be a problem with lessening the meaning of friendship with this usage. It just adds a new type of friendship to the others.

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That's an interesting observation, Mavis.  I myself haven't used the expression "Facebook friend" probably because I know all my "friends" irl, whether they're bio family, church family, colleagues, acquaintances, "real friends," etc.  So perhaps Facebook isn't redefining friendship so much as it is creating a new type of friendship that didn't exist prior to social media. ...Although pen pals do come to mind as something similar. ~Stanley

Just recently, with the advent of Google+ (G+), this "friend"-only classification has changed. G+ pioneered the use of "circles" to identify your relationship to people, so now you can group people by how you know them and control more easily which social group of yours sees what. Facebook followed suit with its "lists" because G+ was getting all the buzz about being the next big thing. This allows a more "authentic" grouping of the people you know, and it allows you to post just to that self-defined social grouping, say, relatives, or old college buddies, or church members, or whatever "circles" you create. So the majority of your argument may go away. It will depend on FB users adopting the new system, which most will be reticent to do, in my opinion, because they are so used to posting publicly, and it's an inconvenience (no matter how small) to post to a list. G+ is a little less inconvenient because it's built around the circles architecture, rather than having it thrown in as an afterthought.

I share Holtvlüwer's trepidation about being friends with those in authority over me (though it's more rigidly delineated for me by the the US Army), but he failed to mention an important flip-side to this argument. What about "friending" young, single ladies college age) from my home church, for example? I'm married with two kids, and am a Ministry Associate operating as a US Army Chaplain. I have avoided the creation of a "fan page" for myself (I'm not THAT important) so that people can follow my ministry, and just use personal FB & G+ pages.

Now, from my early days as a young (I'm 37 now) Bible College student, it was hammered into my brain to never put myself in a situation that even hinted at sexual compromise, but on FB & G+ I have these "friends" who are young ladies from my home church that I have accepted as friends because I was acquainted with them and their families, they requested to be friends with me, and I make the assumption that they just want to keep up with the ministry that I'm doing. (For the record, I have never had any inappropriate requests or posts from any of them).

A few points on this; in real life, were I a local Pastor, I would never have relationships with young ladies in which I would be constantly privy to their daily social interactions because that would more than hint of inappropriateness, I think. I worked out my discomfort long ago, by assuring that my wife is my "friend" and always has full access to anything on my FB page. I have never requested a "friending" with a female unless my wife was aware of it, never with anyone who might appear to be a compromise (old girlfriends, say) or anyone else whose friendship might give even the appearance of inappropriateness. I have once or twice, unfriended other females (not from my church) who have written inappropriate(unchristian) posts, but all in all, I haven't had a bad experience with FB or G+.

As a Pastor, what is your view on this?