Should Facebook be the ‘new church’ and ultimate hate speech judge?


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FACEBOOK THE “NEW CHURCH”?

TOM LAMPRECHT:  Harry, World Magazine ran an article recently on Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It says he believes his social platform will join one billion people in meaningful communities, according to an interview he gave with CNN Tech recently. In fact, he went so far as to say that Facebook very well might be the “new church”.

He also talks about how, in this virtual community, he believes that social media and free speech form an awkward symbolic relationship. He told CNN, “Free speech should be able to get as close to offensive as long as it’s not hate speech or over the line.”

Unfortunately, when people at the top of the communication chain get to define hate speech and determine what constitutes a hate group, virtual or real, Christians tend to get pegged as offenders.

DR. REEDER: Historically, free speech, of course, is one of those six affirmations of freedom in the first Bill of Rights and it’s been given a latitude that, basically, any speech is to be acceptable in the sense of, if you’re free to give it, it may be distasteful, it may be inappropriate, it may be hurtful, or it may be all of those things.

However, the fact is that some of our greatest ideas, when they were first uttered, were hurtful to a segment of people but they needed to be put out there in order to have appropriate discussions in terms of what is valid and what is true. You have to have a free debate of ideas in a free society.

WHO DETERMINES WHAT IS HATE SPEECH?

Once you’ve determined that hate speech is no longer free speech, well, who determines what is hate speech? Up until now, the limitations have been the law — any speech that violates the law or is promoting the violation of the law is speech that you are then accountable for and that can be punished. However, free speech that’s simply hurtful, or coarse, or inappropriate or any of that, we have determined that society can bring pressure to bear that you don’t talk like that, but we do not curb free speech because the free exchange of ideas in a free society is so important.

What he is proposing is that there would be this marvelous “new church” — and the reason he calls this a new church is because his particular perspective on the church is that the church is a place where people develop community and relationship — and community and relationship requires speech but we can’t have hateful speech in this new community. Well, who’s going to determine what is hateful? Well, the head of this new church and whoever that is with Facebook will be the ones that determine whether it’s appropriate or not.

WHAT IS CHURCH?

By the way, whenever we see an inadequate view of the church in the world, we need to realize two things. First, man, in his sinfulness, will never get the church right until God’s saving grace gets into his heart and his life and he sees what the actual mission and the purpose of the church is to be.

Secondly, whenever we see such a shallow view of the church, we need to realize that’s there because of the way we do church and the way people see us doing church and that’s why they have a shallow view of church.

It’s clear that Mark Zuckerberg sees the church as a philanthropic, communal society. Now, does the church do good, philanthropic things? Yes. Is one of the great marks of the church our love for the Lord and our love for one another in that we develop community? Well, there’s a reason that the church is called the “family of God”. There’s a community relationship and, more than that, a family relationship that takes place within the church.

However, that’s not what the church is. The church is actually the people of God — a people who were not a people who have become the people of God because of the saving work of Jesus Christ in our heart and in our life. And He has drawn us to Himself and He has drawn us together in and for the purpose of knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him.

Now, in that, we develop our relationships that are productive, that are encouraging, that are honoring to the Lord and honoring to each other but that is built on the dynamic of the church’s mission, which is to declare the glory of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

ZUCKERBERG JOINS THE LINE OF LATEST “CHURCH REPLACERS”

Therefore, his view of what the church actually is — that something such as a digital platform could actually be the church — it is a declaration that we’re not doing church very well for people to get that idea about the church, itself. Individuals have started organizations that have grown up in our society, become quite the fad and quite the attraction, and it’s not long before they have become “the new church” and “The church is dead, therefore, let’s put aside the church as this banal and antiquated organization that has no place in contemporary society. In fact, we have replaced it with this organization.” And, of course, Mr. Zuckerberg proposes Facebook is the latest in a long list of organizations that will replace the church and bury the church into its grave of antiquity.

It’s really interesting how everyone keeps burying the church for millennia now and, interestingly, there’s Jesus and He stands there with the church alive, and glorious and growing throughout the world while these organizations actually are the organizations that end up getting buried and become irrelevant in society over a period of time as their newness and their faddishness fades away but the church continues.

Therefore, we hear the words of our Savior: “I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” so, if the church can withstand the assaults of the adversary, Satan — if that is true — believe me, Jesus and the church will be able to sustain its existence gloriously and dynamically, even in the face of Facebook.

DANGERS OF SOCIAL COMMUNITY

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, if you look at these communities that come up on social media, one of the common denominators a lack of accountability. We see people saying things and doing things and posting pictures on social media that they would never consider doing in person. Obviously, that is a danger, but is that sort of man’s default mode — that he wants to have this platform in which he can communicate without accountability?

DR. REEDER: Yeah, we want the transparency of others with no commitment of intimacy of ourselves. For instance, the whole industry of pornography: I want the benefits of intimacy, but I do not want to take the steps of relational transparency so people become objects for one’s gratification.

Well, that’s true on a digital platform as well. When you get into a relationship and a group of people start talking, there is a dynamic that begins to take place of the weightiness of various individuals in the conversation and that’s not true on a digital platform. On a digital platform, there is no dynamic of the personhood that is present; there is only the manipulation of words and there is a leveling of individuals that is not based upon equality, but it is based upon banality.

USE MEDIA TOOLS, BUT REALIZE LIMITS

Of course, I do not think that the digital world should be avoided. The reformers used pamphleteering, the reformers used the new printing press, and then came the radio, and then comes television and then comes all of these things. All of these means of communication should be seized and used, but they need to be used within the parameters of their actual effectiveness in life and we need to be able to make those evaluations.

As one writer said years ago, “Christianity is a religion that has a ‘cold message.’” In other words, it requires thoughtfulness. Most media mechanisms require a “hot message” like sloganeering and bumper stickers. Christian theology just doesn’t fit on bumper stickers. It requires communication that is consistently thoughtful and reflective.

Preaching of the word will never be replaced by tweeting. The church will always be the place where we assemble face-to-face with each other — we will see each other, talk with each other, communicate with each other. That’s why the Scripture says we are the ‘ecclesia’, the assembled ones, the called together ones. “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves as is the habit of some.”

COMING UP TOMORROW: DOES THE CHURCH NEED TO GET MORE “THICK”?

TOM LAMPRECHT:  Harry, your closing comments today are a good segway into what I want to talk about tomorrow, an article by John Stonestreet out of Breakpoint. “Are our churches truly leaving a mark on people?” He goes to a comment by New York Times columnist David Brooks talking about the thickness, saying, “What’s the difference between a job and a vocation? It is a thick institution,” Brooks writes. And John Stonestreet goes on to say, “Perhaps we need more thickness in the church.”

DR. REEDER: That’s an interesting comment. We’ve said it using other metaphors, but I believe the comment by this well-known columnist, David Brooks, deserves some treatment and I believe they’re actually onto something.

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.

51 mins ago

Watch: Bicentennial video tells the stories of Alabama’s great people

The finale of the ALABAMA 200 bicentennial celebration is on Saturday, with the public celebrating with elected officials, celebrities and dignitaries in the state’s capital.

However, even if you cannot make the festivities in person, you can still take time remotely to honor Alabama becoming a state 200 years ago to the day.

A video put together by WBRC and posted by Governor Kay Ivey is a great way to relive the state’s vibrant history.

Entitled, “Alabama Bicentennial: The Stories of Our People,” the approximately 50-minute special looks back on the state’s past 200 years, hearing from some of its most memorable voices in the process.

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In an introduction to that video, Ivey says, “As we celebrate our state’s bicentennial, I want to recognize my fellow Alabamians. As governor, I’m proud to be from a state that has remained steadfast through good times and bad.”

“Our resiliency and southern spirit have allowed us to grow and become the great state we are today,” she continues. “To put it simply, Alabama is defined by its people, and we have some of the best. I look forward to the future generations of Alabamians who will help take us to even greater heights. Happy birthday, Alabama!”

Watch:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Alabama’s ‘white gold’ draws worldwide interest

Ruth Beaumont Cook’s latest book started 10 years ago as a brochure request from Sylacauga‘s B.B. Comer Memorial Library in advance of the city’s first marble festival.

“They asked me to put together a brochure about the history of the marble,” Cook said. “It was overwhelmingly successful, so the next year they asked to me write a book.”

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New book celebrates Sylacauga’s marble legacy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Nearly nine years and dozens of interviews later, Cook celebrates the natural resource that nurtures both the economy and the cultural heritage of Alabama’s “Marble City” in her new book, “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story.”

“Whenever you start working on a book, you have all of this information but you look for a story thread through it,” Cook said. “I had no clue when I started what that was going to be.”

Cook said the clues starting coming together as she started talking to people who grew up mining marble.

“There are so many people who grew up in Gantts Quarry,” Cook said. “Most people have good memories of growing up there and work they are proud of. Telling those stories was the most interesting part of it.”

Commercial marble quarries began in Sylacauga in the late 1800s. Cook said the marble was initially used by sculptors such as Giuseppe Moretti, the Italian who created the Vulcan statue on Red Mountain in Birmingham.

“His Vulcan won gold prize at the 1904 World’s Fair, but what most people don’t know is he also took another piece with him, ‘The Head of Christ,’ which he had carved from Sylacauga marble,” Cook said. “It won a silver medal.”

The notoriety caught the attention of construction managers around the world who were seeking dimension marble for their projects. By the 1930s, Sylacauga’s creamy white marble had been used in hundreds of buildings, including the U.S. Supreme Court building and the ceiling of the Lincoln Memorial.

“It was chosen for the Lincoln Memorial because it can be cut very thin and still be strong,” Cook said. “They cut it thin enough to be translucent and then rubbed it with beeswax and put it in the ceiling.”

Despite the marble’s beauty and strength, Cook said the demand for dimension marble in construction dropped dramatically by the 1950s.

“It became obvious that granite was much easier to withstand pollution than marble,” Cook said. “Marble is still great if it’s thick enough, but if you make a facade of it on a building, it’s probably not going to last because it deteriorates from the pollution.”

Instead of closing the mines and laying off employees, Cook said the Sylacauga marble companies survived and thrived thanks to a growing need for calcium extracted from marble deposits and used in hundreds of products, such as cosmetics, paints and glue.

“They turned to industry and began to grind up the marble into fine powder – called GCC, ground calcium carbonate – which industry had a strong demand for,” Cook said.

Cook said Sylacauga continues to be a rich marble resource more than 70 years later.

“I’ve been told there’s enough marble there for sculpture and industry for at least another 200 years,” Cook said. “The vein of marble is 35 miles long, a mile and a half wide and goes down quite a ways — 300 or 400 feet I believe. It’s a very valuable resource.”

Sylacauga Marble Festival

Since 2009, the city has celebrated its heritage through the Sylacauga Marble Festival, a 10-day event drawing sculptors from around the world to work alongside an Italian master sculptor. Visitors can watch, tour local quarries and purchase sculptures. Cook said the festival brings Sylacauga’s rich heritage full circle.

“It came from art, up through all of these others, and now you have this wonderful balance,” Cook said. “You still have major industry but you also have major art appreciation. It’s a great story.”

The 12th annual Marble Festival will be March 31 to April 11, 2020.

The 2019 Marble Festival, which was one of several events highlighted by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission as part of the state’s 200th birthday celebration, was sponsored by the Alabama Power FoundationAlabama State Council on the ArtsAlabama Tourism DepartmentAmerican Legion Post 45 SylacaugaArchitectural Stone ImportsB.B. Comer Memorial LibraryBlue Bell CreameriesBlue Horizon TravelCity of Sylacauga, Conn Equipment, Coosa Valley Medical CenterCurtis and Son Funeral HomeImerysIsabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts CenterJ. Craig Smith Community CenterMiller Lumber CompanyMorris Custom Marble & GraniteNemakOmya, Inc.Pizza & Pint, Representative Ron Johnson, SouthFirst BankSylacauga Arts CouncilSylacauga Chamber of CommerceSylacauga Housing Authority, Sylacauga Marble Quarry, Towne Inn, 21st Century Signs and Utilities Board of Sylacauga.

To learn more about “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story,” visit newsouthbooks.com/magicinstone.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Birmingham Business Alliance reveals new mission, economic development approach

The Birmingham Business Alliance revealed a new mission and a new approach to economic development as it heads into 2020.

The BBA’s 2019 Chairwoman’s Annual Meeting was at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham Dec. 11. Chairwoman Nancy Goedecke passed the gavel to Jim Gorrie, president and CEO of Brasfield & Gorrie.

Gone is Blueprint Birmingham, which guided the BBA through its first 10 years. In its place is a strategy that keys in life sciences, advanced manufacturing and technology. Those are some of the main industries the Alabama Department of Commerce is expected to emphasize in its revision of Accelerate Alabama, the state’s economic development plan.

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“Those are the three areas that we’re going to focus on,” said Fred McCallum, interim CEO of the BBA. “I will tell you that when you look at our state plan, there are a lot of similarities.”

Birmingham Business Alliance announces new direction from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A main component to Blueprint Birmingham was a set of metrics that measured Birmingham’s success against a cluster of peer cities. Doing so often looked too broadly, McCallum said.

“Blueprint was a good plan at the time,” he said. “It was very wide and in some ways it was successful and in other ways it wasn’t so successful. I think what we’ve come to now is a point in time where we’ve got to focus in on jobs and economic growth.”

There will be a new set of metrics created and benchmarked in a new BBA strategic plan, McCallum said.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin did highlight one comparison between Birmingham and other cities.

“Since the great recession around 2008, 60% of all jobs have only gone to 25 cities in America,” Woodfin said. “You need to know that Birmingham is not on that list.”

Woodfin feels Birmingham should measure itself against its own potential instead of comparing itself to others.

“We don’t have to be like Nashville or Chattanooga or Atlanta or Austin,” he said. “We need to be the best version of ourselves. But that is going to require us to shake off the way we’ve always done things.”

Woodfin said the companies and organizations that make up the BBA should be prepared to take greater risks and push boundaries.

“Being risk-averse at this time as we move into 2020 … will not work for us – as an organization or for our city,” he said. “So the question becomes when you walk out of this room, are we prepared to invest in our competitiveness? Do we want to compete? Do we want to set ourselves apart, not be like any other city in America?”

A primary goal for the BBA is to find a new CEO. McCallum has led the organization on an interim basis after former CEO Brian Hilson stepped down at the end of March. Hilson now works on rural economic development initiatives in the state.

Other changes will include aligning the BBA’s internal strategy to execute the new strategic plan, updating its governance structure to be more effective and efficient and aligning the funding model to support the BBA’s new strategic plan.

“I think the organization will be more focused on specific strategies and focused on doing what we do well,” McCallum said.

McCallum believes Birmingham leaders and economic developers can tell the region’s story more forcefully and proactively.

“We’re on a good trajectory. I feel good about where we are as a community,” McCallum said. “Our leadership is strong. Our public leadership is strong. Our private leadership is strong. I feel good about where the BBA is focused.”

This year’s annual meeting was more a call to action than the rah-rah sessions of the past.

“Usually I would get up here and give you all some stats about what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished,” Woodfin said. “I think it is fair to say that 2019 has been a good year for many of your organizations individually and collectively for our Birmingham Business Alliance.”

It was a good 2019 in the Birmingham metro area. Halfway through the year, the region reached and surpassed its pre-recession height of employment. There were 32 projects with 1,180 jobs and $492.2 million in capital investment announced in the region in 2019.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

The biggest birthday party in Alabama history is TODAY!

The biggest birthday party in Alabama’s history is taking place today, December 14, and you are invited! Join us in Montgomery for the grand finale celebration of our state’s 200th birthday.

Watch the parade, listen to concerts and performances, visit open houses and much more.

This is sure to be a day you don’t want to miss. The event is free to the public and lasts all day starting with an elaborate parade at 10:00 a.m. The parade will travel from Court Square Fountain in downtown Montgomery up Dexter Avenue to the State Capitol. There will be marching bands, city floats and unique displays of Alabama history on wheels, such as the USS Alabama and U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The parade is a great opportunity for families to enjoy the celebration together – and it’s only the beginning of a packed day. Following the parade, Governor Kay Ivey will dedicate Bicentennial Park. The afternoon will offer performances, exhibitions and open houses throughout downtown Montgomery. The day will conclude with a concert featuring popular musicians from Alabama and the history of Alabama presented in a never-before-seen way.

Visit Alabama 200 Finale for a complete rundown of the day’s events.

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7 hours ago

ADCNR officers help spread Christmas cheer at Academy Sports

Imagine elves filling baskets with goodies to load on Santa’s sleigh and you get a snapshot of what it looked like last week when Academy Sports + Outdoors provided Christmas cheer for numerous youngsters who needed that encouragement the most.

At Academy stores across Alabama, youngsters were chosen to go on shopping sprees with a budget of $150 each, assisted by first responders from the local area. In two locations, Huntsville and Foley, Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) enforcement officers assisted the kids in choosing the items that were loaded into the shopping carts.

Into the baskets went bows and arrows, footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, clothing, athletic shoes, candy canes and more. The youngsters proved more than adept at keeping track of just how far that gift card would go, counting down until the funding was exhausted.

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“Academy Sports + Outdoors is excited to partner with first responders across the state of Alabama to help 150 children enjoy more sports and outdoor fun this holiday season,” said Rick Burleson, Academy’s Regional Marketing Specialist. “As the shopping destination with the most fun gifts and gear, we look forward to making the holidays merry for our local communities across Alabama.”

Chris Blankenship, ADCNR’s Commissioner, said the shopping events presented a special opportunity for outreach to the younger generation.

“I appreciate Academy Sports + Outdoors for sponsoring this program,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Opportunities like this where enforcement officers can interact positively with citizens, especially youth, are so valuable for building trust on both sides. Our Conservation Enforcement Officers participate in many programs to promote hunting and fishing for youth. This is just another example of the good people we have in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“In the photos, you can really see the joy in the faces of the kids, the officers and the employees of Academy Sports + Outdoors. The giving spirit of Academy, our officers and the community is evident in the outpouring of support for this program. With this scene replicated at hundreds of Academy stores all over the country, good relations with law enforcement are being built nationwide and will pay dividends for many years to come. My desire to work in conservation came from encounters such as this with Marine Resources conservation officers when I was a kid. You cannot underestimate what effects the little things like this will have on a person and a community.”

At the Foley event, Conservation Enforcement Officers from the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division and the Marine Resources Division aided 10 youngsters from the afterschool program at the John McClure Snook Family YMCA in Foley.

Melissa McGhee, associate branch director of the Foley YMCA, said the youngsters ranged in age from 5 to 13.

“All the kids we chose are highly scholarshipped kids,” McGhee said. “They just don’t have a lot. For three of them, this is their Christmas. This was such an honor to be picked for this. When I talked to some of the parents, they just started crying because this is what their kids are doing for Christmas.”

Jason Ford, Academy Store Director in Foley, said providing a venue for officers and youngsters to interact in a positive way during the holiday season was well worth the effort from Academy and the associates who also assisted during the shopping sprees.

“We love that we can reach out to people in our community who are less fortunate,” Ford said. “But it also strengthens the bonds between our first responders and our community. Right now, we can use that unity more than ever. To be able to impact the community in such a positive way really goes a long way in warming my heart, and hopefully seeing the kids gets some good Christmas presents and develop some goodwill with our law enforcement.”

WFF Conservation Officer Steve Schrader wore a perpetual smile while he helped a young lady fill her basket with gifts from shoes to candy cane-shaped containers filled with M&Ms.

“This has been great,” Schrader said. “My shopper has been very generous and has bought more for her family than herself. I hope she now sees us (enforcement officers) more friendly than the other side of the fence. They can see us as real people, too. I think it went really well.”

At the event in Huntsville, Beth Morring with the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama echoed the need for the sponsored kids to find out more about the ADCNR enforcement officers and what those officers actually do.

“Before they started shopping, we asked the Conservation guys to explain what they do every day,” Morring said. “The officers told them how they protected the wildlife and help those who fish and hunt and enjoy the outdoors. It was neat because our kids probably never knew these men and women existed. It was a learning experience just to meet these officers, which was great.”

Morring said 10 kids from the Seminole Boys and Girls Clubs in Huntsville were chosen for the event.

“These were the kids who needed it the most,” she said. “With $150 to shop, we did kind of steer them during their shopping, as did the officers. We started with shoes first and then went to get some essential clothing. They were able to get a goodie or two as well. It was a great time, and everybody wanted new shoes. These kids were predominantly from the public housing area where the club is located, and they were thrilled to get some new, shiny tennis shoes. In fact, some of them wore them out of the store that day, which was fabulous.”

Morring said the event was much more than just a shopping spree for the kids.

“To watch them interact with the officers and for our children to see men and women who serve and protect us, that they are good people,” she said. “Many of our children don’t have as positive an exposure with first responders sometimes. For them to be able to meet these first responders who can talk to them and realize these are dads and moms and husbands and wives – just regular people even though they might be in a uniform. So that positive interaction was so important. That was really impactful for our children.”

Morring said it was great to see the officers meet the kids on the same level.

“I loved watching these big grown-ups with these little children and them kneeling down on the floor to help them try on shoes,” she said. “Not to mention for our children, it was the first time they were able to walk into a store and have a budget for gifts where they got to make the decisions and choices. To watch these kids whose families struggle financially, for them to have $150 and then think about family members before themselves is admirable and amazing in light of their circumstances.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.