Facebook Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg floated her desire for the social media giant to be the means by which faith-based communities stream their services and interact with each other.
“Sandberg made her intentions known during a recent virtual faith summit with several religious groups in which she highlighted the critical role Facebook played when communities of faith were unable to gather as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic,” according to The Christian Post.
“As a person of faith myself, I know how important it is for my family to be able to stay connected with our Jewish community remotely. We’ve been able to celebrate high holy days … from our home thanks to technology,” Sandberg said.
“I sometimes reflect on how much harder the experience for the last year might have been if the pandemic had taken place just a few years earlier because it used to be you needed a TV studio to do what you can now do with your smartphone. Nothing has made me prouder than seeing the role Facebook apps have played in keeping people connected at a time when we all had to be apart,” she added.
“I know that faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally, both are about connection. This was true long before the pandemic. Back in 2017, we changed our mission to give people the power to build community around the world closer together. We envisioned a world where our platform could help people build community by connecting with others who shared their interests. And we built a team within Facebook to help us better serve people of faith and houses of worship globally,” she said.
“Four years later, we are gathering on Facebook to again affirming [sic] the value of connecting people to faith, hope, inspiration and love. Facebook can be a place where members of large denominations find common ground or where people from older or smaller religious tradition find each other no matter where they are in the world,” she continued. “Our hope is that one day people will host religious services in virtual reality spaces as well, or use augmented reality as an educational tool to teach their children the story of their faith.”
Nora Jones, who is a pastor at Open Door Ministries in Gainesville, Florida, and serves as Facebook’s director for global faith partnerships, said, “Facebook is so much more than just a place to make people aware of your programs and events. It’s a place where you can build [sic] authentic faith community.”
When churches began moving online amid the pandemic, Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, made national headlines in April 2020 when Google suspended their app from the Google Play store after the tech giant deemed its content “insensitive.” At the time, Pastor Ben Zornes worried about the potential consequences of Big Tech getting involved with faith-based institutions. As the Washington Examiner reported:
The Christ Church app remains available to iPhone users in the Apple Store, and the church’s channel is still up on YouTube, but as churches and synagogues move online and would-be worshipers are arrested for congregating in person, some are concerned about the power tech companies could wield over religious institutions, even unwittingly.
The purpose of the suspended app was to provide their quarantined congregation with “sermons and a couple podcasts helping our people think biblically about the coronavirus,” Zornes explained. “What does the Bible have to say? How should we think about these things during this time, doing what we believe pastors and the church should be doing, which is helping people not live in fear and helping them to love their neighbor? And apparently, that was flagged somehow.”
Regarding the possibility the app was flagged deliberately because of the theological content of their coronavirus-related podcasts and sermons, Zornes said, “We just don’t know,” but added, “I think the thing that’s of concern for us is what other topics could they suppress? Positions that the Church has held for years, and for millennia, derived from Scripture? If they just have a switch to kill our platform and to take away our microphone, it doesn’t seem like they’re very favorable for free speech.”
Two days after the original publication of the Washington Examiner’s story, Google reached out to Christ Church to inform them their app had been reinstated unconditionally.
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