Phalombe, Social media networks like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter have changed lives of Malawians in many aspects, be it in political, socioeconomic and religious circles.
In the religious arena, social media has to some extent revolutionised the preaching of the Gospel.
Social media platforms have eased access to the word of God because they serve as free places of worship where the Gospel is easily shared.
Perhaps, this explains why many religious institutions have embraced the technology as a reliable channel of reaching out to people with salvation messages in recent years.
Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) National Communications Secretary Fr. Godino Phokoso says the Catholic Church is currently developing a policy which will recognise social media as an important medium for preaching the word of God.
The communications policy will recognise the mediums as reliable channels of preaching the gospel because the church realises that new media has come to stay.
We realise that the social media can bring positive impact in spreading the word of God if properly regulated, Phokoso says.
Similarly, Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) spokesperson Sheikh Dinala Chabulika says Islam views social media as a powerful tool given by God to contribute to the spread and understanding of His word.
Dinala further says it is the continued abuse of social media platforms that worries religious leaders in the country.
He cites the spread of fake news and messages meant to create fear among people and false presentations of the power of God.
We realise that this is one of the best channels for reaching out to people with the word of God, the youth in particular.
It is a concern, therefore, when people start abusing it to spread fake news and threats in the name of God, Chabulika says.
Everyday most social media users receive an avalanche of viral religious messages circulating on various platforms with conditions attached in form of directives for recipients.
For instance, the messages end with an order: like this picture if you love God or forward this message to 10 people to get blessings from God.
But some religious leaders have described the tendency as religious blackmail that does not augur well with the word of God, arguing that it is misuse of social media.
Lilongwe-based Bishop of the Christian Life Ministries Christopher Hiwa says assuming that one can be blessed or be forgiven of their sins by simply typing Amen or forwarding Godly messages, is illogical and sacrilegious.
Hiwa believes that those behind such viral messages are simply weak in faith and do not want to ask God for the blessings.
If forwarding Godly messages was the way to salvation and success in life then life would have been much easier. In fact, the internet could have replaced all the churches.
There would be no point of sharing the word of God in a temple; everyone could simply sit in their room and search for messages on which to type Amen, Hiwa argues.
Hiwa accuses modern Christians of being lazy in prayer and fasting but also greedy for wealth and worldly things that bring instant gratification than the kingdom of God.
A cursory glance through the internet reveals that the ‘type Amen to get blessings from God’ tradition is not confined to Malawi and Africa alone.
Even in developed countries, most people continue to believe that apart from using it to spread the gospel, social media can also be used to acquire blessings and favours from God.
Scores of writers in various fields of human life have written strongly against the notion and called on people to wake up and start using social media in a manner that pleases God.
American female journalist Halen Doughty, who writes on My Uncommon Sense website, challenges that this unscrupulous usage of social media does not have room in religion as it does not present God in a good image.
Doughty concurs with Hiwa, arguing that there is no way God can judge anyone based on their choice, whether or not to like a picture of Jesus on Facebook or forwarding a WhatsApp message to others.
He maintains that God already provided directions in the Holy Bible.
This thinking is in line with Islamic teaching, which according to Dinala, outlines three important things to be done to acquire Allah’s favour, namely; prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Just like the Quran, the Bible outlines three clear ways of reaching out to God, namely, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Fasting, prayer and giving away the things you love are not easy things to do. So, Allah gave these directions to teach us that eternal salvation requires self-sacrifice and commitment.
Humanity cannot to dilute all these requirements by simply inventing a technology of sending texts? Dinala says.
Chancellor College student Maureen Laudon who regularly used WhatsApp for academic purposes has been off line for a year, due to what, she describes as boredom over church ‘junk.’
Laudon claims to have ended up with a huge list of blocked contacts on her WhatsApp due to their continued forwarding of religious texts that carried discomforting messages.
She says, while recognising the truthfulness of the messages in the texts, she found the attached conditions to be offensive and ungodly.
To this effect, Laudon, says she blacklisted every contact that sent her ‘blasphemous’ texts then later opted out of WhatsApp and Facebook.
While some might think people like Laudon are simply cowards or atheists for overreacting to the messages, Fr. Phokoso says it is also important to consider the power that the messages carry.
He says such messages may have long-term effects because one may live in fear of unknown after ignoring them since they are not sure whether the threats were real or not.
So when something bad happens to you, you tend to wonder whether or not it’s as a result of the ignored message.
However, I can assure social media users that I have always trashed messages that threatened me that I would die if I did not forward but nothing of any sort happened to me, Phokoso says.
Source: MANA Online