For LGBT People, Online Communication & Community Combine to Create … The Gospel According to Facebook
STURGEON BAY, WI (04-17-14) -- Area resident Bruce Joffe had been working on his new book, The Gospel According to Facebook: Social Media and the Good News, for nearly two years when a series of Letters to the Editor published in a local newspaper motivated him to complete his message of how God’s grace, love and reconciliation is being shared anew courtesy of today’s social media. But it’s not the same old, rugged cross that’s being touted here, the author cautions, as he prepared for a reading featuring these letters. "The letters, published this fall, dealt with whether we as a community were condoning sinful behavior by promoting a same-sex ‘Commit with Pride’ weekend sponsored by the Door County Visitors Bureau,"explains Joffe, a college professor and ordained pastor who takes issue with the "God said it, I believe it, that’s all there is to it"mentality about the Bible. In fact, he says, an increasing number of Christians are now getting away from this all-or-nothing (literal) thinking about the Bible and re-examining the core values of their faith … and what they really, truly believe.
"I sincerely hope that The Gospel According to Facebook will help people to stop worrying about worshiping a book and get on with serving God – and creation – instead,"he says, noting that the letters published in the Peninsula Pulse newspaper and follow-up correspondence between him and his interlocutor are featured in a very probing and personal chapter of the book.
Joffe, the founding executive director of the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin left the Racine-Kenosha area in 2010 when he was called to pastor a "rainbow"inter-denominational church in Jacksonville, Florida. Having counseled and advised scores of sexual minorities – gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people – who hated themselves and doubted God because of their experiences with bully pulpits, the "Rev. Doctor"realized how critical religious experiences can be to one’s mental health and dedicated his life to teaching and preaching that God created and loves us … just as we are … without requiring us to deny ourselves or our sexual orientation.
Although he’d participated in panels, forums, and debates with judgmental "hate the sin but love the sinner"leaders from orthodox religions and perspectives, Pastor Joffe believed that more than off-the-cuff responses to the standard biblical "clobber verses"were needed to help LGBT people affirm their God-given identities. So, progressively, his theological beliefs developed.
The Kingdom of God is here with us now rather than the hereafter, in Joffe’s new testament book, and much of what previously had been thought (and taught) to be heretical increasingly is being questioned and becoming prevailing theological norms.
In The Gospel According to Facebook, the teachings of Jesus take precedence over church traditions. Loving one’s neighbor – and neighborhood – means loving God and all of God’s creation including ourselves, our environment, society’s outcasts and misfits. Judgment takes a back seat to compassion … inclusion is the norm instead of exclusion … blessings, not curses, are to be shared … and God isn’t a biased "old man up in the sky"or punitive deity that needs to be appeased through rules, regulations, rituals, and Sunday sacrifices, but the sacred and transcendental essence that sustains us regardless of the worship path we may be following.
"Fundamentalist"religious doctrines and dogma are supplanted in Joffe’s work by more open-minded ones with a Bible whose contents are often considered more allegorical than literal, and the living Lord of the resurrection is proclaimed over a crucified Christ.
"The good news shared through Facebook and other social media echoes the essential message of Jesus about grace, love, compassion, and social justice,"says the author, believing that Christians are called to be people who must be welcoming and affirming of others. "Not since the Protestant Reformation have the entrenched forces of organized religion been challenged by such a dynamic move of God’s Spirit and God’s people,"the pastor/professor asserts. "Voices historically unheard and unrecognized now relay their messages instantly across time and space, reaching and rallying an audience that’s both receptive and responsive."
Through his research and publications, Dr. Joffe seeks to explore the intersections between gender, the media, and cultural norms -- including religion.
People who follow the Gospel According to Facebook tend to be spiritual, if not religious, more open-minded than closed. They worship God, not the Bible, and believe that there are many ways to encounter the Sacred … even though their faith tells them that Jesus got it right and is showing us the way,"notes the preacher.
"These are people who look directly to the Christ – to Jesus – through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for answers to their questions, rather than to doctrines or dogma of the religious establishment. That’s why they’re also interested in the words of the Buddha, Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama, Gandhi, and others who speak divine truisms.
"We’re people preferring actions over words, inclusion over exclusion, love above all else. Compassion and forgiveness supersede judgment. How we live and treat one another here and now takes precedence over the hereafter. Believing that the Kingdom of God can be here among us, ours is a Facebook community that respects humility in religious observances rather than mega-church galas and self-aggrandizement.
"For us,"Joffe concludes, "church is people, not a building or institution."
Released in February 2014 by VBW Publishing, The Gospel According to Facebook is now available from all online booksellers in $14.95 softcover (ISBN 9781621374480) and $8.99 eBook (ISBN 9781621374497) editions.
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(Rev.) Bruce H. Joffe, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communication:
Mary Baldwin College
Pastor and Moderator:
Shalom Spiritual Community
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