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August 1, 2010

Guidelines on the church and social networking - Family unity and immigration law - Restoring civility to the immigration debate - The value of humor, laughter and joy in the church

In this edition:
1. Laugh, and we'll all laugh with you.
2. The church and social networking media: guidelines.
3. Social networking with minors; other guidelines.
4. Revisiting Australian church's social networking protocol.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The oil leak's emotional toll on human lives;
b) what prayer is, what it is not;
c) unrealistic solutions to illegal immigration.
6. Restoring civility to the immigration reform conversation.
7. Family unity and immigration reform.
8. Will Arizona law prompt federal immigration reform?

1. Laugh, and We All Laugh With You

Does being religious mean being deadly serious all the time? Not according to Jesuit Father James Martin, known for his writing at America magazine and as an author, lecturer and occasional TV commentator. He has a new book titled "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life."

Father Martin spoke on joy as an important virtue in times of adversity during the June 23-25 annual conference in Philadelphia of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. The conference devoted attention to the recent impact on the church of both the sexual abuse crisis and the financial downturn.

It isn't a matter of laughing at the causes of adversity, Father Martin made clear. But he told his audience that sometimes the people of God need a little humor.

"Joy is a thread that runs through the lives of the saints," the priest said. He added, "When you meet people who are truly in touch with God, they are joyful." Father Martin believes "the saints knew there were some serious reasons for joy," especially in times of adversity.

Yet, it can seem that joy has a poor reputation in the church, he suggested. He said, "Joy and humor seem to count almost as a strike against a church leader, when I think they should be seen as a requirement."

Humor and joy have a way of evangelizing, Father Martin suggested. "Joy shows your faith in God," he said, and "shows you believe in the resurrection." He quoted New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan saying that "happiness attracts."

Joy, humor and laughter also are welcoming, and hospitality is an important virtue, he observed. For Father Martin, "humor is a way of showing hospitality."

Joy is healing, he said. And humor is "a tool for humility." Telling several jokes on himself and the Jesuits, he said that "self-deprecating humor reminds us not to take ourselves with such deadly seriousness."

Father Martin asked: "Can our relationship with God be playful and joyful," and "can it even use some humor?" The answer, in his mind, is yes. Father Martin cautioned against judging joy as less important than other virtues and said we often miss some of the humor in the Gospels or that Jesus had a sense of humor.

Joy, humor and laughter are "fun," Father Martin said. But in addition to being fun, he pointed out that joy provides "a foretaste of heaven."

2. The Church and the Social Media: 2010 USCCB Guidelines

The key question for any church organization "that decides to engage social media is, How will we engage?" the Department of Communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says in guidelines for the use of social networking media that it posted online in early July.

"Online social media communities are vast and are growing at a rapid pace. For example, there are more than 400 million active users on Facebook," according to the guidelines. These new media "offer excellent forums for the church's visibility and evangelization," it is added.

What are the social media? "Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr are often included in lists of social networking sites, although sometimes YouTube and Flickr are designated as multimedia sharing sites, while Twitter is currently more often designated as a micro-blogging application," the USCCB guidelines explain.

Noting that "social media are the fastest growing form of communication in the United States, especially among youth and young adults," the guidelines hold that the church cannot ignore this development, but at the same time "must engage social media in a manner that is safe, responsible and civil."

Decisions about the use of social media should be made only after determining "the particular strengths of each form of social media (blogs, social networks, text messaging, etc.) and the needs of a ministry, parish or organization," the guidelines advise. They note, for example, that "a blog post may not be the most effective way to remind students of an event," though "a mass text message to all students and their parents telling them that the retreat begins at 9 a.m. may be very effective."

Social media have the potential to serve as "powerful tools for strengthening community," according to the guidelines. The social media "can support communities in a myriad of ways." However, the guidelines insist, "social media interaction should not be viewed as a substitute for face-to-face gatherings."

3. … Social Networking With Minors; Other Guidelines

The guidelines posted by the USCCB's Department of Communication incorporate several notes of caution regarding the use of social media by church personnel to communicate with minors, including these:

-- "Be sure to have permission from a minor's parent or guardian before contacting the minor via social media or before posting pictures, video and other information that may identify that minor. Parents must have access to everything provided to their children. For example, parents should be made aware of how social media are being used, be told how to access the sites and be given the opportunity to be copied on all material sent to their children via social networking (including text messages)."

-- "Church personnel should be encouraged to save copies of conversations whenever possible, especially those that concern the personal sharing of a teen or young adult. (This may be especially important with text messaging.)"

-- "Make everyone aware of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which is federal legislation that oversees how websites interact with children under age 13."

The USCCB guidelines caution that in using social media, those representing the church must not divulge "confidential information about others." Realize that "nothing posted on the Internet is private," the guidelines say. Another note of caution states: "Don't cite others, post photos or videos of them, link to their material, etc., without their approval."

Local guidelines on the use of social media "should be in sync with diocesan codes of conduct for other areas, such as the diocese's standards for protection of children and young people, Internet acceptable-use policies, etc." Areas in need of definition include "what is considered confidential information, verifiable consent, personal identifiable information, contact with a minor, etc."

Those representing the church via social media need to "know that even personal communication by church personnel reflects the church," the USCCB guidelines state.

The accent in "social media" is on the term "social," according to the guidelines. With this comes "a general blurring of the distinction between creators of content and consumers of content." It all adds up to a change in how people communicate. For, these websites are interactive, allowing users to contribute in a variety of ways that "contrast with noninteractive websites, where users are limited to the passive viewing of information that is provided to them."

A website's very interactivity can call for a code of conduct to regulate what gets posted, the USCCB guidelines note. They call attention to the code of conduct on the USCCB's Facebook site, which reads as follows:

"All posts and comments should be marked by Christian charity and respect for the truth. They should be on topic and presume the good will of other posters. Discussion should take place primarily from a faith perspective. No ads please."

Codes of conduct for social networking sites "should always be brief and immediately apparent to visitors," the guidelines advise. They add that visitors to the website should "be made aware of the consequences of violations of the code of conduct." The guidelines state bluntly, "Always block anyone who does not abide by the code of conduct."

4. … More on Social Networking: 2009 Australian Protocol Revisited

The use of social networking in the work of the church was addressed by the Australian Catholic bishops' conference last year. I had a report in the Dec. 16, 2009, edition of this jknirp.com newsletter on the protocol developed by the bishops' Commission for Mission and Faith Formation.

Allow me to condense some of what I reported at that time. (You can read the entire article by visiting the Dec. 16, 2009, edition of this newsletter via the newsletter's archives; enter the archives by clicking on the message found on the jknirp.com home page at the bottom of the newsletter section that reads, "Follow this link to Dave's archive and more of his features.")

The Australian bishops' commission, while endorsing the potential of social networking, appeared to harbor some concerns -- and fears? -- regarding inappropriate use of these new forms of communication. The protocol called attention both to the strengths and risks of social networking, and it proposed several guidelines for those who go online as part of their ministry.

"The online building of social networks for communities of people who share interests and activities has fundamentally changed the way in which people, especially young people, communicate and share information," the protocol observed. It said, "The church wishes to take advantage of social networking opportunities as one means of communicating the love of Jesus Christ to people."

However, social networking "should not be seen as a substitute for actual community life," the protocol stated. Instead, its use should "underpin and enhance the life of actual communities."

Boundaries were examined by the protocol. It advised church groups and representatives that they "need to be aware of appropriate boundaries and activities" when they communicate "in the name of the church in an online environment."

A clear distinction "between personal and professional communication" should be maintained in social networking, according to the protocol. It opposed the use of social networking sites as vehicles for types of "personal communication that would fall outside of normal professional or pastoral relationships."

The protocol said that "the overriding principle for clergy, members of religious communities, church employees, volunteers or members of church organizations or groups is that their behavior online should reflect the standard of appropriate behavior which is expected in all person-to-person interaction. Such behavior should at all times demonstrate a Christ-centered respect for the dignity of each person. Appropriate boundaries should always be observed, especially in communication with young people."

Social networking ought to be seen "as a tool for evangelization, inviting people into a deeper personal relationship" with Christ and God's people through the promotion of church activities, or the sharing of appropriate catechetical materials, whether in text, video or sound, or the creation of faith-based dialogue on appropriately moderated blogs or forums," according to the protocol.

It said the use of photographs or videos in social networking deserves "particular care" by those working on behalf of the church. "Global permission should be sought from all individuals in photos or in videos before they are posted. Material which might embarrass or offend those pictured should at all times be avoided. Material should be removed at once if it is the subject of a complaint or if the posting of a particular item makes an individual uncomfortable," the protocol stated.

Several aspects of the "friending" feature of social networking were examined by the protocol. Should representatives of the church accept "friend requests" from those they serve? The protocol said "it is advisable that people exercise great care and judgment in accepting 'friend' requests from people to whom they minister, especially young people." It suggested that such care and judgment are important for maintaining "appropriate boundaries."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

The Oil Leak's Emotional Toll: "This [oil leak] catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is another blow to those who have suffered through Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. …Lawrence Palinkas of the University of Southern California studied the aftereffects of the Valdez oil leak on 22 communities in Alaska. He said that community and individual costs 'have to be taken into consideration when it comes to mitigating the consequences of oil leaks.' According to Palinkas, people in the communities where oil polluted the beaches (after Valdez) had much higher incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. That mental stress translated into higher rates of heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory disorders and other physical illnesses. Catholic Charities is concerned that we may see the same increase [in the Gulf region now] in suicide rates, domestic violence and child-abuse cases as we witnessed following the catastrophic storms in 2005. In the years after Hurricane Katrina, the suicide rate rose by 300 percent in some regions. … This crisis has not only impacted families financially, but it has dramatically increased the emotional and mental health burden on families. Families are worried about what their futures will hold." (From Capitol Hill testimony July 20 by Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, before the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Ways and Means Committee)

What Prayer Is Not, What Prayer Is: "Faith and prayer do not solve problems but rather enable us to face them with fresh enlightenment and strength, in a way that is worthy of the human being -- and also more serenely and effectively. If we look at the history of the church we see that it is peopled by a wealth of saints and blesseds who, precisely by starting from an intense and constant dialogue with God, illumined by faith, were able to find creative, ever new solutions to respond to practical human needs in all the centuries: health, education, work, etc. Their entrepreneurial character was motivated by the Holy Spirit and by a strong and generous love for their brethren, especially for the weakest and most underprivileged." (From a speech July 4 by Pope Benedict XVI to young people in Sulmona, Italy)

Unrealistic Solutions to Illegal Immigration: "It is important to note that in all of the polls in the past several months, such as the polls taken by USA Today, the Pew Research Institute and the Pacific Institute of Public Policy, even those people who agree with the new strict Arizona law also believe that it is totally impractical to locate, detain and deport some 12 million people from our country. The American spirit of welcome for immigrants seems to trump harsh and unrealistic solutions in dealing with undocumented people here. The overall common good of our nation and its citizens demand early action on all-inclusive measures to repair our current, unworkable immigration system. Each day that goes by without Congressional action, new and deeper levels of fear and desperation take a terrible toll on so many people living in the shadows of our society. There is general agreement among the American public as to the solution to our nation's broken immigration system. Now our elected officials need to show the courage to enact it." (From a July 12 entry in Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony's blog)

6. Restoring Civility to the Immigration Conversation

The tone of the present conversation about immigration reform on Capitol Hill is a matter of real concern to the U.S. bishops, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said July 14 in testimony before a House subcommittee. Bishop Kicanas is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

His testimony took issue with harsh rhetoric that characterizes immigrants as "less than human." No one "is 'illegal' in the eyes of God," he said. "Harsh rhetoric" about immigrants "has been encouraged by talk radio and cable TV, for sure, but also has been used by public officials, including members of Congress," Bishop Kicanas said.

The nation's bishops hope that as public officials debate immigration reform, "immigrants, regardless of their legal status, are not made scapegoats for the challenges we face as a nation. Rhetoric which attacks the human rights and dignity of the migrant is not becoming of a nation of immigrants. Neither are xenophobic and anti-immigrant attitudes, which only serve to lessen us as a nation," Bishop Kicanas said.

The root reason why an "enforcement first" approach to illegal immigration has failed is that it "has not addressed the underlying cause of illegal immigration: an outdated immigration system that does not meet the economy's demand for workers," said Bishop Kicanas.

He asked the subcommittee "to take the lead in ensuring that the upcoming debate is a civil one and refrains from labeling and dehumanizing our brothers and sisters." There may be disagreements regarding "the substance or merit of a position," but there should not be disagreement that the conversation about immigration "should remain civil and respectful," he said.

What do the U.S. bishops hope for in terms of immigration reform? Bishop Kicanas said they believe it should include:

-- "A legalization program ('path to citizenship') that gives migrant workers and their families an opportunity to earn legal permanent residency and eventual citizenship.

-- "A new worker visa program that protects the labor rights of both U.S. and foreign workers and gives participants the option to earn permanent residency.

-- "Reform of our family-based immigration system to reduce waiting times for family reunification.

-- "Restoration of due process protections for immigrants, including asylum-seekers.

-- "And policies that address the root causes of migration, such as the lack of sustainable development in sending nations."

Bishop Kicanas also urged the adoption of the kind of immigration enforcement policies that will ensure that U.S. borders are secure, while at the same time ensuring that "the abuse and deaths of migrants are prevented, and their basic human rights and dignity are protected."

Immigration policy and economic policy ought to interrelate better, Bishop Kicanas suggested. He said a legalization program "would help bring U.S. immigration policy in line with U.S. economic policy."

On this point, the bishop noted that "the United States, Mexico and Central America are more integrated than ever," though "U.S. immigration policy has yet to adjust to the fact that U.S. economic policies such as NAFTA have facilitated rapid interdependence between Mexico and the United States."

Bishop Kicanas said, "We live in a globalized region and world, and the movement of labor must be regularized to protect basic rights."

7. … Family Unity and Immigration Reform

Protecting the unity of families remains a key concern of the Catholic bishops when it comes to immigration reform, Bishop Kicanas said in his July 14 testimony on Capitol Hill. He explained: "Family reunification has been the cornerstone of the U.S. immigration system since the inception of our republic. It would be foolhardy to abandon this system."

However, substantial changes are needed if the immigration system is to "meet the goal of facilitating, rather than hindering, family unity," Bishop Kicanas said.

Immigrant families contribute to the U.S. as a nation, the bishop said, and "even while many migrants come to the United States to find employment, many come as families."

A legalization program "would help stabilize immigrant families and would protect U.S.-citizen children in 'mixed' status families," Bishop Kicanas stressed. He noted that a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center study "found that 47 percent of unauthorized immigrant households were couples with children" and that "3.1 million U. S.-citizen children live with one or more undocumented parents." He said:

"Undocumented immigrants are more likely than either U.S. born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with children, a growing share of whom -- 73 percent -- are U.S. born citizens."

8. … Could Arizona Law Prompt Federal Immigration Reform?

Bishop Kicanas commented in his July 14 testimony on the law recently enacted by Arizona making it a crime to be in the state without immigration documents and allowing considerable latitude to law-enforcement officials in requesting documentation from many of those dealt with in the course of their work. (A federal judge imposed a temporary injunction against key parts of the law July 28.)

"The frustration of the country with federal inaction on immigration reform is at an all time high," Bishop Kicanas said, commenting that Arizona took matters into its own hands by passing its law, "with the possibility of many states following, to the detriment of local communities and the nation."

He cautioned that "a patchwork of immigration laws across the nation will not solve the underlying problems besetting our federal immigration system." And he noted that Arizona's bishops and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops both opposed the Arizona law.

At the same time, Bishop Kicanas suggested that the law's passage conveyed a message and could be taken as "an opportunity for the U.S. Congress to reassert federal control over immigration policy by enacting comprehensive immigration reform."