The bishop also urged that Catholics online have faith and conviction in their beliefs – especially if they dabble in memes or in online discussions. “[It] takes a certain confidence in your own faith,” he said of online participation and discussion. This confidence can even help bring out the humor of the whole situation.
While throughout history “believers have always had a go” during important disagreements, poking fun at topics and laughing about the misunderstandings is “a lasting human tradition.”
It’s this sense of conviction that Bishop Umbers hopes believers can bring to conversations happening not only online, but in the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Australian society is currently experiencing “rapid secularization” and increasing “sectarianism”, he said, as issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia come to the center of Australian political debates.
While more Catholics continue to identify as Catholic, as opposed to the shift to “non-religious” among other Christian groups, some Catholic institutions have remained quiet or even supported positions that fly in the face of Church teaching.
“To stand up for Catholic teaching puts you, once again, on the margins”: Bishop Umbers explained that taking a counter-cultural position is likely to impact funding of Church programs as time goes on.
The marginalization of traditional Christian beliefs, however, does not mean that people do not listen or that people do not take interest in the Church’s arguments. “You’re definitely not irrelevant,” he said of the Christian voice in the public square.
Rather, he said, effective communication and coordination seem to be the major stumbling-block facing the Church in the Sydney area.
“That’s where social media can play a big role,” Bishop Umbers offered.
For example, he pointed to a successful social media campaign started by three young women which protested the expansion of abortion in the Australian state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital. The young pro-life advocates started a Twitter hashtag that started to change the conversation surrounding abortion, and inspired local communities to get involved.
“Because of them, there was a huge campaign across all the parishes to have people sign a petition.” More than 80,000 signed the petition, which eventually contributed to the bill’s defeat in parliament, the bishop said.
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The center of a successful online campaign like the one in New South Wales, or of a meme, or of any mode of evangelization, lies, at its core, in the truth, Bishop Umbers said.
“Really it’s an expression of who you are, and I think that’s where evangelization comes from,” he said of online engagement. “It’s not a campaign. It is truly a sharing of your own convictions and your own thoughtfulness.”
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 15, 2017.