Publisher’s Page: Would John Wesley have used hashtags?
Social causes have them. Political candidates have them. Fifty-five percent of weddings have them, and 45 percent of this year's Super Bowl ads had them. Pope Francis had five of them for his visit to Mexico (complete with their own emojis).
Hashtags are everywhere it seems, and when they go viral, they can be far-reaching. Time magazine reported 70 million people shared prayers for Paris on Instagram using the hashtag #PrayforParis and variations thereof.
According to Wikipedia, the is-it-#blackandblue or is-it-#whiteandgold dress debate generated more than 10 million tweets in the course of a week last year.
Would John Wesley have used hashtags if they existed, and if so, what would they have been? #theworldismyparish? #DoGood? #thinkandletthink? Hashtags inspire action, so it's easy to conclude Wesley probably would have been all in.
Today, hashtags dominate in communications because they allow people to be part of a global conversation. [See sidebar to understand better what hashtags are and how to use them.]
If we had a hashtag for this issue of Interpreter, it might be #socialprinciples.
In this issue, we look at the global conversation that's taking place in The United Methodist Church about the Social Principles. The Social Principles were developed to express the United Methodist commitment to #socialholiness. While they don't have the same weight as church law, these principles are teachings that speak to putting our faith into action to share God's grace amid modern-day human issues.
A hashtag, indicated by the hash character (or number sign #), is used in front of a word or unspaced phrase, primarily on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The purpose of the hashtag is to make it easier for users to find messages with a specific theme or content. The hashtag may be used in the main text or at the end of a message. Searching for that hashtag eases finding all the messages that have been tagged with it (i.e. #UMCGC will locate all social media messages tagged about General Conference).
Hashtags are most often used to categorize or link posts and/or messages of similar interests. Hashtags also can be used to express humor, excitement, sadness or other contextual cues around messages with no intention of categorizing the message (i.e. "It's Monday!! #excited #sarcasm").
Because of its popularity and extensive use, the word "hashtag" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014. #cool #official
If you're a newcomer to all things social media and want to learn more, check out United Methodist Communications' helpful articles on using social media and our online training courses on topics such as communicating faith in the 21st century.
The Social Principles were hotly debated and considered controversial when they were adopted by the 1972 General Conference.
Bishop James S. Thomas of Iowa led a commission that created the Social Principles. According to an Associated Press article from April 18, 1972, Thomas said, "They were urgently needed to spur 'acting out the Gospel' in a troubled world." Noting that #Methodism was a pioneer among the churches in applying beliefs to contemporary issues, he voiced hope the new approaches would "enter the life stream of our society."
And so they have. The collection of statements that originally totaled 4,000 words are intended to help us as a church to apply our faith to what is happening in the world. These principles have continued to evolve as our world evolves, and they have been revised by each successive General Conference. Forty years after their adoption, the 2012 General Conference determined the principles needed to be more globally relevant, so they are being reimagined – a process that's now underway and expected to take through 2020 as part of the work of the General Board of Church and Society.
One key example of how hashtags help the church communicate was the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. As more than 800 delegates – and numerous news and media professionals – convened to vote, pray and talk about the future of The United Methodist Church, discussions took to social media in an unprecedented way. From posting photos to sharing stories to voicing opinions on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, hashtags were one way to sort through the conversation.
As the communications agency for The United Methodist Church, we are committed to support the conversation. Hashtags are one way to do that.
Dan Krause is general secretary of United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, and publisher of Interpreter.
Editor's Note: This article was first published for the March-April 2016 edition of Interpreter.