Facebook launched a new feature in its platform to cater to religious communities and it got mixed reactions from religious leaders.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg created a special team specifically focused on “faith partnerships” in 2017 since he believed that the church is a vital instrument in connecting the world, reports The Jerusalem Post. In May this year, the social media giant made its “I Prayed” button and began testing it among selected faith communities in the U.S. The new prayer tool allows users to ask for and respond to prayer requests.
One of the biggest communities using Facebook products to connect are people of faith. —Fidji Simo, Facebook app head
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Facebook saw a spike in people asking for prayers and spiritual aid. The faith partnerships team increased efforts to develop the new prayer tool.
In one of the prayer groups which tested the new feature, a woman used it to request for prayers for a relative infected with coronavirus. Prayer requests varied and included prayers for personal issues and financial problems. People replied by clicking a button to say “I prayed.” The prayer feature has an option to remind users to pray again the next day.
Outgoing Facebook app head Fidji Simo said, “One of the biggest communities using Facebook products to connect are people of faith.” He added, “When I looked at the data of what was taking off during the pandemic, we were seeing massive growth in the spiritual category.”
The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, a Southern Baptist megachurch, was one of the pastors who welcomed the new prayer feature, reports The Christian Science Monitor.
“Facebook and other social media platforms continue to be tremendous tools to spread the Gospel of Christ and connect believers with one another – especially during this pandemic,” he said. “While any tool can be misused, I support any effort like this that encourages people to turn to the one true God in our time of need.”
Jacki King, the minister to women at Second Baptist Conway, Arkansas believes that the “I prayed” feature will benefit people who are isolated because of the pandemic and may be struggling with different problems. “It opens a line of communication,” she said.
Meantime, the Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Brunswick, Ohio, sees the new tool as proof of people’s need for an “authentic community” of prayer, support and worship. However, he is worried about privacy issues on sharing personal problems on the internet.
“Is it wise to post everything about everyone for the whole world to see?” he asked. “On a good day we would all be reflective and make wise choices. When we are under stress or distress or in a difficult moment, it’s almost too easy to reach out on Facebook to everyone.”
The Rev. Thomas McKenzie, who leads Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican congregation in Nashville, Tennessee, is undecided in his opinion about Facebook’s latest offering. “You cannot participate fully in the body of Christ online. It’s not possible,” he explained. “But these tools may give people the impression that it’s possible.”