Q&A with Jason Thacker (The Digital Public Square)

To purchase The Digital Public Square from Jason’s website or more information about the book, click here. Follow Jason on Twitter.

Q&A with Jason Thacker

Evan: Tell us about yourself?

Mr. Thacker: I currently serve as the chair of research in technology ethics as well as director of the research institute at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I also teach philosophy and ethics at Boyce College and Southern Seminary in Louisville Kentucky, where I will be joining the full time faculty in June of this year. My passion is to assist the church to think wisely about the pressing moral and social questions of our day, including questions of justice, dignity, rights, public theology, technology, and human flourishing. For me, technology ethics isn’t really a separate set of issues from the broader question of Christian ethics per se, but is an aspect of all the issues we think about in the public square ranging from pro-life concerns and justice to questions of sexuality/gender and religious freedom. I also don’t believe that technology is really causing us to ask new questions necessarily, but to ask some of the most profound and consequential questions that we have always sought to address in light of the new opportunities afforded to us and the profound challenges of life in this digital age.

The Christian moral tradition applies to all of life, including what seems to be novel questions of emerging technologies. The Bible shows us how God created the world and reveals to us how we live in light of who he is, how he made us in his image, and how we are to interact and understand the world around us. Technology, especially tools like social media and even artificial intelligence, is deeply shaping how we view the world and our role in the public square today. The Christian ethic is more than robust and sufficient to address whatever questions we face today as we seek to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39).

Evan: What did you enjoy in the writing and editing process for this work?

Mr. Thacker: Of all the books I have had the privilege of writing/editing, this one was unique and extremely fun to work on given that I was honored to work alongside 12 stellar contributors from across academia, law, and public policy. This volume is one part of a larger research project at the ERLC called The Digital Public Square where we hope to help equip the church to be proactively engaged on technology issues such as online content moderation and how this intersects with questions of free expression, religious freedom, and the nature of faith in the public square. In this volume, I am joined by top thinkers and experts to bring the Chrisitan ethic to bear on issues like public theology, technology policy, free expression, religious freedom, hate speech, online pornography, misinformation and conspiracy theories, and international human rights as well as both the internal and public witness of the church today.

Editing a project like this was a large undertaking, but also an extremely encouragement to me throughout the whole process. A project of this magnitude and depth could not be realized alone and I was so encouraged to be joined by the team at B&H Academic, including my editors Dennis and Audrey Greeson, our publisher Madison Trammel, and a couple key friends, Seth Woodley and Alex Ward, who both spent long hours working through the manuscripts and copy editing. Given the nature of technology and how quickly things change, each contributor was given about nine months to write their chapter and we then spent much of the next year working on their contributions and editing before heading to production.

As we began working on this project, I knew that a volume like this would be a challenge given how complex the issues are before society today and how quickly things seem to change. But the word of God is unchanging, despite the circumstances. Whether it be the proposed acquisition and reform of a major social media platform; the rise of a new medium, such as the metaverse and its unique challenges for content moderation; or even the emergence of new data showing the effects of social media on our brains, Christians must be ready to engage the world as it is, not as how we want it to be.

One interesting thing in the production process was the addition of an afterword fairly late in the game. We decided to add this as the talks about Elon Musk taking Twitter private and reforming the content moderation policies of the social media app were beginning to heat up. Even as we went to press, it wasn’t clear if Musk would ultimately purchase the company but none of that ultimately altered these contributions, nor the spirit behind the work.

The contributions contained in this volume are not meant to be kneejerk emotional reactions to meet the moment, but rather thoughtful reflections on how Christians might navigate the challenges before us, rooted and shaped by the richness of the Christian ethic that is not time bound, nor simply convenient in the moment. In this age of distraction and immediacy, may we take the time to slow down, ask the hard questions, and reflect deeply on how the Christian ethic applies to all of life, including the digital public square of our day.

Evan: What do you hope readers will take away from The Digital Public Square?

Mr. Thacker: Each day we are confronted with the realities of living in a digital society that challenge some of our most basic understandings of truth, the nature of faith, and even the idea of a public square with a robust discourse over issues that matter. Our new digital public square is becoming increasingly tense and at times it feels irreparably broken. Faced with this deep polarization and tribalization across society that is only exacerbated by the ubiquitous nature of digital connectivity, it is difficult at times for Christians to know how to navigate these challenges with both truth and grace.

But these challenges often reveal deeper tension over the nature of ethics and the role of religion in our society, especially in our online discourse. Some claim religion has no role to play in public matters at all, while others understand the public nature of faith and religion. The Digital Public Square brings together top Christian leaders and thinkers to help you navigate these pressing challenges with robust public theology grounded in God’s unchanging word and the hope of the gospel message.

My hope is that this volume is the starting point for the Church to think deeply about these pressing digital issues and to be proactively engaged on them alongside those in our communities rather than simply being reactive only when the issues feel like they hit the doorsteps of our homes and churches. We already live in a deeply technological society and nearly every aspect of our lives is being radically shaped and altered by these tools. The Church in our digital age must be “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Thank you Jason for the Q&A! We will be praying for you, your family, and Boyce College!

Evan Knies is an elder of North Hills Church in West Monroe, LA. He is husband of Lauren and father to Maesyn. He is a graduate of Boyce College and Southern Seminary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s