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Facebook offers users only 100 letters to express what has taken theologians thousands of pages to describe.

San Francisco-based Jesse Rice used to put "follower of Jesus" under "religious views" on his profile. "I didn't want to put 'Christian' because in San Francisco, it meant right-wing gay bashing," he said. "It was another space to categorize or be divisive."

Eventually, the author of The Church of Facebook just decided to leave the category blank.

"People try to get creative or feel the need to be very strong on [their profile], as if this is their chance to hand out a Christian tract," Rice said. "That's taking a marketing approach, and people are very suspicious of marketing Jesus. [Profile messages] are often shallow, divisive, or inadequate for embodying the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Facebook asks users to define their religion with fewer characters than it takes Twitter users (who receive 140 characters) to say what they ate for breakfast. Some Christians identify themselves with their denomination, a Bible verse, or a phrase like "staggered by the grace of Jesus."

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler identifies himself as "Evangelical Christian/Baptist." Relevant editor Cameron Strang says he's "Christian–Amish." Former coordinator of Emergent Village Tony Jones says he's "emerging." Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll? "Religion Sucks," he writes.

Piotr Bobkowski, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina, studied college-age evangelicals he expected to be particularly open about their faith, but none identified themselves as Christians on Facebook.

"They talked about religion in more implicit terms," said Bobkowski, whose study was published in a Georgetown University journal. "They ...

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In the Magazine

January 2010

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