What’s Church Got to Do with It?

By Ned Barnett

Illustration by Kyle T. Webster
What’s Church Got to Do with It?

They show up every Sunday like penitent churchgoers bearing guilt, regret, or worry, seeking the release of confessing before a presence they cannot see.

They are not churchgoers. They are postcards sent anonymously to a man named Frank Warren. He gets them by the thousands. Every Sunday, he presents those he finds most compelling on his website, PostSecret.com.

The cards are usually artfully designed with a photo or a drawing. The wording, often cut and pasted like a ransom note, is sometimes just as blunt and urgent. A few of the revelations are hopeful and grateful. Some are wry and funny. Most are dark. Since the site went up in 2005, it has drawn more than 250 million visits.

Warren, who doesn’t attend church, nonetheless posts only on Sundays, a day he says is appropriate for “reflection and gravity.” For ministers, that choice of day can seem a direct challenge. As worshipers gather in churches each Sunday, others log on to Warren’s cyber venue to read iconic cards shining against a black background like stained-glass windows. Some visitors want to see if their secret is one of the 20 or so featured. Others seek a comforting echo of their own troubles.

PostSecret’s popularity isn’t limited to the weekly postings. The site sells books of secrets, too. The latest, PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God, goes on sale in October. When Warren visits college campuses — he filled Duke’s Page Auditorium last spring — students turn out to hear him speak about the healing power of sharing what one has long withheld.

For ministers it can seem that Warren and other social media not only dominate the Sabbath, but threaten to usurp one of the church’s traditional functions. Thousands of people, most of them young, are disclosing their fears, worries, and sins to a website instead of their pastors.

In an interview, Warren insists that no competition is intended. He says PostSecret is more of an artistic expression than a religious one.

“I don’t try to connect PostSecret with religious belief, but many of the secrets I receive do have a spiritual nature,” he says. “I like to think of the project as art.”

Story continues >>
Copyright © 2009 Duke Divinity School. All Rights Reserved.
magazine@div.duke.edu  (919) 660-3412