I would be the first to admit that main line churches struggle to deal with new realities. We have created large systems to respond to the needs of the world but now find they are decades out to date. As we work to find relevancy again this creates an environment of uncertainty that often leads to fear. That fear is unproductive.
Case in point, the Kentucky Annuual Conference of the United Methodist Church (disclosure, I am a member of the Yellowstone Conference of the UMC) recently circulated a document asking people to “friend” them on all relevant social networking sites so that they can keep tabs on what they are saying and doing. Lest you think this is just for pastoral reasons, the document specifically states “I understand that any information of a questionable nature on these sites that are written and/or posted by me, could affect my status as a Candidate/Resident in the Ordination process with the Kentucky Annual Conference.”
For those unaware, a person’s status as a candidate or resident dictates whether or not they will be ordained and continue in ministry as clergy. It’s a big deal.
Yes, myspace and facebook give you a bigger vehicle for sharing thoughts. Yes, clergy should consider this before they post things that others might question. I’m all for, and have participated in, education for clergy young and old on these issues. However, turning them into a 1984ish means of keeping daily tabs and asking people to sign over their basic rights of speech goes a bit far.
As we continue into the future, and as information continues to flow freer and faster, these types of things will continue and the answers won’t be simple. However, as the church we want to encourage the difficult conversations and unpopular lines of thinking. We have a requirement to encourage the prophet, not squelch them out of fear. Yes, people need to be accountable for what they say as representatives of the church. However, as the gospels themselves demonstrate, it is often times those inside the temple, synagogues, conferences offices, and BOM’s that need to hear the hard word more than those outside.
So yes, you all may be my friends. For better or worse.
A quick followup biased on the evolving conversation on facebook among my clergy colleges. Facebook basically serves one of two basic functions. It is either a way to project a public image in a great way. A public social network that lets to expend your pastoral work into people’s day to day lives. In that case, one would imagine that your fellow clergy should already be your “friends” (as my Bishop and District Superintendant are).
The other use is more it’s original intention, a private social network. Anyone remember when you had to have an authorized university email address to access it? In this mode it is a way for a circle of friends to stay connected in semi-private fashion.
Now, these lines are getting vary blurred I confess. However, distinctions still exist and need to be respected. A one size fits all policy misses completely the important nuances and demonstrates a lack understanding about our evolving digital world. No matter how hard you try, this cannot be constrained. And if our existing multi-year, multi-interview, and multi-tree killing paper writing process, isn’t enough to demonstrate a persons fitness for ministry is this type of eavesdropping going to help? Has the process become so adversarial that we now must spy on each other? If so, I think there are larger issues than status updates.