UMJeremy

Author's details

Name: UMJeremy
Date registered: March 3, 2012
URL: http://hackingchristianity.net

Latest posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Religion and Doctor Who #GeekGospel — October 23, 2014
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Would Judicial Review have saved the #CallToAction’s PlanUMC? — October 22, 2014
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: To strengthen diversity, sit closer together in the pews — October 21, 2014
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: “Why Go To Seminary?” is hard to answer, but it must be. — October 20, 2014
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Seek The Minority Report in the Bible #GeekGospel — October 15, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting — 5 comments
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: About that UMReporter Article…[response] – A Methodist Church United for our Daughters — 2 comments
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Is the #UMC the Rebellion…or the Empire? – Unity in Diversity…or Unity over Diversity? The choice is yours. — 2 comments
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics #UMC – Measuring transformation or accumulation? — 2 comments
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Restricting Marriage is a Justice Issue — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Oct 23 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Religion and Doctor Who #GeekGospel

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/religion-and-doctor-who-geekgospel.html


james-mcgrath-doctorwho

One of my favorite religion blogs is Butler’s Dr. James McGrath, as the Professor has the nigh-perfect mixture of biblical commentary, science fiction references, and humor. He’s a great blogger and I appreciate the quality and quantity of his work–he’s even liveblogging his way through re-watching LOST.

Recently he posted a one hour lecture he gave on Doctor Who and Religion.  While I’m not a Whovian, it’s a good speech for those who are. Plug in the headphones and jump right in (yes, the video is missing the first 30 seconds of his speech).

(video link)

Hope you enjoyed it! Thoughts on the content, those of you who know who the Time Lord is?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/religion-and-doctor-who-geekgospel/

Oct 22 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Would Judicial Review have saved the #CallToAction’s PlanUMC?

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/would-judicial-review-have-saved-the-calltoactions-planumc.html


discipline-wesley

Recently the General Commission on General Conference (the group that is planning the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon) began a task force to offer judicial review of the petitions that will be sent for consideration to become or change the doctrine and polity of the United Methodist Church. Here’s a summary by UMNS’s Heather Hahn:

What if General Conference delegates could get a heads up that legislation might be in trouble without waiting for a Judicial Council ruling? That is one aim of the Advance Legislative Research Panel proposed by the Commission on General Conference, which met at Lake Junaluska last week.

The planned panel will include experts on United Methodist church law who are willing to volunteer significant time reading petitions submitted to the next General Conference in May 2016. The panel members’ task will be to review all petitions they are assigned. They will identify closely related Judicial Council decisions and memoranda as well as related paragraphs in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. The Discipline includes the denomination’s constitution.

The information assembled by panel members would be strictly advisory, and panel members are not to include any editorial comments. Only the Judicial Council officially can answer the question of whether legislation passed by General Conference passes constitutional muster.

One of the reasons for this move is that several major pieces of legislation were struck down by the UMC’s Supreme Court (the Judicial Council) either during GC2012 or right after. The biggest one–and the one of most critique on this blog–was what would eventually be called PlanUMC.

PlanUMC (the offspring of two plans: the Call To Action and PlanB) was a church reorganization plan that would have significantly reduced the number of people at the top of the UMC’s General agencies (essentially the executive branch of the UMC). Here’s our critique and background.

PlanUMC was passed, but on the last day of GC2012 it was struck down as unconstitutional by the Judicial Council. Here’s one opinion why that was the right call and one opinion why it was the wrong call.

So with the advent of an unofficial judicial review process, the question before us is twofold:

  1. Would a judicial review have saved PlanUMC at GC2012?
  2. Will a judicial review save legislation like it at GC2016?

Would it have saved us then?

Answer: No.

Rationale: There already was awareness of the unconstitutionality of PlanUMC that Rev. Scott Campbell articulates here. MFSA and others had already submitted an alternative plan that would have passed constitutional review, at least on this particular topic, and would have accomplished the goal of reduction of board member numbers. I’m clearly biased–having served on the team that wrote it–but the facts are there.

At General Conference, the legislative committee failed to pass any of the 3 measures. After that, a team of Call To Action proponents and PlanB proponents got together to craft PlanUMC and pass it without legislative committee review or discussion. MFSA was not invited to the conversation, and in the final legislation only a minor alteration was included from their proposed plan.

After PlanUMC passed without significant discussion, it was then a member of MFSA that called for judicial review of it because we already knew, had advocated against, and was out in the open about the major problem with it.

In short, the knowledge of its constitutional demise was already in the room. It was already there and available to help craft a helpful third way. However, because of the hubris of the PlanUMC team, it was not invited into a conversation where it could have had an effect. I don’t believe that a pre-review by a legislative group or individual would have stopped the freight train that was determined to pass PlanUMC at all costs and outside of our established processes.

Could it help us now?

Answer: Maybe.

Rationale: We are still in the early stages of what legislation will be going before General Conference 2016. Back in 2012 we lamented how the Call To Action was not made in an open-source way where lots of voices were invited in to offer feedback and help. Instead a proposal was made and everyone essentially was asked to accept it, with some tweaks eventually in the hustle and bustle of General Conference (tacked on at the end, not included in the framework).

The Open Source movement would have done it much differently by being open at the beginning, submitting a proposal, and then rewriting it based on the feedback. A PlanUMC could have been written and then simmered for a few months while people tried to make it better, rather than just force-feeding it to us with about 24 hours of review time.

We have the opportunity to implement Open Source practices now with open legislation tracking and with judicial pre-review. We can note the errors before they get made, and not waste people’s time and money for General Conference 2016. By having a voice with some authority or credibility, it might help us to avoid situations like the shameful waste of energy, time, and money that is known as PlanUMC.

 Heart Review

My hope is that a spirit of collegiality permeates GC2016 at least as much as the spirit of hubris and fear permeated GC2012–along with the stink of abject failure. May we utilize this judicial review recommendation process, give thanks for the volunteers, and hope that more people will become more aware of what the people called Methodists find important.

Thoughts?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/would-judicial-review-have-saved-the-calltoactions-planumc/

Oct 21 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: To strengthen diversity, sit closer together in the pews

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/to-strengthen-diversity-sit-closer-together-in-the-pews.html


empty church pews

Drive closer to one another

There was an article that caught my eye a while back entitled “Why 12-foot traffic lanes are disastrous for safety.” I assumed they were talking about the incredibly narrow lanes of Storrow Drive in Boston, but apparently most lanes are 12 feet across. So why is the typical wide lane dangerous?

States and counties almost always apply a 12-foot standard. Why do they do this? Because they believe that wider lanes are safer. And in this belief, they are dead wrong…They are wrong because of a fundamental error that underlies the practice of traffic engineering—and many other disciplines—an outright refusal to acknowledge that human behavior is impacted by its environment.

On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment. Are there other cars near me? Is an intersection approaching? Can I see around that corner? Are there trees and buildings near the road? Are there people walking or biking nearby? And: How wide is my lane?

You have to read the whole article, but essentially: smaller lanes make us feel closer to things around us and it causes us to drive more attentively and slower. When we are further away from the nearest object in wide lanes, we feel more in control and less attentive to our speed and our surroundings. Human behavior is impacted by its environment and there are studies that show how lane width affects driving patterns and pedestrian safety.

Sit closer to one another

Thinking of how we drive and are aware of cars next to us causes me to think of a hot summer day about a year ago.

It was a Sunday morning and a woman had recently changed her medication, causing her blood pressure to drop while she was sitting in the pew at church. She hunched over and passed out–without falling over. If she was in the pew by herself, she might have gone the whole service like that (falling asleep is common during my sermons). Luckily she was sitting next to an attentive pewmate who noted something was wrong and got help: a doctor came over, 911 was called, and they carried her out in a stretcher. She’s fine by the way.

I think people need to sit closer to each other during worship for the same reason we need to drive closer to each other: we become more aware of the other. We can notice a woman faint. We can see a newcomer fumbling with a hymnal. If we drift off, we are startled into standing or kneeling because of our pewmate’s movement. It’s easier to start conversations with newcomers than a wave from far away down the 12 foot pew.

Indeed, the very architecture of long wooden pews allow for people to sit closer to one another because they don’t have pre-defined space like chairs or seats do. There’s no delineation of “this amount of fabric is clearly mine” because it’s all one fabric and one cushion. Though with chairs it is possible to just choose a seat closer to people, pews allow for more intimacy.

While obviously introverts and folks who do not want to be close to others for their spiritual moments ought not be swarmed on Sundays and forced to engage, if everyone made it a point to be as close in proximity as possible to each other, imagine what community might come from that!

 Believe closer to each other

Finally, for progressives, there’s a lesson about proximity and belief that can help us better turn diverse congregations outward.

In Bill Bishop’s 2008 book The Big Sort, Bishop examines the demographics of the Presidential elections and finds this interesting correlation:

I have a theory that the farther away you are from another human being, the more likely you are to be a Republican…Republicans were moving into places where people lived father apart. Democrats were clustering in places where people lived closer together…the average population density for counties voting for Bush was 110 people per square mile in 2004. Those voting for John Kerry in 2004 averaged 836 people.  (p.205)

Online articles like this one and this one flesh out the population density question a bit more. Bill Bishop then applies the same concept to values and tolerance:

Researchers [during World War II] found that white soldiers who had fought alongside black troops held more positive racial attitudes than whites who hadn’t. Similarly, as white merchant marines took more voyages with black sailors, the racial attitudes of whites became more tolerant. These findings supported a belief that prejudice resulted from ignorance and ignorance was the result of a lack of contact (p.284)

But is it just exposure of driving closer to others and sitting in the pew next to others that overcomes racial barriers? Not really, Bishop concludes:

[However], not all contact between groups helped reduce prejudice, psychologist Gordon Allport concluded in the mid-1950s. Allport described a number of conditions that were necessary to bring opposing groups constructively together. First, the groups had to see themselves as equals. [And] second, meetings between the groups should take place as a regular pursuit of an ordinary and shared goal. (p.285)

So for progressive churches who honor and uphold diversity in their ranks, they didn’t get there by osmosis from being close pewmates, but rather by intentional engagement of a common goal alongside people of difference. The closer they got to one another–but kept their eyes on their goal–the better they were at tolerating their differences.

I think there’s a practical lesson for progressive churches who have a diverse body: have a common goal and activity that people engage in. To seek diversity is not the goal: you seek a common goal and remove the barriers to having a diverse body pursue it. Diversity is a means, not an end. As we become more fully the body of Christ, as urban density becomes more the norm, churches that struggle with diversity and closeness would do well to examine their architecture and their mission to see if there’s a hack to their current system that will bring transformation.

Thoughts?

What do you think?

  • How does our proximity to the other person cause us to change how we live and act?
  • Is there a relationship between living alongside one another and progressive values?

Thanks for your comments!

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/to-strengthen-diversity-sit-closer-together-in-the-pews/

Oct 20 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: “Why Go To Seminary?” is hard to answer, but it must be.

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/why-go-to-seminary-is-hard-to-answer-but-it-must-be.html


Two reports came out in the past week that I think are related and point to a critical moment in theological education and church/state relations for the United Methodist Church.

macbookair

Why Go To Seminary? Can’t I just preach?

First, it was reported by the General Board of Higher Education in Ministry of the United Methodist Church that the average debt of a seminary graduate was pretty bad:

New findings from the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry’s Seminary Indebtedness Task Force reveal that the average educational debt for United Methodist seminary graduates has reached $49,303.

“Based on median annual conference compensation for new clergy, we now know that many of our clergy are well beyond the nationally recognized critical level (10% of income) for manageable debt,” said Allyson Collinsworth, executive director of GBHEM’s Office of Loans and Scholarships.

Related: three years ago we examined a proposal in the Oklahoma Annual Conference that would replace a bunch of seminary-educated Elders with 3x as many local church pastors (who do not need a seminary degree but they do need regular training). Since its publication, many other sectors of United Methodism have also embraced more part-time/bivocational clergy and offered fewer opportunities to seminary-trained Elders.

When you couple the past post with this recent report, if I were a young person discerning a call to ordained ministry, here’s what I would say to myself: “Why Go To Seminary?”

  • Full Elders are expensive to local congregations, they have the cost of Seminary behind them…and there’s more Elders than Churches that can sustain them.
  • Add to that the assault on seminary education by the arch-conservatives, and there’s little support to (a) get a seminary education and (b) become a full Elder until later in life when “they can make it, tiger” in the larger churches and can handle the debt load.
  • Instead, why not just be a local pastor? Local pastors don’t need seminary and get health insurance, everything sacramental authority-wise that Elders get…and are in demand.  They don’t have pension or job security (but the latter will likely go away in 2016 anyway).

So there’s a lot going against young people going into ordained ministry with a seminary degree.

But maybe that’s okay. Maybe a new focus on citizen-preachers who occupy their pulpits part-time during the week would make us more relevant and more authentic by mobilizing the laity. That’s what politics used to be: citizen-farmers who would serve in elected positions and then go back to the farm. The professionalization of politics and of clergy has had an interesting effect on the church and society as a whole, so perhaps this movement back  would be more effective and has shown in our history to be great for numerical growth–not to mention cheaper for people who want to be ministers.

 A Second Chance…

But there’s a second report that I think is related. A report came out that the people want more religion in politics. “nearly half of all Americans said churches and other religious institutions should openly express their views on social and political issues, an increase of 6% since 2010.”

While I know many people polled probably just want churches to be able to endorse politicians and not lose their tax-exempt status, my reaction was still “GREAT!” After a few decades of reactionary religious voices on TV who burned up most of religious capital and relevancy, people are starting to recognize the existence of constructive religious voices. We have a second chance!

But if people want more church in politics and engaged in the world around us, then we need educated clergy who can talk about the nuances in theological difference and political application. Professionalism, for all its problems, does come with a certain authority to speak about topics in our field.

While there’s clearly non-ecclesiastically-trained persons who have gifts and skills in this area, I don’t think there’s enough dedicated folks to be the resident theologians in every mission field and for every local newspaper. We don’t need gaffes and reactionary voices now: we need steady, representative voices that speak with clarity to the nuances and for the orphan and the widow.

I recognize that not every preacher or pastor is called to engage political topics. But we all do. We all get those questions, and preach language and images that shape how people make sense of political issues. You can preach about politics without getting political, but it does get better with training to learn how to do that–training that is now prohibitively expensive.

…that might be squandered.

To fail to grab ahold of this opportunity is to squander it, I believe. But to do so is also to repeat a time in our history when uneducated clergy exacerbated problems between Methodists and Baptists.

John Beeson writes in his book, John Wesley and the American Frontier, that anti-intellectualism celebrated by passionate clergy like Peter Cartwright led to tremendous numerical growth but also a breakdown of progress of relations with other denominations.

An uneducated frontier Methodist clergy pretty much lost sight of Wesley’s middle ground between predestination and free grace. Wesley’s understanding of free grace may not have completely reconciled Calvinism and Arminianism, but it knocked off some of the rough edges of the controversy and allowed them to share common goals and work together. This middle ground was lost on the frontier. This author believes that this loss was largely because of an uneducated clergy in both camps and their simplistic approaches…an uneducated clergy was probably the biggest factor in the Americanization of Wesley’s doctrine of grace (page 78)

If churches who have squandered our opportunities to be engaged in politics want a second chance, then an educated, nuanced approach is crucial this time. In our time of church conflict and decline, now more than ever being able to understand and reconcile differences and speak clearly to political issues is an important aspect of ministry. Being able to piece together novel theological approaches requires not just passion but education. As I’ve written before, theological education is more than doctrine, and seminary graduates are often better equipped to deal with difference and with speaking to church/state nuances–indeed, the entire ministry of reconciliation to which all are called.

Your turn

Your turn:

  • In the age where local pastors are more desirable and marketable, why should people go to seminary?
  • In an age where people want constructive religious voices, do we need seminary degrees to best accomplish that role?

Thanks for your comments!

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/why-go-to-seminary-is-hard-to-answer-but-it-must-be/

Oct 15 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Seek The Minority Report in the Bible #GeekGospel

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/seek-the-minority-report-in-the-bible-geekgospel.html


Two sci-fi movies have a common element that is a helpful tool to use in biblical study and interpretation.

minority-report

Two sci-fi films with a common message

In Minority Report (2002 movie; soon to be a TV series), Tom Cruise’s character works with the law enforcement agency that has a unique sci-fi ability: they tap into a group of three psychics who are able to predict crimes before they happen. The police then arrest the people before they commit their crime. However, the movie turns a bit when we find out that the group of psychics often throws a minority report: a prediction that is slightly different from the other ones. So the question is whether the majority prediction is correct all of the time, or is the minority report sometimes the one to pay attention to. Given the title, it is logical to assume the minority report is something to look for!

Likewise in World War Z (2013 film), we follow along many different characters as they reflect on how their country or community responded to a worldwide zombie epidemic. One of the characters works with the intelligence sector of Israel and he details what they call the 10th man rule: if 9 members of a team see the same thing, it is the obligation of the 10th to assume the opposite (which in this case was the possibility that zombies exist) While we might call this the Devil’s Advocate position, it really is more of submitting a minority report to the majority body, seeking to advocate for a position that is not just antagonistic but is actually feasible.

I think these two science-fiction films draw out a common penchant of Hacking Christianity: to see the minority report. To find the underbelly of the discussion. To bring forth perspectives not shared by the majority. To be the 10th man who advocates for the mad position. Because there’s value there that could be the source of transformation for an individual or community.

The Minority Report in the Garden

We do these things because all it takes is looking at one bible story to see how important it is to seek the minority report and allow it to interact with the majority reading.

The account of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is one such story. If you remember the flannelgraph version of your childhood and then compare it with the actual text, there are significant differences. But there are even deeper differences that require a willingness to engage a minority report.

The majority reading would see the apple and the Garden of Eden as Eve’s big failure. She was tempted, she coerced Adam, she is to blame. But if we let go of the majority report and go deeper, when God said not to eat from the tree, who was God speaking to? Was God speaking to Adam AND Eve? No. God was talking to Adam alone in Genesis 2. God had not yet made Eve in this story, and though she knows the command in the next chapter, I doubt the memory of this conversation came along with the rib. Also in verse 3:6. “Eve took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” Eve was not alone. Adam was right there with her, and there were no smartphones back then so if he was standing there, he was likely paying attention. She did not force him to eat. She handed it to him and he ate. A temptress and a coercive woman, Eve was not.

That one was easy, right? That’s in the text, but it takes a willingness to read the text in a new way. What about harder passages that require an even more minority reading?

Going Deeper into the Minority Report

The majority reading would see Eve as subordinate to Adam, and therefore all women as subordinate to men, as not only was Eve made out of Adam’s spare parts, but God says to her that “your husband shall rule over you.” But if we seek a minority reading, consider the poetics of the moment: God chose to make Eve out of Adam’s rib. Where is the rib located on the body? The side. God did not choose something from Adam’s head. God did not choose something from Adam’s foot. God is saying that Eve is not above you, Eve is not below you. Eve is equal with you. You two will be partners, side by side in everything you do. It’s a beautiful image.

Furthermore, according to Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, the word translated as “rule over” in Hebrew has another translation: “to be a model for.” Instead of reading “Adam shall rule over you” it could also read as “Adam will model himself after you” which is a perfect parallel to the rest of the sentence so it reads “Your desire shall be for your husband and your husband will model himself after you.” Funny how our mostly male translators certainly prefer the majority reading than the minority one, huh? A submissive second to Adam, Eve is not. A submissive second to men, women are not.

Seeking the minority report in the Bible can be as easy as actually reading the text with fresh eyes, or it can be harder by involving narrative analysis or translating tools. But in such a rich, living text, seeking out the minority report is not only helpful for better understanding the Scripture, it is demanded of thinking people to see beyond what we think we know about the text to the infinity beyond.

(note: the above bible analysis is adapted from a sermon that interwove elements from my friend Brittany Sky’s post here)

For Better Reporting…

Unlike WWZ and the Tom Cruise movie, the minority report is not always correct or even helpful. But seeking it can lead to divergent thinking and incite seeing different ways of approaching a troublesome passage. As we seek to make peace with a Bible that has disturbing majority readings, we would do well to seek the diversity of interpretations to help inform what a passage means to us.

Thoughts?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/seek-the-minority-report-in-the-bible-geekgospel/

Oct 14 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Engaging the Powers in Online Religious Discussion

Original post at http://hackingchristianity.net/2014/10/engaging-the-powers-in-online-religious-discussion.html


“Someone asked me recently what I see in American religion and culture. My answer? I’m seeing more vibrancy, questioning, energy, and risk than ever at the grassroots and more anxiety, panic, and authoritarianism than ever in upper level structures and institutions. I think the two are related.”

~ Diana Butler Bass (quoted on FB)

home-hack

Think [Everything is] Different

30 years ago in 1984, Apple came out with their best commercial of all time: a woman running with a sledgehammer to break the projection screen of a dystopian Orwellian future, concluding with the Apple tagline “Think Different.” Since that time and with the rise of the Internet, many different genres have thought differently and been significantly disrupted. Music and movies and books that used to have centralized publishing centers are now more decentralized thanks to music sites like Pure Volume, fan-funded films like Veronica Mars, fan-edited videos like Star Wars Uncut, and self-published books.

With so many genres shifting (often dramatically), it stands to reason that the genre of Christian conversation would shift. And in recent weeks in my niche of the Internet, it could not be more clear: Christian discourse is changing–and it is changing dramatically.

Up until 20 years ago, religious conversation primarily happened in the academic halls where rhetoric could be evaluated, fallacies pointed out, and people played by the rules of debate. Conversation also happened in church halls where cultural niceties and face-to-face community gave a framework for the hottest of topics (mostly). While there were obviously side conversations by minority parties, rarely did the majority and minority groups find common arenas for discourse.

But then the Internet happened and the conversation moved from the halls to the home. No longer was religious conversation held under the authorities’ watchful eye, but could be fully experienced by anyone. Doctrines were critiqued online, answers to religious questions were found online, and safe places to question authority were anonymously engaged in–and this is key–by both majority and minority voices in the same arenas. I know because I’ve engaged in spirited online religious debate anonymously and by name since 1999.

We are in the middle of the most radical shift since Gutenberg’s press moved reading the Bible from the pews to the homes in the people’s language. But this is not without risk: moving the religious conversation outside of the gates (academic and ecclesial) threatens those who have not only dominated the discourse but also defined it through rules, customs, and etiquette.

dinosaur-flamingo

Rules for Debate as Power Strategies

Our recent blog post alleging majority blindness to a minority need brought forth many reactions (1 2 3 4 5 6 7) and responses to the reactions (1 2). At the risk of a false generalization, the reactions all have to do with violations of what they believe is the proper method for proper discourse. Because we were depicted as having broken varied rules of engagement, our argument was invalidated–and thus almost universally ignored.

Such calls remind me of dismissing a person because they broke a rule in formatting MLA/APA style (ie. “Sally’s paper on white privilege is invalid because she mis-structured a footnote”). As exhibited above (and in some of the comments), the majority culture expects you to conform to their terms as prerequisites to engaging your argument. As the Frost/Nixon movie depicted, determining the rules of discourse is a power strategy for people to craft discourse to their advantage.

Now that the academics, the church authorities, and the people are in the same arenas online, the relative value of these rules has shifted. One of my Facebook friends noted that if someone makes a point in an Internet debate and the person replies “that’s a fallacy” and drops the mic…well, they don’t often find the other side is convinced. To use a sports metaphor, you can throw yellow flags on the football field all you want, but it doesn’t stop the play. Likewise, you can allege process errors all you want, but ultimately you have to address the substance of the argument, not shame it into silence.

I think that we recognize that we do need etiquette in our online discussions, especially in the arenas of plagiarism, citing sources, public quoting of private statements, personal attacks, and many others–including fallacies and errors in logic. But to view them as checklists of requirements before those accustomed to policing religious discussion will respond is a power-play that I don’t believe is helpful in the Internet Age. And even more unhelpful would be if persons of privilege pledge to converse only with other signers of “conversation covenants” so they can create digital Hauerwasian colonies away from the rabble. Don’t laugh: it could happen, either overtly or by silent agreement.

Creative Commons Share

Creative Commons Share

Conversation Beyond the Power Discourse

There is a better way. I believe to best engage in religious discussions online is not to impose a set of rules authored by the power structure but rather to embody a radical way of discourse that simultaneously negates both the power structures and the lawless rabble.

  • The tendency to enforce debate norms and rules is a manifestation of what Peter Rollins calls “power discourses” or a form of Christian apologetics that convinces by word or wonder that their understanding of Christianity is compelling (examined here). By structuring the debate and discrediting arguments that don’t follow the structure, the power is maintained by those who curate the structure but who claim to just be playing “by the rules.”
  • The contrary form of power discourses is powerless discourses, or ones that do not seek to force the other to conform but instead carry the desired ethics in our own selves. In the face of the checklists of the Pharisees, Jesus spoke in parables and language that was looked down upon by the authorities but was ultimately more authentic to the people’s experience. Like a kenotic Christ, our power is in powerlessness, not in imposition of assumed authority.

Our power is in exhibiting in our persons and our personas online in a way of being that people are attracted to. In today’s decentralized world, the best way to converse online is to be the person who you want to converse withthat’s it. Engage how you want to engage, consistently on other blogs as your own, and develop your own voice. Be a light on a hill. You may even gather a community who converses in the same way–but through choice rather than coercion.

Far from being combative or throwing in the towel, I believe this is a missional position: it allows us to be better missionaries to a digital culture embedded alongside our own. And instead of giving people the Bible and teaching them to read it in our language, we learn the people’s language and speak the Bible with respect to their norms and in their town halls and internet rancor pits. Those of us who can get over ourselves and wade in and carry the candle of Christ above the fray (and occasionally in the thick of it) can be examples of the living Christ–and if it is important, one can win more hearts and minds than power narratives reliant on unrecognized authority could ever do. I’ll write more on this in the future.

TL;DR

This was a long post so here’s the “too long; didn’t read” version:

  1. Disregarding/ignoring the substance of a person’s argument because they did not meet your terms of engagement is not often a shared value in the Internet arena.
  2. As conversation moves from the pews and the academy to the digital streets, those who consider themselves missionaries to digital culture must carry their own values and norms with them rather than impose rules and regulations for debate that those outside of the power structure do not recognize.

Thoughts?

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2014/10/engaging-the-powers-in-online-religious-discussion/

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