Friday, June 30, 2006

A Reminder of the Need for Civility

I want to take this opportunity to thank a reader for reminding all of us of the need for civility ("Food for thought"). Yesterday I elected to cite obliquely an email being circulated about me among members of the REMC/GEC as part of my typical disclaimer in a message board posting. Another blogger chose to print the text of the e-mail in full yesterday afternoon in my defense, replete with all of the angry recriminations and name calling against my blogging/posting efforts (as was his right, no complaints here, just a little red-faced embarrassment; who wants the entire blogosphere to know that the top echelon of the denomination thinks you're an idiot?).

Obviously these are trying times for our Valley Forge staff. Feeling attacked, criticized, and/or critiqued by people in the hustings is never pleasant for those who mean well and who have devoted themselves to being servants of Christ and of the churches. Just think about how much you enjoy being slammed by members of your church and/or board.

My heart goes out to the top VF staff, almost ALL of whom I have known, respected, and shared both meetings and meals with over the years. Watching the denomination teeter cannot be a pleasant task. Having people like us in the message boards and blogs informing the "folks" about the progress being made in their deliberations must be disconcerting at least.

We are, however, in a new phase of the information revolution. Gone forever are monopolistic channels of communication. Anyone with a keyboard and internet access can participate in national discussions, regardless of their location or station in life. The new situation, however, does imply a heightened level of responsibility about the stewardship of this information revolution.

One of my readers chided me last night, suggesting that I should read the "Ethics of Blogging" on the Ministers Council website. Actually, he evidently does not know that when the article first appeared on the Roger Williams Fellowship site many months ago, I reprinted it in full and with some kind words of commendation of my own. Precisely BECAUSE the issues dividing us in the ABC are so heart-felt, we must continue to exercise civility even as we disagree passionately.

The nature of this medium has proven conducive to harsh and intemperate rhetoric in part because of the peculiarly disembodied nature of it (cf. a similar problem with e-mail). If I have failed to affirm often enough my honest affection and respect for our national ABC leadership, please accept my apologies. As Matt Labash writes about bloggers, "Take away their narcissism, their lust for attention, and their ravenous appetite or self-congratulation . . . and they're a meek lot." Heaven forbid that we should imitate the worst of the world's style of blogging!

Nevertheless, it is precisely because we are in the state we are in that it becomes all the more important for information to be disseminated as widely as possible. The ABNS has always tended to specialize in a very one-sided "official" version of events (cf. the report on the Michigan proposal in the ABNS report during last year's biennial).

Since much uncertainty exists, rapid dissemination of news will continue, despite the disapproval from official channels. My hope is that we can disagree without expressing the anger, rancor, and bitterness so often characteristic of some of the other "Baptist" message boards. And, when proven wrong, we must be quick to correct any factual inaccuracies in our reports.

Bottom line: many of us believe passionately in our cause. We are convinced that the issue at hand is not one of an inept organization to be remedied with a little structural tweaking. Nor are we merely facing an intramural difference of opinion over a relatively unimportant issue on which Jesus never spoke. Those of us on the right see this as a matter of the authority of Jesus Christ and of his word. So, let's be civil but unmovable; charitable to those with whom we disagree but standing fast; always holding out an olive branch of fellowship, but never yielding an inch on the authority of Christ or of his word.

[Still claiming to speak for only myself, and I don't always even agree with me either; please don't confuse me with any of the "official" sources of information in the ABC]

7 comments:

SmallSoul said...

It is interesting to note, however, that a good number of your critics were supportive of Wade Burleson, SBC/IMB trustee, and his very controversial blogging in criticism of SBC policies, entities and indiviuals. For them, the activity seems only justified when directed against those they dislike, but when it is directed their way the story is quite different.

roy said...

Dennis,

It feels to me as if the blogosphere brings us a step closer to the best of Baptist polity where everyone has a voice and we slug it out until hopefully, together we discern the voice of God.

I'm glad you're here... and I almost never agree with you ;)
(not entirely true)

roy

DrK said...

Dennis,
I appreciate your blog ministry getting the info out there. Perhaps, you could post of list of ABC message Boards or chat Rooms where those of us out of the loop could look in.
Thanks
Dr. K in NJ

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Dr. K,

Most of my information about the ABC comes from ABC insiders, not from blogs or message boards. However, some of the Baptist blogs I read are:

http://roydonkin.blogspot.com/ - Roy Donkin, a dear friend, hails from the left.

http://revdrron.blogspot.com/ - Ron is a VERY bright evangelical who writes on cultural and theological topics more than denominational ones.

http://tbonney.squarespace.com/home/ - Tim Bonney is one of the most informed defenders of the revisionist view of "soul competency." He is an ex-pat SBCer pastoring an ABC church in Iowa with General Board experience.

http://www.wabaptists.org/ - The official site for the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists is a treasure trove of material from the AWAB site of the aisle.

http://abcviewsfrommiddle.blogspot.com/ - Written by two middle-of-the-road executive ministers (one a little more to the left and one a little more to the right), it is as close to an official reflection of the REMC as you can get.

http://www.durabledata.blogspot.com/ - Glenn Layne is a personal friend and member of my board. He is a professionally trained political scientist turned pastor with a keen eye for politics and an ascerbic tongue. He often comments on ABC politics.

Other American Baptists (e.g. http://deadtheologiansclub.blogspot.com/) are incredibly bright and worth reading. However, they focus on cultural or theological issues rather than denominational topics.

If you want an evangelical Baptist message board, cf. Beacon Churches (http://www.beaconchurches.phpbbweb.com/) where I post much more than my blog here on His Barking Dog.

Hope this helps!

Dennis

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Oops,

That should be from the "AWAB side of the aisle."

Glenn Layne said...

"Ascerbic tongue"? (Is that catching?) I am truly sorry if that's the way I come across. My intention is to yes, a bit blunt, but also a bit entertaining. Mea culpa, mea culpa, my friends.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Glenn,

You ARE always entertaining! I just wince at times at your "take no prisoners" style (e.g., characterizing an e-mail by a upper echelon VF staffer as "paranoid neo-Stalinist email" and your repeated use of the rallying cry: Valley Forge delenda est!").

And, yes, you are my friend. These days, I'm trying to keep all of them that I can!

Dennis