More On Methodists And Social Media

The debate I mentioned on Tuesday continues. To mention some:

Richard Hall interviewed Toby Scott on Wednesday. Fat Prophet sees the document as similar to standard policies issued by ‘secular’ employers. Pete Phillips was consulted (as Secretary of the Faith and Order Committee) but isn’t happy. Like Pete, Matt Wardman contrasts the lengthy Methodist document with the much briefer Civil Service guidelines, which concentrate on principles and permission rather than details. Steve Jones, observing from South Africa, knows that such guidelines are normal in industry but wonders how we distinguish between legitimate debate and bringing the church into disrepute.

Other figures with something to say haven’t done so on their blogs, but in comments on other people’s posts. For example, Dave Warnock and Dave Perry. Both are members of the Methodist Council and may have therefore felt it tactful not to post before the meeting next Monday.

It seems to have escalated today. David Hallam, who got the debate going with a controversial post, has written about it passionately again today. In it, we learn more of why David is so upset:

I know of two cases already where blogging Methodists have face harassment and bullying by certain senior church officials (I stress certain, many senior Connexional officials would be shocked if they knew the full story). In the case that I know best extensive efforts were made to resolve the issue by the blogger concerned but to no avail. The Matthew 18 procedure was exhausted.

If true, this is worrying. I do know of one person who felt they were being implicitly criticised in the paper, but I don’t know anything that would fit the ‘harassment and bullying’ description David talks about. I’m still not sure I like some of David’s language – he compares the Methodist Church to Iran and China towards the end of the post – but if he has come across cases of bullying, it is little surprise he is angry.

So where are we up to, before Methodist Council discusses this issue?

Firstly, there remains disagreement on the transparency issue. Broadly speaking, those who are favourable towards the policy see the naming of the bloggers who were consulted as a red herring, while those who have reservations see it as important. In my limited surfing, I have only seen some Methodist bloggers say they weren’t consulted. I have not yet seen anyone say they were. Please let me know if I am mistaken.

Secondly, the debate so far illustrates the problems we have with confidentiality, privacy and Internet openness. In today’s piece, David Hallam fears that Dave Warnock is alluding to a potential retreat from publishing papers online as a result. I hadn’t read Dave that way, and I don’t see him as ‘authoritarian’ as David describes him – that’s not the Dave I know at all. But perhaps we need to distinguish between confidentiality and privacy, if that doesn’t sound too strange. What I mean is this: as a minister, I am committed to confidentiality apart from in exceptional circumstances (for example, if someone made an allegation about child abuse). However, even if the discussion papers for Methodist Council were once private, it must have been the Council that agreed to them being publicly available ahead of time on the web. Once you’ve done that on the Internet, the genie is out of the bottle, and any retreat – if that is indeed contemplated – will look very bad indeed.

Thirdly, we have an issue about acceptable behaviour in meetings. Can you text, tweet or surf during a council, committee or conference? I am no multi-tasker and I would find that difficult. However, I have to accept that others can – unlike me – multi-task. Everyone will agree it is important to give attention to the business being discussed, but we have to face up to personality differences – and to the fact that not everyone can find every minute of every business meeting riveting. And yes, as a young minister I’m afraid it was my practice to take a good book to District Synod!

Finally, in the long run, this may prove to be a storm in a green Methodist tea cup, or it may involve serious issues of principle and practice. My prayer is that we can all ‘speak the truth in love’ as we work through it. One commenter on Richard’s original post is worried about the tone he has seen on Methodist blogs, so it’s incumbent upon us to consider carefully how we conduct ourselves. If we turn this debate into a flame war, there could be every reason or occasion for the church authorities to consider strong guidelines. We need an authentic Christian witness in blogging that carries passion without flaming and love without wimping out. Surely we can do that?


  1. Dave,

    I stopped reading David Hallam’s blog some time ago. So I can only comment on what he has said in comments on my blog and what I read elsewhere.

    I am surprised by what you say is being written by David Hallam about the comments I wrote on my own blog see the comments on (On slow blogging to form your own view or to ask me for clarification if I have been unclear.

    I am more than a little bemused that that my comment could be interpreted in the way you describe.


  2. Dave,

    As I said, David’s interpretation of your words don’t sit with my understanding of you as a person, nor did I take them that way. If he has come across bullying and harassment, then does that affect the way he interprets other people’s comments?


  3. Storm. In A. Teacup.

    Only thing that disturbs me is 28 pages. We have an obsession with words.

    There is so much good and worthy stuff that comes from the Connexion. Except that is the problem: so much.

    To my shame, I’ve stopped reading most of it – it has been lovingingly and carefully produced. I face a choice- can I faithfully minister where I am and be a good husband, father and friend and have a rounded life and still keep up with the flow of info emmanating from above?

    I’ve started to feel the answer is ‘no’. I’m feeling like the apocryphal (?) minister from the coast who everytime he got a communication requesting info sent a postcard of where he lived reasoning that whoever he sent it to needed a life/reminding of reality..


    1. It does get OTT, doesn’t it? I find it’s the ‘keen Methodists’ who want to know whether I’ve kept up with x, y or z, and usually I haven’t – well, at least not in the detail they’d like. Personality-wise, I’m a big picture person, not a fine details type.

      A URC minister friend of mine who has worked extensively in LEPs with us, the Baptists and the C of E told me that we were by far the most bureacratic of the four denominations.

      As for this specific issue, Pete Phillips reported last night on the outcome from the Methodist Council yesterday and I hope to add a short blog on that later. I hope the ‘open review’ agreed by the Council will lead to a précis into principles that turns the 28 pages into something more like the 379 words of the Civil Service guidelines.


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