Our friends at Breaking the Silence have just launched a new website, they are collecting personal stories related to full inclusion in the UMC. The site has a handful of video testimonials from clergy, lay people, and even some youth. The sites’s look and feel resemble the early “It Gets Better” project website. It is open to anyone who wishes to submit a story via YouTube and have it posted on the site. It looks like the videos are searchable by name, conference, city, church, etc. There is even a way to submit written stories. From the site,
There is nothing so destructive as the silence of good people. And, there is nothing so powerful as average people speaking out about how they have changed their minds about God’s beautiful and diverse humanity. This is your chance to break the silence. Tell us your story that will help someone else who is trying to find their voice. Is it a story of hope? Is it a story of finding a love and acceptance in a church? How has scripture, the church, God, helped you be more inclusive?
So please share your stories. Whether you’re a member of our connection, a clergyperson, aseeker, or someone who is looking for that message of hope, come forward with your message of affirmation. Share your faith journey with those that feel alone, let them know that they are never alone.
Like the It Gets Better project, the aim of the Breaking the Silence outreach is to bring real people into the discussion, to highlight and promote the contemporary understanding of human sexuality through personal stories… you know: experience and reason in relation to scripture and tradition. Also similar to It Gets Better, the BTS group wants to call out and help put an end to bullying of young people, but not just the physcial, schoolyard bullying, the powerful bullying done in God’s name.
Hopefully, people will feel empowered to share their own stories. The rest of America has been been transformed by the realization that some of the people all around them – family, friends, co-workers, neighbors – were gay, and they were able to continue to love them, attend church with them, work with them. The church could easily acknowledge this reality, and acknowledge the incredible misjudgment that they’ve made, and move on. Or the church can be the last institution in the country to admit that they reinforce a position of bigotry in their policies and practices, positions that they held onto for far too long in the struggle against slavery, racism, and gender inequality.
Go ahead, tell your story. We’re the ones to put the UMC back on track. Visit the BTS website here.
Was having lunch a few days ago with a friend of mine, a former Methodist Pastor. We were talking politics, what else? Lots of criticism on how we as a nation are treating the “least of these”, soon we were reviewing the state of the national health care plan. We were both bemoaning the fact that once again, private enterprise will profit from people’s ill health, and that a “public option” or some type of health care access for all is still an impossible dream. We found shortcomings in President Obama’s leadership style. In fairness to a leader that always seems to seek consensus and build bridges within the community, I defended him by pointing out that this style had been how he had always led, going back to his days at the Harvard Law Review. Back then, when he received the title of Editor of the HLR, it was obviously a milestone in terms of racial inclusion. The expectation was that he would appoint more minorities onto his editorial staff, more women and other students that might not have had that kind of opportunity. Instead, Mr. Obama appointed not one, but three Federalist Society students. (The Federalist Society is the ultra conservative law association that supports what they label “strict constitutionalism” and other conservative legal principles. They promote their ideology even among law students by scholarship and other sponsorships.) When Obama appointed the Federalist students at Harvard, his more moderate and liberal companions were astonished. He was adamant that he could bring all of the various student groups together, he set out to prove that he could achieve consensus. Of course, this was at a (perceived) liberal university, in a more moderate if not progressive time in our history. He brought this attitude of reconciliation from a position of power (both from his newly awarded title and prevailing culture.)
As I reviewed Obama’s background with my friend, I pointed out that indeed, he still seemed to identify himself as a great and diplomatic peacemaker. At about this point in our conversation, my lunch partner slammed his fist down on the table and shouted, “The Arrogance!” Heads turned as my french fries went airborne like popcorn. I had to shhhh him as he began his critique. ”Who does he think he is, the Messiah? The Chosen, the great healer? No, he’s not THE chosen, but one that was ELECTED to represent common people: working people without insurance, without jobs, in need of a fair chance in this country.” It was a good point. And most importantly, the POTUS’ current efforts to seek compromise with the national political parties leads the discourse ever rightward. Dig in your heals as a moderate, and take two steps to your right. Rinse, repeat. It’s awfully hard to leverage a compromise from a minority position. And now Paul Krugman of the NY Times has further articulated this argument — that those who claim to stand in the middle are losing their core principles in an effort to appear as peacemakers. The desire to be seen as somehow fair and balanced has allowed their ideals to slip further into alignment with wealth and corporate interest, and further away from the Least of these. Krugman no longer blames the right for what ails us, but suggests the “Cult of the MIddle” is destroying America.
“We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion. So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship…The cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.”
We religious moderates try so hard to be fair, to bend over backward to show our love for all sides. We talk about having “Holy Conversations” and desperately want everyone to “come to the table.” If issues like immigration, LGBT inclusion, or the disparity of wealth in our community are too hot, we quietly defer and talk about something else to keep the peace; meanwhile, the ultra conservatives control the conversation with those hot issues and have no problem loudly preaching their own, fundamentalist understandings. When we voice objection to the filling of their bully pulpit with partisan rancor, they feign the pain and hurt and outrage of a chastised toddler, skillfully downplaying their own powerful, ongoing conversation. If necessary, it’s easy for them to pivot the discussion to one of people and not ideas. Rather than have an honest theological discussions, it’s just too easy to scare progressives – just label them “divisive” or loudly insist that their “fringe” views are harmful and destructive for the church body. Nothing will back a progressive down faster than an accusation of hurt feelings, no matter what the message is really about. The centrists appeal for calm, pray for peace, ask for Holy Conversation between both sides, schedule a meeting, don’t you know. But the middle is a place that you can lose your soul.
Krugman reminds us:
And yes, I think this is a moral issue. The “both sides are at fault” people have to know better; if they refuse to say it, it’s out of some combination of fear and ego, of being unwilling to sacrifice their treasured pose of being above the fray. It’s a terrible thing to watch, and our nation will pay the price.
Imagine the Christ as centrist… “Sure, the Romans that are enslaving you us understand things differently, so let’s all examine our unique perspectives together and find commonalities in our shared experiences.” The Prince of Peace never fought a physical battle, but He stood his ground on principles. He struggled for those who struggle, and the battle came to him. Thankfully, he never ran back to that yellow stripe in the middle of the road.
As for holding his massive prayer rally at Reliant Stadium, it can’t be said loudly enough what a culturally diverse city Houston is: home to 88 consulates, one of the largest international ports in the world, a melting pot of culture and faith. Recently, the Houston Clergy Council issued a statement about the “Response” event, expressing
“concern that the day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium is not an inclusive event. As clergy leaders in the nation’s fourth largest city, we take pride in Houston’s vibrant and diverse religious landscape. Our religious communities include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, and many other faith traditions. Our city is also home to committed agnostics and atheists, with whom we share common cause as fellow Houstonians. Houston has long been known as a “live and let live” city, where all are respected and welcomed. It troubles us that the governor’s prayer event is not open to everyone. In the publicized materials, the governor has made it clear that only Christians of a particular kind are welcome to pray in a certain way. We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city.”
Good Methodist Perry has graciously extended an invitation to the prayerfest to all 49 other governors. As of this writing, only Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas has given a thumbs up. It won’t be Kansas anymore at this rally, Gov. Brownback, but it’s sure getting close.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has announced a National Day of Prayer and fasting as a “Response” to our national predicament of “economic collapse, injustice, violence, perversion, division, abuse, natural disaster, terrorism, depression, addiction, fear….” Perry claims that “There is hope. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.” Invitations have been sent to the other 49 governors.
Perry is looking for national political office; the GOP in TX has used the Jesus Factor to bolster its standing among social conservatives. George W. Bush helped his father turn to evangelicals for support, and then used that base in his state and national campaigns. Social, cultural wedge issues have become the norm. Now it seems, the tail wags the dog. Politicians can’t seem to hammer wedges hard enough. Unorthodoxy is not tolerated- inside the party, or within fundamentalist evangelical groups.
In a stunningly calculated move, Gov. Perry has booked Reliant Stadium, the home field for Houston based Texans NFL franchise for his Response. Houston is a racially, culturally diverse international city. There is not a faith tradition that is not somehow represented. Houston is also led, coincidentally, by an openly gay mayor. Drive the wedge.
Mayor Annise Parker and her domestic partner of over 20 years have a foster son and two adopted daughters. She worked in the oil and gas business, served on city council and as the city controller. But according to Perry’s partner group, the AFA, (and the current Methodist Discipline), Mayor Parker is unfit to lead a Church.
Recently, at the Breaking the Silence meeting at the Texas Annual Conference, Mayor Park spoke about finding common ground. Working together. Tolerance. Acceptance. She talked about what it’s like to hear the discussions of bigots. Her themes sounded familiar to anyone who has struggled for marginalized people anywhere. Or for folks that might have read the Gospel.
But Perry wants to host a hate-group sponsored prayer festival with the same type of folks whom would judge Mayor Parker. Our fine Methodist Governor will use prayer itself as a divisive issue, in a cynical, political manner. Look for protests, tears, divisive language, and intolerance of the “other”. Drive that wedge.
The highlight of the 2011 Breaking the Silence luncheon during the Texas Annual Conference was the keynote address delivered by Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Mayor Parker has served in that office since January of 2010. She worked for many years in the Houston oil and gas industry; she was elected to City Council in 1998 and as the Houston Controller in 2004. She and her domestic partner of over 20 years have a foster son and two adopted daughters. She is the first openly gay mayor to serve a city the size of Houston. She told us that she made it a point to keep the question of her sexuality out of her campaigns, concentrating instead upon her experience and her past performance which indicated to voters that she was the right person for public office. Her opponent (or supporters of her opponent) only raised the issue of her sexuality in some rude last minute campaigning; political observers seemed to agree this only did more to help Paker’s campaign.
BTS was lucky to have Pastor Rudy Rasmus of St. John’s UMC to introduce the mayor. He pointed out that BTS sees her successful campaign and service to our city as a signal that a new day is here, one that better reflects the Gospel vision of tolerance and Grace to all.
Mayor Parker, whose public appearances are always cordial, upbeat, and tightly scheduled, was overly gracious with her time in front of BTS. A group of over 450 clergy, spouses, and Methodist lay people were completely focussed on the Mayor for over half an hour. She talked about her own history in dealing with the issue of her sexuality, how it effected her family life, her professional career, and then in her political life. This was obviously a topic that she is passionate about, she went “off script” more than once, and was thoughtful and deliberate in her presentation.
Her message was generally one of unity, of finding common ground. She has always struggled to find that common ground, she said, especially in the face of bigotry and prejudice, but felt certain that working toward common goals, sharing challenges, and emphasizing the necessity of productive community can keep us together and moving forward. She knows the challenges are real, and shared her stories of finding ways to work together with those that she knew often delighted in keeping her marginalized.
Mayor Parker told us that we would have to sort out the faith angle to all of this. She had been invited, after all, to give us some clues on how to go about working politically to bring about change in our Conference. Yet with each anecdote that she shared, with her discussion on the many roads that come together to form the discussion on LGBT issues, and the complexities and variety of ways that those roads are traveled, it became apparent that she could preach the Gospel with the best of them. Her story and her outlook were completely Grace centered.
A weary BTS often struggles with the prospect of remaining loving and gracious to those folks that would label LGBT persons unfit for ministry, and “incompatible with Christ”. Mayor Parker gave examples of dealing with her opponents or just plain bigoted co-workers by “killing them with kindness”.
Some of us were beginning to believe that perhaps she preferred civility and passivity over any confrontation or struggle for social justice. But she gave a gut checking story of how a coworker had once rambled on in a political discussion in front of her, not knowing she was gay. The man chose to curse a public figure in a noisy diatribe with the slur, “faggot”; the public figure had never even been rumored to be gay, the man just chose a slur that to him represented the most vile thing that one could be called. Mayor Parker finally let him know that she was gay, and found the slur offensive. He was shocked, the admission and quiet confrontation stopped him cold. She said that for weeks afterwards, she often sought out the man to offer office pleasantries and kindness, which she pointed out, usually sent him running.
But here was her takeaway, especially in regards to unity: ”In order to be together we must ultimately eliminate any group identified as the other.”
The TX Annual Conference however, has defined itself by our relationship to the “other”. In our recent elections, the Confessing Movement and other fundamental groups vetted all candidates by how they would accept, or not accept the “other”. They did not make a secret of it. All ten of the elected clergy candidates had promised the CM to uphold the current prejudiced language of the Discipline. Mayor Parker can lead a city of over five million people. She can have a family, a committed life long relationship with her partner, and raise three children. She can give her time and energy to public service and to charitable works. But she cannot serve or lead in the United Methodist Church. Her relationship will not be recognized by the church. Her “lifestyle” will be considered “incompatible” with Christ. Because in the United Methodist Church, she is still, the other.
Reaction to 33 retired (surprise, retired!) bishops has been predictable. Renewal and other ultra conservative groups are beside themselves. Good News leader Rob Renfroe is simply amazed that there has never been a group of bishops that “promote our well-thought out and scriptural view on the most controversial issue before the church.” It’s a question that seems to answer itself, eh, Rob?
Our United Methodist Church,ashamed and repentant in the past, ended official and unofficial restrictions on candidacy, ordination and appointment for reason of race, gender and ethnicity. We believe the God we know in Jesus is leading us to issue this counsel and call – a call to transform our church life and our world.
The bishops also recognize that the wider culture has moved past this type of bigotry. They acknowledge that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract both lay and clergy in an environment of discrimination. Perhaps most revealing, they admit that bishops are “being drained of energy by upholding Church Discipline while regarding it as contrary to their convictions.” It is apparent to everyone but folks like Rev. Renfroe that the language in the Discipline is contrary to our leadership’s understanding of Scripture. Is there a counter cry from laity that the church maintain this ugly doctrine? No doubt there is some, and it uses the same language, fear, and threats that defended slavery, segregation, and the policies of gender discrimination.
As for the rest of us, there is something that needs to be done. Moderates and progressives must support those that are willing to stand up for the future of the Methodist Church. As many times as we criticize clergy and administraors for doing little or nothing, here is a chance to applaud those that stood up. Already, several groups have added their public support to the Bishop’s Statement. The bishops speak of members and pastors “withdrawing membership or absenting themselves from the support of congregational and denominational Church life in order to maintain personal integrity.” Every pastor that I’ve ever spoken with on this issue bemoan that while they realize that the actual numbers are always in support of dropping the language in the Discipline, that the vocal minority seems to carry the day.
Already, hundreds have been vocal about their approval, their support for these bishops. In a truly ground shaking move, the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, an official caucus group, voted to support the bishop’s statement. This could signify that the traditionally conservative American black clergy groups are shifting their thinking, perhaps recognizing the irony of defending a position of discrimination.
It’s time to show your support. For your church, your pastor, and your bishop. The Reconciling Ministries Network has made it incredibly easy to sign your name alongside the 33 retired bishops. They also have made it possible on the same form to include a personal note directed at your own bishop. This note (and your signature, if you like) can remain anonymous to the public. Imagine, if for once when your pastor and your bishop are contemplating a response to this issue yet again, they can finally look out and see the faces and names of people that are ready and eager to support them. Let them hear your personal stories. Encourage them to face down the bully pulpits of the few bigots that often seem to dominate this unholy conversation. No, this is not an election, or much of a scientific poll. But we celebrate 33 bishops that had no obligation or precedent to speak out, and they have. They deserve something for that. As the old saying goes, if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain later. We always complain. It’s time to say something, to quit waiting for someone else to come along and make things right.
Wherein Chris is forced to eat his words and Cheri graciously refuses to gloat - Or at least a new look at the impact of social networking on social revolution. (And yes, Cheri and I both recall the laugh line from the ancient Saturday Night Live newscasts with Chevy Chase and Jane Curtain. But I digress…)
We posted somewhat of a back and forth discussion last week over Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the The New Yorker about the real or perceived impact that social media has on activism. He discussed the strong ties of physical community and personal relationship vs. the weak ties of hundreds of Twitter or Facebook friendships. He thinks that “… (social media) makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.”
I agreed with Gladwell, my Facebook account is cluttered daily with “cut and paste if you believe/want to help…” posts and “change your FB picture if you support______ …” Gladwell pointed out that fundraising campaigns sometimes result in monetary donations, but usually tiny amounts, (that can admittedly add up.) We both sort of ridiculed the constant notion of “awareness” campaigns and their ribbons and slogans. But does this necessarily change anything?
Cheri would have none of this, suggesting we were both riding a recent internet meme of cynicism on the topic.
She insisted that awareness is certainly a positive thing, and that real sacrifices are usually not asked for over social media. When sacrifices are asked for, it can be surprising the amount of real participation that results.
So Cheri, you were right. “Think how many more people would have shown up at that segregated lunch counter in the 1960s if the sit-in had been announced as an event on Facebook. Or how much more packed the Mall in Washington would have been for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech if Huffington Post and the black social network sites had existed then and publicized it and provided buses (in addition to all those churches’ buses), as HuffPo did for the Stewart/Colbert “Restore Sanity” event.” Evidently, we could have gotten the sixties over pretty quickly, if current events are a barometer!
So the Revolution will be Tweeted. Facebooked. MySpaced. OR WILL IT??? <dramatic music up full>
Egypt has now all but cut off much of the country from the internet. Access to specific websites and feeds have been eliminated. Twitter is silent. And yet dissent grows, as does the size of the crowd. So now human activism is taking over, w/o a lot of help from technology enabled communication channels. So yes, the cry for action originated in the media, but it was the people who took up that cry, and are now risking their lives in protest. Cheri is correct here, sacrifice was called for, and the public has answered with sacrifice. They are moving from the weak ties of electronic connection, to the strong ties of personal, bodily resistance. Gladwell also made much of the strength of leadership and organization in social movement sans social media. This will be interesting to observe, for as you read this post, the disorganized yet passionate mob is struggling to steer their ship in the right direction. They must find a way to stay together amidst all of the chaos and not only complete their chosen task of “taking back” their country, but choosing who will lead them, in what direction, and with what kind of input from the people. Look at the protesters in the extraordinary photos coming out of Egypt. Many are bloody and injured, some have made the ultimate sacrifce. An incredibly diverse people, working together toward their goal; will they be able to stay united if they can achieve that goal?
One more scary little notion. A “cautionary tale”, it’s being called. And that is, all of those pesky privacy concerns that we’ve fretted over and ultimately ignored are a tremendous liability for those playing such a high stakes game in the Middle East over social media. I’ve heard it said in the military: ”Tracer bullets work both ways;” Meaning: you can better take aim at your target with a tracer, but your target can also see who’s shooting at them. And repressive governments can see who’s tweeting what, what people are thinking, and who the real “thought leaders” are during these crises. Scott Shane of the NYT tells us: “Repressive regimes around the world may have fallen behind their opponents in recent years in exploiting new technologies — not unexpected when aging autocrats face younger, more tech-savvy opponents. But in Minsk and Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, governments have begun to climb the steep learning curve and turn the new Internet tools to their own, antidemocratic purposes. The countertrend has sparked a debate over whether the conventional wisdom that the Internet and social networking inherently tip the balance of power in favor of democracy is mistaken.” When the Iranian revolution sputtered, government henchmen wasted no time electronically tracing the dissenters. Some of those being interrogated haven’t been heard from in a long time.
When it comes to putting the Wesleyan traditions back into the Methodist church, is a Twitter feed or a Facebook post enough? How about the ramblings posted on a JohnWesleyClub.org blog? OK Cheri, it’s a start. A tool. It’s a way to inform and hopefully mobilize. But then the hard work really begins. What would any of us be willing to sacrifice?
Those who know me well will be amazed at how little I am about to say on this particular subject. (Don’t get used to it!) I’m very interested in what others think about this topic that continues to escape our public attention. Note that I said, “public” attention. You see, Rev. Doug Bowling (retired UM pastor from South Carolina) has taken the time to write about an issue that I’ve heard countless pastors and laity express and discuss among themselves, in small groups, and perhaps even in gatherings that included influential leaders – and for quite some time. But until now we all have failed to fully toss it out into the public arena in such a straight forward manner. God bless Rev. Doug Bowlingfor accepting the role of the prophet – for doing the hard work and then pushing us to follow through.
I hope you’ll read “Real reason UMC is losing members.”It’s brief, it’s honest, and it deserves our attention. It deserves genuine and open discussion. It deserves prayer. It deserves to be placed on the front burner until we work through it . . . . together. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.
“… (social media) makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact.” -Malcolm Gladwell
As we honor Martin Luther King this week, it’s important to remember King the man, and his leadership of the civil right’s movement: without Facebook, a blog, or a Twitter feed.
MLK & Coretta Scott King, Selma to Montgomery March in March 1965
From the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, countless sit ins, the march on Washington, the marches from Selma to Montgomery.
And never once did anyone look down at their iphone to read, “@marchers IMHO, How long? Not 2 long bcz arc- moral unvrs long but binz 2 justz”.
No one in the movement was ever called to swap their Facebook photo with a clever cartoon, sign, or awareness ribbon. Would we be ready today to answer the call from a leader that demanded that we realize that the root word of activism is “act”?
“Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.”
But sometimes it simply amazes how many people will pass important information on a social network. An idea or a video or a message can spread virally to millions. People react, spread the word, donate a few cents, promise to wear a specific color shirt in support of a cause on Tuesday. Not much is asked, so people whom you don’t know well are willing to “help”. Gladwell tells us that our relationships on social media sites are “weak ties”
“Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life. This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.”
The Greensboro Four. Four students stage a “sit-in” at the local Woolworth’s Store lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within a week, 400 students would participate in this demonstration. One month later, over 100 cities across the nation. Note the absence of any Iphones, Blackberries, or network devices.
Oh, yes. I understand the irony of reading about the weak ties of social media…. through social media. As pointed out in the article, there is value in communication via the weak ties of social media. In some countries, social media has facilitated revolutionary action.
The student sit-ins during the civil rights movement involved risk, action, and real sacrifice. They relied on the strong-ties of human relationship, face to face encounters, and true action-based activism. They did it all without MySpace.
“…(social media) is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.”
It feels good, really good to feel involved, to be emotionally invested in a cause or idea. But Twitter doesn’t hand out food or clothing at the relief center. Facebook doesn’t visit the sick at the hospitals. And blogs don’t serve communion.
So use these wonderful tools. Spread the Word. But join an organization where humans sit together and worship, pray, and express their faith … through works.
UPDATE: my blog colleague (bloleague?) Cheri Duncan had a few things to say about this post. She and I have discussed this issue before, and we have both agreed that it’s an overblown meme of late. ”Oh those do-nothing kids and their cell phones, their Twitter feeds,” etc. But I think Gladwell scored some points here. She disagreed.
I disagree with my dear friend Chris Newlin — and with Malcolm Gladwell – about social media’s role in social movements. Gladwell is guilty once again of over-extrapolating and using examples that don’t really prove his point. As always, though, he expresses his point so beautifully that it’s hard to catch the fallacies in his argument. In fact, his argument already has become part of the conventional wisdom in progressive Christian circles. Every time I see another post like Chris’ about how people use Facebook and Twitter posts as substitutes for real-world action — and those posts are popping up like kudzu these days — I grind my teeth. As someone who was dragged most reluctantly onto the Book of Faces (not to mention onto this blogsite), I hate being in a position of defending social media’s potential as an instrument of reform. But here I am.
Think how many more people would have shown up at that segregated lunch counter in the 1960s if the sit-in had been announced as an event on Facebook. Or how much more packed the Mall in Washington would have been for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech if Huffington Post and the black social network sites had existed then and publicized it and provided buses (in addition to all those churches’ buses), as HuffPo did for the Stewart/Colbert “Restore Sanity” event.
The examples of “Save Darfur” Facebook groups don’t prove that social networking doesn’t lead to social action. At most, they prove that social networking isn’t a great money-raising tool. It doesn’t necessarily follow that people who “like” those pages do so in lieu of “real sacrifice,” as the articles suggest. Instead, my guess is that those Facebook groups aren’t suggesting any “real sacrifices” for people to make. Rather, they seem to be more about building general awareness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But the fact that people are only contributing pennies to those groups doesn’t mean people won’t make sacrifices when given opportunities to do so.
I think of our own little “picnic in the park” in response to violence against LGBT people last summer, when we got almost 30 people from across Houston to show up on a muggy Sunday afternoon in a park on less than 48 hours’ notice, strictly via one Facebook event post. That picnic was one of dozens of similar events — involving hundreds of people — held simultaneously all across the U.S., only because social networking on the Internet made that coordinated effort possible.
So the “Save Darfur” examples may prove one other point: most people won’t take the initiative to organize actions or make real sacrifices on their own; they need leaders to give them direction for what to do besides clicking the “like” button. When given those opportunities via social media, however, their responses can be surprising, at least to those who accept the conventional wisdom.
I don’t think it’s an either/or issue. I think the most savvy activists would be crazy not to use internet communication tools, passionately. And I didn’t think that Gladwell intends to label social media as a waste of time, or mutually exclusive with real activism. I think it’s a cautionary note, a reminder that becoming enmeshed in the social network often makes us feel like activists – gives us that emotional connection without making much of a sacrifice. It offers us ways to believe that we are a part of a movement by making very little real investment in that movement.
We still need the strong ties of human relationship. We need leadership hierarchies. We need organizations to manage real work that needs to be done. We need to raise serious dollars, and then manage that money effectively. And yeah, when used effectively and with imagination, social media is one heckuva tool to have in the kit. I guess I’ll text Cheri and tell her.
Civility. That is the topic of the week following the tragic and very disturbing senseless public shootings and murders in Tucson this week.
What you are about to read, unfortunately, is not just my story. This is the story of more than one pastor and dignified church members around the country.
Civility and dignity are both born and nurtured in the church or sometimes the church itself, in the name of religion, becomes the source of great hatred and vitriolic moments…all in the Name of Love.
Monday night in Phoenix much of the world (at least the world I operate within!) was glued to the Auburn/Oregon Ducks game. I was. My daughter and her fiancé from Auburn were at that game. My daughter, in the nose bleed seats at one end of the field behind a goal post, said that an Oregon Ducks fan sitting and standing by her the entire game cried after the game which Auburn won 22-19 on a field goal with the clock expired. The girl cried for several reasons including 1) her Ducks lost a great game 2) she then realized she could have sold her $300 ticket for $4000 prior to the game but instead she forfeited the $3600 profit just to see her team lose!
Civility. Yeah, it really is easier for me to talk and write about the Auburn game then it is to talk or write about civility or the lack of it in our lives.
People have asked me to write a book about the lack of civility in our society and I have refused to do it. I tell people “If I wrote a book on the lack of civility in some Christian churches and the presence of very angry and vitriolic tones in some Christian churches that NO ONE would believe me. They would think I was writing fiction if I told my story and the story of so many others in Christian churches in the United States.”
You see, I am a pastor. A shepherd of the Flock. Leader of the Gentle lambs.
After serving 31 years in the Air Force (20 years as a chaplain), I retired from the chaplain service to accept the call to serve a church in Texas.
Lynchings still happen in churches. I do not use that word lynching lightly. Mob mentality. The point at which the targeted people become less than human. The targeted person or persons becomes a non-human which the mob can then hit, smack, target, taunt, attack, and eventually just throw the rope over the largest limb and raise him or her up as the crowd laughs.
You see, I told you that people would not believe this. This is the horrible stuff that fiction stems from in life. But it was 2003 and a public lynching took place on February 14, 2003. In a church. A church in a university town with university professors helping to lead the mob. Continue reading Civility in Churches
A national project for civility is officially over. It seems that no one was particularly interested.
Yesterday the volume of the debate over blame for the violent deaths and injuries in a public space in Tucson, Arizona seemed to reach a fever pitch. The angry rhetoric and incendiary language reached new levels. Anguished cries were heard from both sides of the aisle. Sarah Palin lead the day with an internet video that threw gasoline on the fire. In an unrepentant tone, Mama Grizzly insisted that her political graphics featuring gun sights and her campaign speeches calling for her constituents to “take aim” and “reload” had nothing to do with the shooting spree that killed six, including federal Chief Judge John Roll of a Federal District Court and nine year old Christina-Taylor Green. In her lengthy diatribe, Palin described the accusations leveled against her as “blood libel”, a term which has serious anti-Semitic connotations. It is not clear whether Gov. Palin had a clue as to the depth of the gaffe that she committed by using that phrase. (Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, evidently targeted in the shooting for assassination, is Jewish. She remains in critical condition with a gunshot wound through her head.)
The day barreled back and forth with point and counter point. The airwaves were alive as pundits, politicians, and media figures from all quarters railed on about who was to be held responsible for the shooting, who had given offense to whom, and what the terms of retaliation should be.
He initiated CivilityProject.org in January 2009 because of alarm over what he saw as the increasingly vicious tone in American politics. He asked his friend, Lanny J. Davis, a Jewish Democrat and a lobbyist who worked for President Bill Clinton, to join the effort. They sent out 585 letters asking every sitting governor and member of Congress to sign a pledge that said:
I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
I will stand against incivility when I see it.
Guess how many signed letters he received back? How many governors and members of Congress responded?
Yup, three: Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, (I) Connecticut; Representative Frank Wolfe, (R) Virginia; and Representative Sue Myrick, (R) North Carolina.
After all, it was a tough pledge. Some pretty high standards to adhere to: Civility, mutual respect, and speaking against incivility. Three of our nation’s leaders. Three. All the talk about a Christian nation: three. “Love your neighbor”, three.