Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney has written a piece for the Church Times titled, “ Poisoning the wells of open debate.” It’s a fine piece written by one of the premiere writers in the generally outstanding gang of church related press folk in England. It is quite critical of bloggers and blogging and ends with this statement: “In reality, intemperate bloggers are poisoning the wells of open debate, not enhancing it. Many of those outside the blogsphere are put off by the sheer unpleasantness of internet debate. So it is abandoned to people with thick skins and short tempers. And that is hardly the open forum that many bloggers claim they are protecting.”
Aside from my jealousy of Giles’ writing abilities and the fact that he is “Vicar of Putney (what a fine thing to put on one’s calling card…almost as good as “Rector of all Lewes”), the good vicar has caused me to reflect on how much blogging contributes to the problems we face as a communion.As this blog has increased in readership I have been surprised by the consequences. I now have to moderate (wish there were a better word) comments so that some who constantly go off on rants better suited to their own blogs are cut out. While I am at it I mostly cut out those who give no indication of a name, not even a blog fiction, and thereby become hard to distinguish, one from another.
But more I have had to ask myself the question Giles raises: Is the level of my own intemperance contributing to the poisoning of the well? In particular one piece I wrote recently got a number of crabby responses to the effect that I was comparing Archbishop Akinola to the devil. This is because the title of the post was, “Be watchful, for your adversary is a roaring lion.” As I later tried to point out, the title can indeed remind one of the phrase “be watchful, for your adversary the devil is a roaring lion,” and it was a hook to get people into the story itself. But the story was about the powerful agendas of the Archbishop and the fact that he is a worthy adversary. Still, it was viewed by some as intemperate.
I suppose I was a bit intemperate. Still even in the blogsphere titles of articles are meant to have some punch. Most of mine are dull as dishwater.
In thinking about Giles’ comments and in wondering about the extent to which what a number of us do in our blogs is helpful or hurtful I have come to several conclusions:
- The work done by bloggers on religious topics, for example the Anglican Communion or the Episcopal Church, needs some self discipline, mostly I suspect derived from one’s spiritual life. We have an expectation, often fulfilled, that people will be treated with respect even when there is profound disagreement with the actions or words of those we consider advisories in the struggles within the Church. How we achieve that expectation derives from our measuring our words against some basic plumb line. The question, I suppose, is not “what would Jesus do?” but “What would Jesus have us do?” or the question I raised earlier (stolen from Wendell Berry) “would this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?”…you’ve got the idea. Some measure of temperance would be useful.
- We need to be more specific in acknowledging the good work done by one another. This means acknowledging the work done by bloggers whose interests and hopes are contrary to our own. In particular we need to work harder at acknowledging the role of some bloggers in uncovering material hidden in the mass of stuff we all have to deal with or in asking, for the first time, questions that arise from that material.
- The matter of confidentiality has come up most recently in the publication of what was meant to be a limited circulation of an email. I believe we need to be much clearer about the extent to which the networking of bloggers “off blog” are meant to be private and confidential and much more conscious of the need to ask permission for publication of such materials. While there are limits on the distinction between the confidential and the public, it would be of some value as a witness to the wider community if we exercised considerable care about the extent to which our work could be harmful to the relations between other persons.
Giles Fraser has done us a service in publishing this article. We need to take it to heart. At the same time it is also interesting to note the number of occasions where bloggers have brought important questions to the attention of the wider church community and the newshounds of that community.
There is work to be done and we all have a part.