There’s a paper going to the Methodist Council next week containing advice to the church on the use of “social media”. David Hallam has read it, and he doesn’t like it. That’s his prerogative, of course. Unfortunately, his dislike of the paper has lead him, unknowingly I’m sure, to rather misrepresent what it actually says. His headline, “Blogger Beware! The Methodist Church will issue a fatwa” should be something of a clue. The very idea is beyond preposterous.
What this paper seeks to do is offer some guidance to connexional staff, ministers and church officers on their responsibilities when publishing material to the web. (It’s not the first time this sort of thing has been considered. Methodist bloggers gave it a little thought ourselves a little while ago) There’s nothing in it that is this least bit controversial: “All involved should do nothing to bring the Church into disrepute. Members of governance bodies have particular responsibilities in how they report from or during meetings” are hardly earth-shattering revelations, but the reminder does no harm.
Far from being an attempt to stifle debate, this paper recognizes that constructive disagreement has been a feature of Methodism which these new media will further encourage.
These guidelines should not limit or prevent constructive debate or discussion through social media. People should be free to engage in discussions and debates within and beyond the Church on any topic, but should also remember their responsibilities to the Church or to any bodies they are members of when they do so. There is a wide range of opinion within the Church on some topics, and one of the attractive features about Methodism is our ability to disagree constructively.
There is a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour online, and this line will move with time. One of the benefits of a healthy online community is that it is this community that provides the best guidance to
others and to itself. The aim of the Church should therefore be to foster healthy and active online and social media.
This last point is really important. A healthy community will not need censorship, even if that were possible. But if you blog as a Methodist, that places a responsibility on you not to write anything that might harm the reputation of the church. It isn’t complicated, and there’s nothing new here really.