I've spent most of today working with a local church in Grantham exploring discipleship and holiness in the New Testament and the contemporary church. It's bee good, really good. The church here at Harrowby Lane seem to know what they are doing and are doing it well - excellent tech kit throughout the building and wifi and so on. Excellent technicians as well. Sadly there are few times when I can manage to play videos as part of the teaching with sound and everything all tied together so easily. Big thumbs up and thanks to Steve and Ian and everyone else at Harrowby Lane - and Tony and Joy for such great hospitality.
The discussion on holiness really made me rethink the idea of morals and guidelines. It affirmed for me all over again that actually unless the heart is right, we really are going nowhere with the idea of enforcement. All that will happen is that we will prevent those thinking about engaging with social media from engaging - it will have a precautionary force. It's not going to stop some people blogging the most stroppy comments possible. It's not going to stop people not paying attention during meetings. It's not going to stop people being rude and gossipy. All of those things relate to behaviour, to values, to lifestyle. So to some extent it is the values issue which we should be addressing rather than the enforcement issue (of which we have lots of levels already). It's like trying to slow down a ferrari with a road-block. Much better to install a speed-limiter at the heart of the Ferrari at the outset? And much less damaging.
It's interesting that Paul's letter to the Galatians argues strongly against the law and for values-based decision making. Remember about us being set free from the law but being enslaved to Christ, about the fruit of the Spirit against which there is no law. Anyone who chooses to follow a legalistic process will end up wrapped up and tied down by that process. Instead, Paul says, as heirs of Christ, we are free, mature citizens who need to walk by the Spirit. Yes, there are guidelines but not law. The same goes through 1 Corinthians where Paul, or so I suggest to my students, sets up a series of moral questions for the Corinthians rather than laying down the law. Is it beneficial? (1 Cor 6:12) Does it enslave? (1 Cor 6:12) Does it harm anyone? (1 Cor 8:13) Does it glorify God? (1 Cor 10:31). Both of the letters seem to set up a good ethical alternative for what needs to happen once you have decided to shed Torah observance as a norm (pace quite a few contemporary NT scholars!).
Hence the need to focus on values during Mondays debates and hence the need for appropriate Christian conferring. David Warnock and Angela Shier-Jones have blogged on this as their latest comments on this issue - both rather averse to the sharper words of others.
Someone has suggested somewhere that all this talk about a paper going to Council before it is actually discussed by Council is somewhat inappropriate. Not sure how this can really be/should be the case for four reasons.
First, it's been put into the public domain. As a church we chose to put it on a public website. It was not marked as confidential and so presumably as a public document it can be discussed. Moreover, I would suggest that what has happened over the last few days has been really good - we have had opportunity to discuss the paper, to study it and review it. We've given the paper a really good airing rather than limit ourselves to the brief 15 minute of presentation, discussion, ratification which can sometimes happen. What is wrong with good old fashioned democracy for goodness sake? Whyever isn't it alright to talk about things openly and honestly just as long as we maintain respect for different points of view.
Secondly, the Methodist Recorder has had a two page spread about one of the other papers - the proposal that Methodism has a president and two co-presidents (one lay and one diaconal) and that these serve for a period of three years. (Our present system is to have one president and one vice-president both serving for one year). Why would it be OK for an independent paper to seek to sway the minds of the Methodist people about that through the way it reports and selects what is included but not OK for another form of media to discuss another paper? This doesn't make sense.
Thirdly, the whole point of the conversation is that the paper is seeking to bring a conversation to an end rather to open it up. The paper is marked for decision. But, as Dave Faulkner and others have noted, there seems to have been little attempt to have an open conversation about this paper - it comes from pretty high up within the structures of the Methodist Church rather than out of the grassroots blogging community. In other words, this is legislation from above - and that kind of legislation often needs longer to be assimilated into all levels of the organisation - much better to have public assent that hierarchical imposition.
Fourthly, as someone who commented on my blog said the other day, there is the danger this could make us look a little silly. In the week after the Pope urged his priests to blog (or not - read +Nick) and the British Social Attitudes Survey showed that fewer and fewer people are getting the Christian message at all (see David Keen), the Methodist Church may, unintentionally I believe, be narrowing the involvement of its staff and office holders in the world of social media. As far as I am concerned that cannot be. We need a church which embraces social media, which seeks to share the Good News of the Gospel in every form, which seeks to publish the name of Jesus through Twitter, through Facebook, through MSN and Google-wave. A church which does not place limits on the Gospel but rather sends the Gospel on its way through these means and others.
Whatever happens on Monday, I do hope that the end result is a boost for social media within the Methodist Church and that it provides a fresh impetus for that church's engagement with an increasingly consciously irreligious Britain.