Are we impoverished as a Church when we actively seek to limit or control a means of grace?
Conferring was once considered a valuable means of grace, an opportunity to discern your will as your people, inspired by your Spirit, debated your purposes. Its a dying art however, and few these days are prepared to really confer.. to state their own opinion and listen as attentively for the contra-opinion, to be open to being transformed by what they hear as something of your will and your truth is revealed in the debate - regardless of whether it is on matters of faith or Church order.
I think God, that we become a smaller people somehow - we invest too much of ourselves in our opinions and hence are unwilling to be challenged or contradicted. The idea of 'being wrong' offends us, rather than opens us up to the opportunity of learning something new. Image - personal or corporate - seems all important and bizarrely, 'not being right' seems to be considered a failure and provokes shame, or anger - all of which closes us down to the potential implicit in still having something to learn - especially when the something is something about You!
The history of the Church is, after all, a history of conferring - of debate - of seemingly wild and opposing opinions being thrashed out in councils, nailed to doors, proclaimed from grave-stones - and at one time even argued out at Synods and Conferences.. The means of conferring have included every possible means of communication - from the spoken word to the printed.. from great rhetorical speeches to tuppeny tracts.. Our conversations about you, and about your will, have required great investments of time, effort and energy. The more important the topic - the wider the debate needed to be.
But these days, the Church seems to think that the more important the topic is - the more important it is to get it 'right' before the debate happens!
Challenging what others think is 'right' is then seen as 'wrong' instead of as conferring.
Holding a contrary opinion to a stated/considered/official opinion is then deemed somehow disloyal, rather than potentially a means of grace..
And so conferring stops..
And a diminishing Church is diminished still further.
Which is why I joined the blogging set - to be a part of your conferring Church, to play my own part in opening up a small space where conversations on matters of life and death, faith and order - and yes, the Methodist Church of Great Britain could still be had. I wanted to be free to promote and participate in Christian conferring if only via the on-line debates on twitter and facebook on subjects as diverse but essential as the Bible and the media, racism, pioneer ministers, same-sex marriages, emergent Church, politics, the role of Mary.. etc etc
So how do I receive the paper currently before the Methodist Council on social media.
Sadly, as inevitable.
I quote the best part..
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.
Healthy and active online and social media are, in my opinion, those that promote Christian conferring - where robust debate for and against 'official' positions can be had. The current bloggosphere conversations about this are evidence of what I mean.
Richard Hall thinks its a sensible move forward David Hallam, is dismayed at the lack of understanding of social media; David Faulkner sits somehwere between these two and Pete Philips is concerned about fostering a more positive view of social media.
For my part God, I guess I would simply remind those who might feel stifled by the guidelines to remember their responsibility to the Church - to make available those means of grace that enable us all to grow in holiness.. We are called by you to confer with one another - as widely as possible - as often as possible - in whatever means possible - that is a higher responsibility than mere obedience to corporate loyalty.
We have a shared responsibility as the Church to hold the Church accountable - not for getting it right or wrong - but for opening up those debates that will enable your people to be moved by your Holy Spirit to participate in the conversations you want us to have so that we may discern your will.
If the guidelines ever became rules..
If a minister was ever disciplined for tweeting out of time...
If the contrary voice was ever fully silenced..
Then I suspect it will be time to be honest about having ceased to be a Church that believes in the means of grace.