I don’t have much time today, either to post or to interact with comments. I’m in a week in which I’ve got a meeting every night, Monday through Thursday, then have to go to Des Moines for a Saturday meeting and fly to Ft. Worth later that day. Unless we have a snow day, I’m not going to be around much at SBC Voices. Hope some of my contributors will put some stuff in the queue for us to read!
I’d just like to make an observation about SBC life today. It’s a new world, folks, and we can love it or hate, but we should get used to it.
Some of our more progressive leaders (I mean technologically, not theologically) are making this work for them. Some are lagging behind. But we all need to recognize how things have changed. Here is my point, in a nutshell:
Since the explosion of social media, entities and their leadership are not going to be able to control information as they have in the past.
If the crisis going on at Louisiana College happened 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been a very different thing. There would have been some grousing among the students and faculty, some word of mouth whispers in the SBC, and the administration would have been able to proceed with its plans. But in this social media-driven world, it has been a very different thing. Joshua Breland and Drew Wales publicized the changes being made there on their own sites. A couple of other anonymous sites went up that also trumpeted the actions of the administration. (Frankly, I respect that Joshua and Drew have attached their names to their opinions, even though it looks like the college intends to expel them. They demonstrated the courage of their convictions.) The machinations of the administration of this small Baptist college have become national news.
But this is the new reality, my friends. That which you do privately in your little corner of Louisiana can become national news. A preacher says something stupid and someone gets it on a phone cam and it becomes a viral sensation on YouTube. I’m not a fan of award shows, but I saw a clip of Taylor Swift who had a brief scowl on her face at one of those shows when someone else won the award – that became national news. A few years back, during one of our ecclesiological blog wars, I said something on my personal blog (read by well over a dozen people monthly!) about one of the leaders of the SBC. “That guy kinda scares me,” I said. Suddenly, his name appeared in a comment and he asked me, “What is it about me that scares you?” I had to realize that even on a small, personal blog like mine, nothing was hidden.
Things used to be done in secret. Information could be controlled. Dissenters stood alone. Those who were not in the loop could be quieted and controlled. But that is not the world we live in now. If you do something, someone is going to blog, tweet or Facebook about it. News can go viral. And, because it is done by retweeting and Facebook shares, the information is often more accurate to the original than it used to be. And it’s permanent. The flow of information is a powerful force in today’s world – for good or ill.
1) Keeping secrets is harder than it has ever been.
We would do well to realize that. Organization leaders (schools, associations, state or national conventions, even pastors and churches) need to realize that what they do is under public scrutiny. What you say can be repeated, retweeted and shared until it is known nationally. You have to be on guard all the time.
2) Those of us who are in the information loop need to be responsible.
Blogging is a wonderful mechanism to shine the light in the darkness (where people are trying to hide their deeds from public scrutiny). But blogs can also be the purveyors of gossip, innuendo and even lies. Each of us needs to take more care than we ever have before to guard every word we say. Not only will God hold us accountable for those words (which should be enough) but once your words are public, they are there permanently. I recently read through some of my old blogs and comments. I really wish I could travel back in time and not say some of those stupid things I said. But it’s out there, for good or ill.
I try to avoid rumor-mongering and baseless innuendo. Of course, one man’s fact is another man’s rumor. But when we decide to publicly criticize, we need to make sure that we are ready to be held to account for our words; that our words honor God and are true, as best we can determine.
Because we on blogs now have greater influence, we also have greater responsibility.
3) People in power need to realize the genie is not going back in the bottle.
You are not going to control public opinion and information as you might have done in the past. There are just too many ways for average people to put their opinions out there. You need to give up trying to control opinions and suppress dissent, and just do God’s work with transparency and openness. LifeWay has been a leader in this, and NAMB has done well, too. Instead of bemoaning those awful bloggers, they have tried to connect with us, provide information and answers, and work together with us. I’m sure they are often frustrated by our work, but they have been intentional in embracing the new social media and I think that has been wise.
4) Some need to develop thicker skins.
Years ago, I started writing an online devotional. I sent it out to people by email and had a fairly good response from it. Then, as some of my posts went public, I got a couple of notes of criticism. Someone thought I was wrong. “Please delete me from your list.” I took the criticism so hard that I stopped writing. Through the 7 or 8 years I’ve been blogging, I’ve developed a thicker hide (both figuratively and literally, I guess). I still don’t like to be criticized, but I’ve learned to live with the fact that there are people who don’t like me and never will. You can’t survive as long as I have in blogging if you crumble when someone criticizes you or calls you a name.
I am amazed at how sensitive and thin-skinned some public figures and institutions are. I never was much of a Monty Python fan, but I remember the scene from the Holy Grail in which the knight continues to lose limbs, but claims that there is nothing wrong. “Just a flesh wound.” I think some folks went to the Monty Python school of leadership. No matter how bad things are, deny there’s a problem. Never admit reality! Like Lt. Frank Drebin after the fireworks factory blows up telling onlookers, “Nothing to see here.”
You aren’t perfect. Your institution isn’t perfect. Your church isn’t perfect. Why try to hide that? Why pretend that all is well when everyone knows that it isn’t?
My point today is simple. It’s a new world for information distribution. There are some bad aspects of it and some advantages. That is not my point today. My point is simple – things are different today and if you want to control information and suppress dissent as you did in the past, your job is going to be a lot tougher.