A bad.hack (read more about it here) is a manipulation of a Christian system either using illicit means to achieve an end, or achieving goals that leave the system worse off and less open than before. Read on for the hack!
MethoFolks, listen up. This is a big post. I’ve got plenty of links and information regarding the PhoneGate at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, a controversy surrounding the gifts of cell phones to African delegates from a Renewal group with an implicit exchange for their votes.
Read the UMNS news service report today on a Renewal Group handing out free cell phones to delegates with guides on who to vote for for Judicial Council.
Delegates and church officials attending General Conference are wondering if democratic processes have been compromised because a renewal group provided some African and some Filipino delegates with cell phones.
The Renewal and Reform Coalition created myriad conversations among delegates, church leaders and visitors after they learned that the Confessing Movement, Good News/Renew, Transforming Congregations and UMAction provided free cell phones to more than 150 African delegates to use during the General Conference.
Some delegates and officials expressed concern that the coalition is trying to sway the votes of African delegates who are typically more conservative than their U.S. counterparts. They fear the coalition might use the phones to offer suggestions on how to vote on particular issues.
INCREDIBLE!! They purchased cell phones and gave them to delegates, “no string attached.”
I’m not the only one smelling the stink. Here’s a relevant response from an ethics monitoring team:
A joint monitoring team from the Commission on the Status and Role of Women and the Commission on Religion and Race said the giveaway “is inappropriate behavior and it destroys community. We have gathered for Christian conferencing, which requires trust, honesty, openness and respect. Whenever there is an imbalance of power relationships with the expectation of reciprocity, this behavior gives the appearance of paternalism, manipulation, exploitation and of course, racism.”
However, it seems to get much worse!
The GC2008 blog linked to the Daily-Kos affiliated blog StreetProphets post with video and images of the offending incidents that claims the cell phones came with a list of people to vote for, and information that who to vote for will be text-messaged to delegates during conference.
Here’s the video (from StreetProphets):
However, StreetProphets erroneously credits the IRD solely with this scheme, but it was a joint effort among all the Renewal groups. I was handed a Good News written response to the controversy which claims “a cell phone is just a cell phone.”
It is demeaning to the African Delegates to think that a gift of a cell phone would change their vote. They are highly educated, aware of issues, and supremely principled in their beliefs; and to think that the gift of a cell phone would change their view is demeaning to them. …the Rev. James Heidinger, president and published of Good News, [said] “We believe that equal access to techno0logy helps create a more just and equitable playing field.”
Finally, Will Green, a delegate from New England, also mentioned this:
Another member of the New England delegation – Ralph – was granted the floor for a moment of personal privilege and requested the Commission on General Conference form an Ethics Committee to address such crises as this. It was seconded and passed by a hand count (in other words, it wasn’t close)!
That sounds brilliant. You need an established body of people to decide whether censure or condemnation is needed in an official capacity. Personally, I think it should have happened at GC2004 when the renewal groups said the UMC was splitting and that they speak for the church….
But I digress. This is hacking Christianity, right? So, what kind of hack is this?
- An offering of hospitality to delegates whose international citizenship would make it difficult to purchase a cell phone?
- Or a gift with no explicit strings attached, but with the means and method to influence votes at General Conference?
I guess I’m troubled mostly by the text-message thing: to send text messages on the floor to delegates while they are supposed to be in Holy Conferencing and listening only to the Spirit of God seems really antithetical to the whole thing.
If that proves true, then I would call this a bad.hack, one that uses a system of acceptable gifts and abuses those acceptable gifts to influence delegates while they are supposed to be listening to the Spirit of God. There’s some more debate of this here on Matthew Kelley’s blog.
But still, giving of “gifts” especially to those from third-world (hate that term) and developing nations (better) just reeks of, in the words of the UMNS article, colonist mentality that gives gifts with an implicit exchange of reciprocity. That sort of mentality has no place in a global Methodist church.
Sigh. I’m torn. What are your thoughts?
- Is a cell phone just a cell phone? A gift of hospitality to our overseas friends?
- Or is a cell phone an abuse of a system that seduces good Christian people to listen to a cell phone rather than the Spirit of God?