P911 means in IM-speak that a Parent is looking over your shoulder (also PWOMS)…that means “watch what you say until dad’s away.” Clergy often may feel this problem as the grapple with how to express themselves on social networks with the same tact and care they do in real life.
Twice on this blog I’ve written about how clergy don’t need to have a “public” persona and a “private” persona on Facebook but can use its privacy controls to use one persona effectively (1)(2). I think such a system makes it easier for clergy to be consistent in their personas and use social media in its most effective form.
However, the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church doesn’t see it that way and has put policies in place that allow them to police candidates for ministry’s online personas.
Rob Rynders has alerted the blogosphere of one UMC Board of Ordained Ministry that is requiring its candidates for ministry and those who are in the process of ordination (provisional members) to open all their social networks to the BOM to review.
Here’s the Board’s “MySpace, Facebook and Website Disclosure Agreement” as uploaded by Rob.
I agree to allow the Kentucky Annual Conference to examine any and all MySpace, Facebook, or other blog and website accounts that I may have. I have added the Kentucky Annual Conference as a friend on these sites. If I do not have a MySpace, Facebook, or other website account at this time, if at any time I should create one of these accounts, I agree to add the Kentucky Annual Conference as a friend. I agree that access to any part of these accounts will not be blocked to the Kentucky Annual Conference. I understand that any information of a questionable nature on these sites that are written and/or posted by me, could affect my status as a Candidate/Resident in the Ordination process with the Kentucky Annual Conference. Further, I also understand that my Barnabas Team will regularly check these sites for inappropriate content. I agree to and understand that material that would be deemed questionable in light of the Social Principles and Doctrinal Standards of the United Methodist Church or that would show lack of judgment in understanding the standards and ethics of a United Methodist clergyperson will be determined by the Board of Ordained Ministry and my assigned Barnabas Team.
…I agree to the terms stated above and have added the Kentucky Annual Conference (if applicable) as a friend on these sites as of the date of this agreement.
The account in question that clergy candidates would be required to friend has over 171 friends, most in the past month. Chris Wickersham has tracked it down to an Administrative Assistant for the BOM…a layperson (not on the Board itself) would thus be responsible for perusing clergy’s postings for “inappropriate content.” Wow.
I have a few thoughts about this.
- This is not a “policing” effort because it is an impossible request to police. The privacy features of Facebook means that you can hide individual posts from individual people (click the lockbox at the bottom-right corner sometime and play with it). Thus, you would still be able to have private thoughts from a BOM account and they would have zero way of knowing.
- This is not an “online awareness” educational effort because people already know. Looking at the last 10 people the account has friended, every single one of them has their privacy set so that non-friends can’t see their wall (or at least status updates/links). Smart and appropriate…clearly at least those clergy don’t need education on “what not to put on Facebook.” So education of “watch what you write” is not the reason.
- This seems to be an effort to exert control and instill fear. It really seems like a power-trip OR a policy set in place because of a candidate who flamed out fabulously because of online writings (Chad Holtz-ish?). Either way, it feels too overbearing to let slip by.
While I applaud integrity and exhibit it in my own word and deed, integrity enforced by fear is not what we as clergy are called to preach and teach and I reject efforts that put that on the clergy. There’s enough fear in the system already: fear of the future, fear of upsetting the wrong people, fear of speaking prophetically.
Personally, I think every business and church needs a water cooler: the place where people gather to complain about their bosses. It’s the pressure-release valve that allows the individual to vent in healthy ways. Does that mean Facebook is all about pastors griping about their congregation? Of course not, I rarely see that and I know a LOT of pastors. But pastors (just like employees) need space to express themselves and release…to hold them accountable via an illegally-created online profile in an impossible-to-police method is not the way.
For a church to be prophetic, it must allow space for thoughtful musings. What would the BOM do if they saw pastors updating their statuses saying they “struggle” with Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’…would that become a mark on their chart? What if they shared a link for immigration reform…would that become a question of whether they heart America? What if people like me have really weird humor…would that become an issue?
I realize there are some pastors who are not like me and have identical personas in real life and online. It took me years to figure out how to do that and I continue to struggle with it daily. I would have nothing to fear from the BOM reading my profile. But I would be annoyed by it and I protest out of fear for those clergy who are not digital natives and might make mistakes that would cost them their ordination because of a power-trippy board.
(Image credit: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” from Monty Python)