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IN DEFENCE OF BLOGGERS

I think it was +Frank Griswold who first grumbled that the internet was making things much more difficult for church leaders. People were discovering what was going on almost instantly and responding, often intemperately to events and occasions.

Recently the Bishop of Southwest Florida called for a moratorium on blogging and the Bishop of Kansas, in his Convention address, took off after nasty conservatives and their frightful blogs. Now the former Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Canon John Peterson has joined the angelic choir. Peterson says:

“The internet allows a decision made by one church to be immediately known by all other provinces. Thus when The Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop, that action was instantly noted around the world and triggered protest from some of the provinces which disapproved on theological grounds. “No longer are we a family in isolation…no longer does it take three months to get a message from New Zealand to the United States or four months to get a letter from Southern Africa,” Canon Peterson said. While faster communication is a positive technological development, at present it is feeding divisive disagreements among provinces, including The Episcopal Church, he said. These disagreements create a splintering lack of unity and lack of harmony.”

I’m put in mind of the church leaders who confronted the invention of printing. The problem with printing presses was that they made information readily available and that information was difficult to control. Knowledge hitherto accessible to a privileged elite was now potentially available to people who learnt to read. And learn to read they did!

Remember the reaction of the diocesan bishops in the Elizabethan Church when puritan scandal-mongers produced the Marprelate Tracts? The author of these scurrilous pamphlets makes David Virtue look like a benign Sunday School teacher. Our own bishops even doubted whether lay people should be allowed to interpret the Bible for themselves. They could read, mark, learn and inwardly digest what they heard and even read. But it was for the Church to teach, the Bible to prove through its authorized pastors. No private judgment please.

Nor let us imagine that news of crisis on our Communion didn’t eventually reach the furthest ends of Empire in the old days. There was such a thing as telegraph. The trial of Bishop Colenso by Bishop Gray of Capetown and his comprovincials in the newly former Church of the Province of Southern Africa was a contributing factor in the calling of the first Lambeth Conference. The issue wasn’t merely that the bishop wrote a book in which he doubted the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. What was being tested was the authority of an autonomous Province to try a bishop who had been appointed by the Crown before the Province was established. The controversy rocked what was becoming known as the Anglican Communion.

When the redoubtable Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar went ballistic because his Evangelical brother bishops in Kenya joined in a celebration of Holy Communion with “nonconformist” missionaries, the whole world knew about it in short order. They called it the ‘Kikuyu Controversy’. Indeed the subject became part of the agenda of the next Lambeth Conference. Weston, a leading Anglo-Catholic went after the Evangelical bishops with a vengeance. Indeed his mischievous predecessor, Bishop Tozer had done something similar while visiting New York in 1873. He complained to the Bishop of New York that the Assistant Bishop of Kentucky, George David Cummins had participated in a pan-protestant Lord’s Supper. The Bishop of New York told Cummins off, and our church had schism on its hands. Soon everyone was taking sides. The Reformed Episcopal Church even spread its wings and flew to England where it survives to this day.

The suggestion that the news that the present Bishop of New Hampshire’s election confirmation by General Convention caused such a stir because of the internet seems to me to be plain daft and a symptom of entrenched conservatism among the powers that be.

Even before the internet there were telephones, telegrams and the apparatus of journalism. News travels. Trying to manage the news is self-defeating. Thinking that something done openly and vocally in the United States won’t be known in Papua New Guinea by tea time is positively medieval.

What about the lacks of civility, the lack of objective truth, even manifest bias among bloggers and compulsive email senders?

I know a priest who is the kindest, most laid back lovely person who, one thinks couldn’t knock the skin of a rice pudding. But get him at a computer and he turns into a monster. He is one of many I’ve known over the years even before the internet and Blogs. I wish this were not so. I wish we could argue fairly, be civil, be objective. We can’t. So sensible, innocent people now get the most extraordinary invective and twaddle in their email boxes. They don’t have to read these things. If they do read them, one hopes they have the ability to sift out the good from the bad, the truth from the twaddle. They also receive good and informative information.

I don’t for a moment think that the free exchange of information or even disinformation makes unity and mission more difficult. It doesn’t seem to in secular society. In fact the media today is much tamer than it was in 19th Century America or 18th Century England. Fewer then read papers, but fewer people existed to read them. Our leaders really shouldn’t worry about an open church and Communion. Certainly American leaders shouldn’t. After all don’t we keep telling the rest of the Anglican Communion that we are so much more democratic and open than they are? We’ve even told them that the Holy Spirit grants to General Convention at least indefectibility, once votes are counted. God is with a majority and God is a democrat, so why can’t God be a blogger too?

(Our younger daughter Megan is now in Thailand working with refugees on the Burma border. You can catch up with her news at http://clavierfamily.blogspot.com.
I start my second four day continuous chemo session on Monday. I feel better than I have in years. Keep those prayers coming.)

2 Responses

  1. you tell ’em — and continuing prayers.

  2. I agree that we cannot and should not do anything about the “problem” posed by the Internet. On the other hand, I do believe that the Internet increases friction among Anglicans across the globe. The problem is less about “news” getting from one place to another as it is about a new kind of interactivity. We now have a sort of global newspaper that anyone can read and that anyone can contribute to. This encourages immediate responses, not prayerful reflection, and it encourages rapid, co-ordinated action across oceans that has never before been possible. Moreover, just as governments often inveigh against foreign developments as a way of diverting attention from domestic problems, certain provinces now seem to be using developments in The Episcopal Church in a similar way.

    We can no more resist the influence of the Internet than we can delay the rising of the sun. We could discuss how it can foster understanding, rather than exacerbate conflict, however.

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