The Flight From Conversation At/About General Conference 2012


Just a few, potentially unconnected thoughts:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness…” (2 Timothy 2:24-25a)

Why is there so much interest in the Twitter-verse?  Social media is great in many ways, but producing quality, in-depth conversation is not its chief good.  Why is there so much concern for what folks are Tweeting about the proceedings?  Adam Hamilton, apparently unhurt by but still concerned about the ire being thrown around during his presentation recently, met with young delegates to address their concerns. He spoke pointedly about the dangers of social media, and how easy it is to make someone look good or foolish based on what we preachers would call prooftexting.  He lamented how snark has replaced honest conversation.

Sherry Turkle of MIT recently recflected,

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

At and around GC there seems to be little reflecting, lots of reaction; little conversation, much activism.  Attempts at “Holy Conversations,” some quarters report, failed.  I doubt a conversation will ever be holy so long as folks cannot bear to hear a contrary opinion without running to feelings police.  This may sound unnecessarily harsh, but I don’t intend it to be.  It is more a concern for the power play that is the “hurt feelings” routine.  I think I even read about a bishop saying they were hurt because someone else was hurt.  Where does it end?  I think, more often than we would care to admit, the claim to hurt feelings in church gatherings large and small is a power play that should not always be taken at face value.

And why are the young delegates and young clergy being coddled so much?  For the record, I’m allowed to say this, as one of the few under-30 pastors in the church these days.  Why are we so interesting?  I want to know what old, experienced pastors think.  I want to know what leaders think, people who have been around a while.  I suppose I am not a good enough American, because at the end of the day I don’t think everyone’s voice has remotely the same merit.  In some churches everyone defers to the old guys with the long beards and funky hats.  We seem to be running the opposite direction: the people with the youngest, hippest audience, or those with the largest twitter following, are determining how we go about this work of “holy conferencing.” 

I’m not sure there will be much faith left to pass on if the future of the church is dependent upon what a million 19-year-olds can fit into 120 characters at a time.  If we were praying as ardently as we were Tweeting, we’d look more like a church recognizable to Jesus, the apostles, and John Wesley.


4 thoughts on “The Flight From Conversation At/About General Conference 2012”

  1. Refreshing.

    I get the impression that older generations coddle the young because they represent the few faithful of a demographic that has largely left the church. They’re afraid that we’ll leave. (My observations aren’t based on the Methodist church, but I imagine they’re widely applicable.)

  2. When you can’t argue the facts, you try to argue the law. When you can’t argue the law, then you try emotion. Unfortunately, that sounds like what happened with the discussion about human sexuality and changing our ordination standards at General Conference.

    I have to admit to feeling hurt about asking people at my church to give in order to pay our apportionments in full when I know that the adjustments that were supposed to happen when the Conference apportionment formula changed haven’t kicked in. When I know that we are subsidizing other churches that are choosing not to pay their apportionments. I am hurt when our Conference sacrifices to pay their full apportionments but winds up subsidizing other conferences like Mississippi that aren’t paying theirs in full. It is hurtful to realize that we are subsidizing the Western Jurisdiction which barely pays enough into the Episcopal Fund to pay for their own bishops and pays nothing for the retirees or the Central Conference bishops. But, it seems that some pain is more important than other pain.

  3. I think it is perfectly reasonable to feel pain at any number of things; life is hurtful. To resort to hurt in place of argument is, I think, deeply problematic. Thank you for stopping by.

    1. I’m hopeful that you understood my comment to be a reflection on the constant invoking of perceived pain as a substitute for rational argument. We can feel pain about many things, but we need to make sure our discussions are based on facts.

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