I remember hearing about bloggers for the first time two years ago. They were all the rage at the Democratic National Convention. There were even reports about how much or little their work was influencing events, policy, and thought at the convention. One reporter was almost breathless as the cameras turned toward a man and a laptop. He was blissfully “blogging” away.
I watched as Baptists like Bruce Prescott from <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Oklahoma began to blog. I even jumped in the water this past spring. My blog is devotional in nature, and though enjoyed by many friends, family and church members, it has hardly had any greater effect on the larger Christian community. It has been, for me, cathartic and therapeutic.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
This summer blogs and bloggers became big news in the larger Southern Baptist political world. A candidate, Frank Page, was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Not only was he elected as an “outsider,” much of his victory was attributed to the influence of young bloggers.
It is difficult to quantify how much influence they had. Other factors that seemed to have contributed to his victory include his stance on Calvinism, rejection of a candidate endorsed by Paige Patterson, the late entry of a third candidate and simple geography. Suffice it to say, blogging has now become a part of the Baptist politic.
That trend has now shifted to Texas. A few months ago, I became aware of a couple of blogs written by Texas pastors.
I became interested because one of the bloggers is a former BGCT employee who ran for and was defeated in last year’s presidential race at the annual BGCT convention. The other blog is written by the man who nominated him for office. I actually became aware of the second blog from the first.
Interest in these blogs is being fueled by a controversy involving expenditures of mission money in the Rio GrandeValley area.
I have followed these blogs in recent weeks and have become concerned by some of what I read. I am concerned by the allegations.
I called media people in reliable Baptist media outlets. I called people in the BGCT building. I have shared my concerns about this controversy. I am convinced that a thorough investigation of issues in the valley will occur. I pray for those in leadership. I pray for a clean report. If not, I pray that all actions necessary will be taken to quickly and cleanly rectify this situation. I pray for unyielding courage that will rectify all shortcomings.
If the report is clean, I pray for apologies from all who have taken this task on.
I am also concerned by the tenor and content of what I read in these blogs. Those specific concerns are as follows:
1. Vitriolic and sarcastic language is used in describing behavior or people in leadership roles.
2. Accusations of criminal behavior are being made with very little supporting data.
3. Accusations are being made by rumor, hearsay and innuendo.
4. When people make contradictory responses they are dealt with quickly and harshly.
5. Motives seem unclear. Is the purpose to promote candidates for the next convention or to get to the bottom of a controversy?
6. In some of the information, the potential for abuse of funds precedes the current BGCT administration. The former administration is praised and the current administration is vilified. If it is discovered that the former administration is guilty of mishandling monies, will the blogger use the same energy and resources to ensure that justice is done?
My problem is this: There is no system of accountability for bloggers. Media outlets have editors, and boards, and clearly accepted codes of ethics and behaviors. Bloggers do not. Is there a way to establish an ethical standard for bloggers? Right now bloggers can say whatever they wish, whenever they wish, however they wish, and no one can hold them accountable.
I remember a lecture by T.B. Maston when I was in seminary. His response to a question was simple: “How you do something is as important as what you do.”
We live in a world where the ends justify the means. That is a secular ethic. Is it a biblical or Christian ethic? But it seems to me that the secular media has a better system of accountability that Christian bloggers do at this time. What should such an ethic look like?
1. Blogs should treat people with respect. Derogatory, inflammatory, sarcastic or sensational language should be avoided.
2. Blogs should research facts carefully. All details should be clearly and readily supported by evidence. Simple things like confirming sources or seeing documents personally are musts for bloggers who enter the political arena.
3. Blogs should take great care before making allegations of criminal behavior. These allegations can destroy a person.
4. Motives need to be clearly evaluated and communicated. Strong language which brings about needed reform can be very appropriate. Strong and divisive language which destroys people’s integrity and person should be avoided.
5. Blogs encourage people to respond and dialogue. Those who respond should be allowed to respond without a strong critical response back.
6. If one is to blog in the political arena, one must be willing to go wherever the facts lead and not where they are convenient or self serving.
In writing this, I realize that my own writings might come into question. I am no stranger to Baptist politics. If I have failed to meet my own standards in the past, then I must do better in the future.
When there is no accountability structure in place, it serves us well to put together a system on our own. “How” we say something is as much a reflection of our relationship to Christ as “what” we say.
It is clear in recent writings that others are struggling with these issues.
Rick Davis recently removed a blog because of its negative tone. I applaud that.
In another blog, Wade Burleson took to task the Florida Baptist newspaper. He was correct in doing that. The editorial was inappropriate and poorly written. It was a disappointment to see a mainstream journalist writing with so little sense of appropriate journalism.
A blogger recently wrote that blogs are really for the blogger and not the readers. Personal journals are for writers; blogs are for readers.
The sad truth is this: some recent blogs may have served a purpose in moving for investigations and change in Texas.
The question is this: Is the body of Christ edified when untruths, unfounded allegations, and irresponsible writing is part of the dialogue?
I truly believe that how someone goes about something tells you as much about a person as what they say.
Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston.