Andrew Brown– Justin Welby’s Twitter sermon sounds like a plea for ecclesiastical discipline

The Archbishop of Canterbury has posted a blog warning Christians not to tweet their disagreements. Electronic communication, he says, lacks the human touch, and in particular the kinds of modulations of tone and the face-to-face aspects of relationships which make it possible to disagree productively.

“Social media does not show tears in the eye, a hand on the arm when saying something painful, body language that speaks of inner turmoil, deep distress ”“ even gentle respect. It is simply there ”“ usually forever,” he writes.

This seems at first sight ungrateful: there must be people who have turned to God because the internet made them lose their faith in humanity. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the schism in the Anglican Communion would have happened much more slowly and perhaps not at all without the help of the internet. Quite possibly the Reformation would never have caught on without the printing press, either. Nothing so promotes self-righteous outrage like the honest communication of sincerely held beliefs.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, --Justin Welby, --Social Networking, Archbishop of Canterbury, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

5 comments on “Andrew Brown– Justin Welby’s Twitter sermon sounds like a plea for ecclesiastical discipline

  1. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    [blockquote]there is no doubt that the schism in the Anglican Communion would have happened much more slowly and perhaps not at all without the help of the internet.[/blockquote]
    Probably, if you consider the slow, though no less relentless pace at which the Colenso Affair unfolded. Consider what impact the introduction of more time might have had, for example if PB’s Griswold and Shori had had a sea voyage back from their respective Primates Meetings to reflect, instead of stepping off a plane and doing a complete about face from what they had promised their fellow Primates hours beforehand, would that enforced time for reflection upon consequences have led to less conflict? We will never know.

    What we do know is that the genie is out of the bottle. Thanks to the internet, twitter, and youtube, a massacre in Syria, an execution in Iran or the destruction of a church in Egypt will within a few minutes be all over the world. Elites do not like that; they are no longer able to spin events or deny them when the evidence is stored on their listeners’ phones. The ability of the ordinary man or woman to question their leaders’ actions has never been greater, even as the technological ability to oppress the population has never been greater.

    In Anglican Communion terms, if someone preaches from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, tells an audience that the only god is that within you, or gives an interview that undermines other members of the church, or is pictured in unsuitable company then indeed it is highly likely that that will impact the Anglican Communion as word spreads pretty much instantly. It is not necessary to engage in private admonition or correspondence about what is a matter of public policy.

    I think where there is a line to be drawn is between an individual’s actions in their public work, such as a Presiding Bishop who proceeds to consecrate having just promised not to do so, and their private and family life, except so far as they themselves have put that into the public domain, and where the disparity between their private actions and public pronouncements are so marked.

    But whatever I think, the scrutiny of the social media is just a fact of life now, and while ecclesiastical elites may dislike the public accountability they are now subject to it in real time; that is just the way things are and will probably remain. I believe that accountability is a good thing, not for abuse of individuals, but for the good of the church that policy actions are subject to such scrutiny.

  2. Jeremy Bonner says:

    For that matter, the exchanges in the religious periodical press of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were frequently marked by a vigour that might by some be considered uncharitable.

    I’m reminded of the following exchange between Eleanor Bold and Francis Arabin in [i]Barchester Towers[/i]:

    [i]”I never saw anything like you clergymen,” said Eleanor; “You are always thinking of fighting each other.”

    “Either that,” said he, “or else supporting each other. The pity is that we cannot do the one without the other. But are we not here to fight? Is not ours a church militant? What is all our work but fighting, and hard fighting, if it be well done?”

    “But not with each other.”

    “That’s as it may be. [b]The same complaint which you make of me for battling with another clergyman of our own church the Mohammedan would make against me for battling with the error of a priest of Rome. Yet, surely, you would not be inclined to say that I should be wrong to do battle with such as him. A pagan, too, with his multiplicity of gods, would think it equally odd that the Christian and the Mohammedan should disagree.[/b]”

    “Ah! But you wage your wars about trifles so bitterly.”

    “Wars about trifles,” said he, “are always bitter, especially among neighbours. [b]When the differences are great, and the parties comparative strangers, men quarrel with courtesy. What combatants are ever so eager as two brothers?”[/b]

    “But do not such contentions bring scandal on the church?”

    “More scandal would fall on the church if there were no such contentions. We have but one way to avoid them — by that of acknowledging a common head of our church, whose word on all points of doctrine shall be authoritative. Such a termination of our difficulties is alluring enough. It has charms which are irresistible to many, and all but irresistible, I own, to me.”

    “You speak now of the Church of Rome?” said Eleanor.

    “No,” said he, “not necessarily of the Church of Rome; but of a church with a head. Had it pleased God to vouchsafe to us such a church our path would have been easy. But easy paths have not been thought good for us.” He paused and stood silent for awhile, thinking of the time when he had so nearly sacrificed all he had, his powers of mind, his free agency, the fresh running waters of his mind’s fountain, his very inner self, for an easy path in which no fighting would be needed; and then he continued:

    “What you say is partly true: our contentions do bring on us some scandal. [b]The outer world, though it constantly reviles us for our human infirmities and throws in our teeth the fact that being clergymen we are still no more than men, demands of us that we should do our work with godlike perfection. There is nothing god-like about us: we differ from each other with the acerbity common to man; we triumph over each other with human frailty; we allow differences on subjects of divine origin to produce among us antipathies and enmities which are anything but divine.[/b] This is all true. But what would you have in place of it? There is no infallible head for a church on earth. This dream of believing man has been tried, and we see in Italy and in Spain what has come of it. Grant that there are and have been no bickerings within the pale of the Pope’s Church. Such an assumption would be utterly untrue, but let us grant it, and then let us say which church has incurred the heavier scandals.”[/i]

  3. WestJ says:

    Matthew 10:27 says ” What I tell you in darkness, speak in the daylight: and what you hear in the ear, proclaim upon the housetops”.
    I take that to mean that there shall be no secrets in the Gospel of Christ.
    The internet has allowed information to flow down to the everyday parishioners. While it is true there are some shrill voices on both sides, I believe that the availability of knowledge is a good thing. Who knows, if the outrages of Pike and Spong had been more widely known at the time they were new and the church more conservative, then true discipline might have occurred and we might not be in this mess. Of course, that would suppose that the House of Bishops would have shown some spine…

  4. driver8 says:

    Dear Lord. We are such a risk averse culture, so fearful. Cultures in which robust polemic is practiced – such as significant parts of Scripture and pretty much all the Church Fathers – use polemic, in part, to demonstrate a certain sort of competence and to demand others demonstrate it too.

    This sort of public demonstration of skill, could be and was entirely compatible with cultures that were vastly less individualistic and isolated than contemporary western societies.

    In other words it’s not only possible, but in fact was often true of our predecessors, that they combined a robust and energetic delight in polemic with a dense and intimate communal life.

    Ironically we have neither.

  5. MichaelA says:

    The By Line reads: “At a time of unrest for the church, it’s no wonder the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t want the church’s dirty linen aired online”. Of course not, particularly because a lot of it is the ABC’s dirty linen. In other words, he personally has been copping a lot of the criticism, and therefore its natural that he would want to limit the use of that medium.
    [blockquote] “On the other hand, there is no doubt that the schism in the Anglican Communion would have happened much more slowly and perhaps not at all without the help of the internet. Quite possibly the Reformation would never have caught on without the printing press, either.” [/blockquote]

    Andrew Brown is not the first one to draw that analogy, and it is a very good one. I am sure that Frank Griswold, Katie Schori, Rowan Williams and many others have cursed the internet many times, just as establishment church leaders cursed the printing press in the early 16th century. But it is here, and it allows everyone to work out what is going on very quickly.

    The other aspect is that the internet empowers everyone – not just clergy, and not just the small group of lay people that always hold influential positions in every church. As PM rightly observes at #1, it means that even those beyond the church “elites” have the chance to know what is going on, and to comment on it. The elites find that unsettling.