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Remembering our Baptism in the age of social media

Remembering our Baptism in the age of social media

Seeking and serving Christ in all people and respecting the dignity of every human being is at the heart of our baptismal covenant in the Episcopal Church.  Although we are a people of Incarnation, sometimes we live excarnately; given the anonymity of the internet and the collapse of contexts on social media, respecting the dignity of every human being in ministry can be more challenging online.

How Episcopalians responded (and continue to respond) online in the wake of a tragedy like the death of cyclist Tom Palermo who was struck by Bishop Heather Cook has, in many ways, exposed a church falling well short of our promises to love in the Way of Jesus. On the heels of a failure of leadership at the General Theological Seminary including the Dean, Faculty, and members of the Board of Trustees enabled by the misuse of social media, it is clear we continue to struggle to live faithfully online.

Tom Ferguson, also known as the Crusty Old Dean, shared his thoughts on social media and the Maryland tragedy here.

Elizabeth Kaeton shares her thoughts on our baptismal promises and how some are responding to the death of Tom Palermo and Bishop Heather Cook here.

Related to these perspectives surrounding the Palermo and Cook tragedy is Keith Voets’ latest blog entry at The Young Curmudgeonly Priest. His piece focuses on how the church, given recent online evidence, misunderstands and does damage to those who suffer from addiction.

posted by Weston Matthews 



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David Allen

Kenneth, many here can tell you from personal experience, the comments here have always been moderated with a heavy hand. That is not new with new leadership or format.

More to this topic, one can post and express anger, but anger that is insulting, judgemental, prejudicial, threatening, libelous, etc, I believe has no place in the conversation.

Kenneth Adams

I have followed this conversation on Episcopal Cafe prayerfully and thoughtfully, but I have not posted until now, because I do not wish to speak in anger or ignorance.

After reading the comments on both the original post about the accident and this post, however, I have started to wonder: What is the point in conversation when many dissenting comments are censored? I have chosen not to post in anger, but others have done so and their comments have been deleted. Is anger not a legitimate response to this tragedy?

Moreover, as a reader adjusting to the new moderators and format, I wonder what the purpose of Episcopal Cafe is to be in the future. I fully respect Elizabeth Keaton’s right to moderate her personal blog (linked in the article) with a heavy hand. But Episcopal Cafe is – at least as I have understood it – a place for debate and discussion. It is not by accident that this story that has garnered the most comments in the past month (on a website that rarely has more than a handful per article). People feel passionately about what happened, and we want to talk about it. I see this talk as positive, even if some of it hurts me personally.

In following the conversation, I have seen several posts removed. Some included negative generalizations about populations within the church, and others included unkind characterizations of Bishop Cook. None included profanity or personal attacks against other posters.

So, in light of the recent turnover of management, I wonder if this might not be an opportunity to visit or re-visit the purpose of Episcopal Cafe itself? I come to this site as a layperson to get a sense of what is going on in the church. I want to hear from outsiders. I want to hear from conservatives. I want to hear dissent. I want to hear what people are thinking, even if it offends me. So is this a site where anything disagreeable is censored, or is it a site where adults are expected to deal with non-profane disagreement as adults?

JC Fisher

“None included profanity”

I guess it depends on your definition of profanity. One comment (by commenter whose name was highly-suggestive of a immature pseudonym) called the Suffragan a name that was, at least, obscene, if not profane. I requested moderation (in a subsequent comment), and it was granted.

I want to hear diverse viewpoints, also, but diversity does not (IMO) mean ad hominems. I could swear I’ve been told before “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”…

Ann Fontaine

Dear Kenneth: please re-read our guidelines for posting. I have been an editor since the beginning of Episcopal Café – nothing has changed. It is just that you did not see when we deleted comments on the old platform. We do not allow unproven possibly libelous comments, attacks on other commenters, profanity, etc. Also people must sign their full name as we find that helps all take responsibility for their words.

Ann Fontaine

Another reflection about how each of us reacts — putting oneself in the shoes of the other:

Donna Hicks

At an Episcopal Peace Fellowship gathering in Nevada in 1999, the then-Bishop of Nevada Stewart Zabriskie said to us that “in renewing our baptismal covenant, the question ‘Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?’ should be met with a stunned silence.”

Randall Stewart

The problem is that the wider community is not going to take well to these discussions. Keaton’s blog comes off as crass in places, and her discussion of Heather Cook’s picture over the wine carafes at her installation last fall is ill informed: those pictures first appeared in the mainstream press, not Anglican blogs.

At present over 2000 people on Facebook are calling for her indictment for homicide. (I’m not one of them.) At the very minimum under Maryland law, she could face 10 years for the hit and run. What needs to be discussed, at least ALONG with forgiveness, is how we are going to respond to ensure the citizens of Maryland that what was once its official church is going to do in the interests of justice. That involves Title IV canons, as well as the Baptismal Covenant.

Randall Stewart

*Wow, that was a poorly written sentence. Let me try again!

What needs to be discussed, at least ALONG with forgiveness and our Baptismal Covenant, is how we, as Maryland’s formerly Established (and still privileged) church will respond in the interests of justice. Heather Cook had the benefits of Episcopal privilege: her father was the Rector of a prominent 1692 parish in downtown Baltimore, and she attended an excellent and well connected private Episcopal school. The perception that the legal treatment of her 2010 DUI was a result of that privilege has been voiced in the community, thought it seems that this is standard Maryland procedure where there are no injuries.

We have to assure the community that we are interested in justice, too. That means talking about Title IV Canons, not simply our Baptismal Covenant.

Nick Porter

And people must remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean that consequences go out the door.

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