The establishment just doesn’t get it. Or, maybe they do, and they just don’t want to publicly admit that they get it. Get what, you ask? The role that new media — Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. — play in keeping the light shining brightly on those who would love to act in secret. It’s not that leaders like Mark Driscoll or those at “conservative” Liberty University want to avoid the spotlight. In fact, many celebrity pastors and well-known Christian leaders go out of their way to stay in the spotlight.
But, when it comes to questioning their decisions or their judgment, it’s amazing how desperate some leaders become to avoid the sunshine of true openness and transparency. Many leaders, including those within the SBC, like to talk a good game when it comes to openness and transparency, but their definitions are usually along the lines of President Obama’s definitions of openness and transparency. In other words, not so much.
Liberty University, the school once known for its conservative/fundamentalist theology — but as of late known for its embrace of Mark Driscoll, the controversial Seattle pastor who no one would mistake for a fundamentalist — took some fairly unusual steps (here and here) last week to try to silence reports from new media regarding a vote by LU’s Board of Trustees in relation to Driscoll’s upcoming appearance on the Lynchburg, VA campus.
Peter Lumpkins, in his post “Liberty University trustees unanimous — Mark Driscoll is not welcome,” reported that LU’s Trustees voted
“to unequivocally express that LU trustees disapprove of Mark Driscoll’s invitation to speak in chapel and provide a marriage conference based on his unacceptable views stated in Real Marriage. A second motion indicated the formation of a “vetting” council for future speakers at Liberty University, a council predominately made up of sitting trustees.”
For those who have difficultly reading and comprehending the English language — which apparently includes leaders at LU (here and here) as well as many within the blogosphere — Peter did not report that the Trustees approved a motion that Mark Driscoll was “not welcome at Liberty University” nor did he report that Driscoll was, in fact, not coming. As far as anyone knows at the present time, Mark Driscoll will still speak at LU’s Convocation and he will still hold his “Real Marriage” Seminar. A question that Peter and others continue to ask is, “Why was Mark Driscoll ever invited to speak to students at one of our nation’s premier conservative Baptist institutions?” Of course, after inviting noted Mormon Glenn Beck to give the Commencement address in 2010, we should not be surprised by any invitations that LU extends. While Liberty is a private, Christian university and not subject to the same standards as public universities and colleges, aren’t they nevertheless still subject to follow Biblical standards? Something about light and darkness not partnering together. I think that’s in the Bible somewhere.
It is those questions — and questions like them — that establishment leaders simply loathe. From megachurch pastors to Presidents of Christian Universities to Entity Heads of SBC Mission Boards, some leaders would rather conduct most — if not all — of their business behind closed doors. Like politicians of a different era, some of today’s leaders would rather make most decisions out of the glaring lights of the media or the “prying” eyes of the rabble, who, after all, are not that educated to really know what’s best. This philosophy smacks of elitism. And, elitism is not confined to the halls of Congress or the classrooms of academia. It can even show up in the pulpits and meeting rooms of churches and religious organizations across America.
On every level, elitists and those in power hate the disinfecting rays of sunshine that penetrate secrecy. Executive Sessions, Off-the-Record Meetings, and Sealed Records are the order of the day. Obfuscation and “lawyerese” become common-place, even among religious and spiritual leaders. When information seeps out and the establishment finds itself powerless to stop the flow, then the rules of the game are changed. Leaders try to reassert power through intimidation and spiritualese. Charging someone with “gossip” or “sowing discord among the brethren” seem to be the weapons of choice for those who would try to control (i.e., silence) the debate before it ever gets started.
A funny thing about new media: it cannot be controlled. Even those who have wielded new media to gain advantages over their opponents suddenly find themselves the recipients of those same tactics. Instead of acknowledging that the playing field has been leveled, those in power try to double down and institute rules that try to harness the “beast.” But, try as they might, they soon find that the beast will not be tamed. And, if there is one thing that will rile the beast up more than any other, it is hypocrisy by those who have used the beast of new media to gain power, but who now want to limit its use for only “good” purposes from this point forward. Of course, those now in power want to redefine that which is “good” civil discourse and that which is “bad” civil discourse. The “bad” would henceforth fall outside the bounds of acceptable debate and dialogue. President Obama has been a master at this, but the new media will not let him get away with rewriting the rules of engagement.
Some within religious life would likewise love to rewrite the rules. However, for Christians involved in new media (or any media), the only rules that should apply to reporting and posting are those found in Scripture. However, no one could or should impose their own guidelines on all bloggers. That makes about as much sense as letting MSNBC or CNN impose journalistic ethics and standards on Fox News. And, when some try to twist Scripture to stifle debate or resort to “totalitarian niceness” to silence their opponents, that will usually lead to more questions being asked.
Fear and weakness leads many in power to try to shut down debate. But, in the marketplace of ideas — whether in religion, politics, culture, or business — the truth will ultimately prevail. Those who are confident of their positions will welcome the bright light of new (and old) media, enabling healthy and vigorous debate in a free and unfettered marketplace. That’s what Peter Lumpkins and others in new media try to do. I count myself among that tribe. No one will do it perfectly. Mistakes will be made. But, I’ll take that freedom over totalitarian niceness every day of the week and especially twice on Sundays!