An open response to UMInsight

conversationSince this will be about conversation, I find it helpful to define the term so that we are all on the same page. Here we go then (from Merriam-Webster) “an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people : the act of talking in an informal way: something that is similar to a spoken conversation”.

I am not Joel Watts. I wanted to say that off the bat so that there is no confusion. I do however blog here with him and am privileged to call him my brother, not only in faith, but also in affection. Joel and I, contrary to popular belief, have many differing thoughts on theology, on more than one issue. We have figured out how to have conversations about those differences. If someone is curious about how that works, here it is…you are respectful of one another and the differences about theological points, you work to support those points, you affirm your shared faith in the creeds and what the church has taught since it’s founding, and ultimately you respect the process of the church and also the authority of the church. Doesn’t get a lot easier than that. I believe is a personal statement of faith, and is vitally important to the Christian life, but we to often in our pride and arrogance neglect that we believe, the statement of faith of the church, is what we have been baptized into and is a much more potent and powerful statement. We can have any conversation because we recognize that. If we are focused on “I believe” there is division, if we instead focus on “we believe,” there is unity. Joel and I can have any conversation not because of “I believe”, but because of “we believe”.

It was suggested in UMInsight, a publication not officially affiliated with the UMC much like this blog is not officially affiliated with the UMC, that certain conservatives have now made the habit of disengaging from “the conversation”. (I am not exactly certain which conversation we, as while not mentioned personally, I do blog here with Joel, have disengaged from.) I feel confident in speaking for Joel in regards to being conservative. I have my conservative evangelical membership card, but just barely as the club regularly threatens to take it away. I promise, Joel is not conservative. He might properly be described as moderate, perhaps even liberal, but not conservative. He could quite rightly be described as orthodox (which is to say adhering to the creeds), and some days I think that he may be ready to convert to Catholicism, but conservative? Nope. I am not a person who finds labels, as a general rule, damaging. They are quite useful in identifying groups of people with similar beliefs. The only way that Joel could properly be described as conservative is if the word has come to mean simply “not progressive”. Here is the first problem with whatever conversation it is claimed we have disengaged from. Rampant speculation of what the perspective of someone else is. Of the others mentioned by UMInsight, I do not know them well enough to make any statements about them other than to say that I am convinced they are dedicated to the God and Christ through the UMC.

[tweetthis] Joel is not conservative.[/tweetthis]

UMInsight, it the op-ed offered, admitted to “advocacy journalism”, which I understand to mean that it is not objective and transparently adopts a non-objective viewpoint. There is nothing at all wrong with that, I merely wanted to point out that they are not objective. Neither are we at this blog to be honest. I do not know what UMInsight officially advocates for to be perfectly honest. The statement made on their website is as follows:

United Methodist Insight seeks to provide a broad range of information and perspectives for concerned United Methodists and decision-makers that will affect the future of The United Methodist Church.

What I do know is that some of the regular contributors to UMInsight have made a habit of inflammatory statements toward many conservative UMC bloggers (please note that I do not believe all they identify as ‘conservative’ to be so). That is not conversation, it is accusation. It is assuming the motives of people you do not know, then assigning rather unflattering language to them. If you read with regularity any blogs, you have read all about inquisitors, excommunications, etc. Funny thing is that none of it is actually true. Of course others will claim it to be. I do not know what UMInsight advocates for, but I do know what this blog, and the others named by UMInsight advocate for, and that is unity in the UMC through our shared doctrinal standards and the rules as well as the process for changing those things that can be changed.

A quick aside for just a moment, in the twitter exchange that was posted by UMInsight between Joel and UMInsight, I found it rather simple really. Joel asked for something to be removed. Considering that he wrote it, I do not find that odd at all. When it came to a head, he provided reasons for wishing it removed. Those reasons were “unWesleyan doctrine and slanderous personal attacks on the site”. Those seem like valid reasons, and having read some of the material published by UMInsight, I can only concur. Funny thing about slander is that it really can not be corrected. It is an accusation once made that stays. It is ugly and mean spirited. It should have no place. It damages the reputations of those it is leveled against. It goes far beyond the ever popular ad hominem, and delves straight to character assignation. One attacks a person’s character, the other seeks to damage and eventually destroy it. Why would someone want to be associated with a publication that allows this toward them or their friends? I want to make clear here that those things do not necessarily reflect the opinions of those who sponsor UMInsight, but it must be asked why they are allowed to appear there, and why regular contributors to the publications have a history of attacking any and everything associated with orthodox faith or a traditional interpretation of scripture. In one appeal from a regular contributor to UMInsight, the statement was made “And now we have yet another voice, citing both “unWesleyan doctrine” – I’m honestly not sure what that means; are all United Methodists supposed to adhere to a narrow Wesleyan theology?” The short answer is yes, we are. We have unchangeable standards of faith that I dare say we all should abide by. As for what unWesleyan doctrine means, it is fairly self explanatory…doctrine that falls outside of the Wesleyan tradition.

I do not think it unfair to describe the UMInsight as a more progressive leaning publication. This is not said as an insult, simply a description. In the past few weeks alone, it has published pieces calling people inquisitors, claiming (wrongfully) that someone has been excommunicated (I don’t think that means what you think it means), etc. In the piece, you ask for help in figuring out how to have these conversations, and in some of the responses you received in various forums, you can find things like how shocked people are that we “disengaged”, how progressives are so much more willing to talk than conservatives, the accusations (repeated for the hundredth time) calling people inquisitors and claiming more unflattering things, etc. If you want to have a conversation, perhaps it is wise to first stop allowing things like this to be said unchallenged. As for the rest, I outlined above how two of us (Joel and I) who share differing viewpoints on several things have conversation, and I humbly submit that is the model for us all to have the conversation. As Cynthia Astle put it “None of us has the whole picture independently, but together we can make up the whole picture.” She is right, none of us do, but when accusations fly unchallenged, it is not a conversation, it is a fight. No one needs to be involved in that.

At this blog, we are advocates. We are advocates for orthodox faith (creeds), we are advocates for unity through our shared doctrinal standards, we are advocates for the rules and the process that can change them, and we are advocates for the rich and wonderful Wesleyan heritage that we share. No one has left a conversation here, the decision was made that the advocacy of UMInsight and what we advocate for here were no longer in alignment in any way, and not only that, but so polar opposite that conversation was not possible and had degenerated to the point of  insult and slander that served no purpose. No, this was not a decision made lightly or even happily, but it was a decision that needed made. We did not leave the conversation…it was not a conversation to start with after all.

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23 Replies to “An open response to UMInsight”

  1. I find this post enormously helpful in better understanding both Joel’s position and yours, Scott. I would like to offer you the opportunity to have it posted on United Methodist Insight as a rebuttal to my own column, but I pledge that I will not re-post it unless I receive formal authorization from you.

    I will say two things here: The conversation is going on already in the form of differing blogs posted by commentators of many perspectives throughout Methodism. By reprinting these posts through UM Insight, I believe we give our readers the opportunity read these perspectives in close proximity to one another.

    As for whether accusations of inquisition are untrue, let me say this: Over my 17 years with the United Methodist Reporter, the one consistent customer service truth I learned was that perception is reality. In other words, it is not possible to deal with the substance of someone’s argument or complaint without first dealing with their perception. The only way to deal with the perception is to engage with them, and that is what I consistently champion.

    As I told another commentator on the UM Insight website today, “our lines are always open,” like infomercials. 🙂 Your post is enormously helpful feedback for me, and I will do my best to do better in the future. Thank you.

  2. Unless removed by the other parties, click through the link and you can see the entire conversation

    https://twitter.com/eJoelWatts/status/644841814835376132

    As you can see, there are reasons.

    Let me enumerate them:

    • The editors of UMInsight regularly republishes articles containing doctrine against the Book of Discipline.
    • The editors of UMInsight regularly republishes articles amounting to a little less than libal — a little less because it hasn’t been tested in court, and not likely to. Rather, the attacks on others should at least be tested at the JC.
    • The editor asked, with a rather snide attack, and I ignored it. Rather than either asking again or not republishing it, she did so without my permission.

    This relationship has existed for about a year. You can notice a quick decline in republishing posts when I “turned conservative,” (i.e., said integrity was better than blog hits). The engagement is not meant to bring both sides together. Indeed, that stance — the two sides false dichotomy — is troublesome. As the twitter conversation notes, I was called a conservative — I guess because no one knows anything else by the conservative/liberal divide.

    Clearly, this method of politely asking for my post to be removed created some sort of hardship on them and instead of simply unposting it, decided to threaten me while lying about me.

    Good for them. The misdirection promoted over the weekend — as if I am disengaging… I mean, what the hell does that mean? I have a blog and spend more time on social media than there are hours in the day — confirms my decision.

    1. Oh, Joel, I am so sorry that this started because you were offended by what I meant as a joke in my comment on your post about a conservative UMC. That seems to be the root of our problem — the fact that communication across social media misses out on the 75 percent of human communication that happens through nonverbal cues. I had no idea that you would be so offended by my light-hearted compliment and invitation. I truly regret that.

      As for the rest of your comment, I fear that the opinion you have formed of me personally — I am the only editor at UM Insight — has been colored by the fact that I’ve published many articles by people who are critical of UMC leadership and of other bloggers. I don’t blame you for attacking my editorial judgment in this way, because I’m sure that from your perspective my commitment to amplifying voices from the margins appears as an attempt to create false dichotomies. I assure you and your readers that there is no malice involved in my editorial choices; I look for commentators to critique the UMC’s status quo, as well as for those who support existing theologies and polity. This is the conversation, or discourse if you will, to which I refer. And yes, more than one conversation is going on in the UMC’s public square at this time.

      I remain committed to “advocacy journalism,” which in this case I define as providing a forum for those who stand outside the margins of United Methodist power yet are affected by the decisions and administration of that power, Sometimes this means allowing people to express strong emotions and perceptions. I think it’s a measure of the lack of grace evident in United Methodism today that we are so angry and threatened that we are unable to receive critique and engage constructively with it. Since my Twitter outburst to you — for which I have and continue to apologize — I have been greatly edified by the responses to my column, include this one. I will take all this feedback under advisement, and do my best to apply it as we move closer to General Conference.

      And once again, God be with you!

      1. Cynthia,

        let’s not continue with the misdirection, shall we? I’m not attacking you. I’m stating my reasons for not allowing my work to be republished. A difference of opinion, offered with reasons, is not an attack.

        It didn’t start with your snide comment or your false labeling of me. It started before that with your, albeit you are free to do this, posting of blatantly false attacks on others.

        There is a large gap, a canyon, between critique and libelous postings. I’m not sure the editors know the difference.

        You can defend bullying if you like, couched in progressive excuses, but lying is still lying.

        1. OK. I honestly wanted to stay out of this. I really did. However, it just isn’t enough to keep repeating that either Cynthia or a writer she published “lied”. I think it’s fair to ask for just one example. This whole thing hurts me more than either you two know or understand. Frankly, we need voices like yours, Joel: Scholarly, dedicated to the real meaning of our confession of faith, insistent that being a member of a church involves commitment and not just assent and ritualized appearances at events. I read anger and hurt in your comments, and that upsets me. I’m a firm believer in “better out than in”. I think airing of grievances and differences in specifics are always better. Naming names is always better. This weighs on my heart.

          1. Geoff,

            I’m going to go ahead and issue a blanket statement here. Anytime Jeremy Smith, or you, mention Dr. David Watson and/or Drew Mac, it usually comes close to libel.

            You seem to have bought hook, line, and sinker that somehow, because I no longer want my work republished on UMInsight, that I am leaving the conversation. This is bullsh… well, you know. This is simply misdirection with no hold of reality.

            Further, I am neither hurt or angry. If anything, I am amused. I amused that the inability to republish a post is called disengagement. Republish. As it to publish again. Because it was already published.

  3. As the person to whom Scott Fritzsche directs his comments regarding the Wesleyan nature of doctrine, I have to ask two questions: (a) First, how would such a rule be either enforceable or judged? It is certainly the case that United Methodist theology should reflect our heritage; yet just how is that done? Do we parrot the words of an 18th century British divine? Do we consider his words and the Spirit in which they were originally spoken as uniquely authoritative, in much the same way Roman Catholics offer pride of place in the teaching office to the reigning Pontiff? What about abiding by the Spirit of Wesley while paying attention to our own, very different, place and time? Is there to be a board of Wesleyan Theologians who would determine if and when a United Methodist strays too far? As you asked me on Facebook: Yes, I’m serious. You are the one proposing we enforce a rigid Wesleyanism on United Methodist publications; I’m just wondering how that would look in practice; (b) I would like to see just one example of something published in United Methodist Insight that directly contradicts United Methodist Articles or Religion and our Doctrinal emphases and our theological task as outlined in the Book of Discipline. Just one.

    1. I will say simply that we have, as I am certain you are well aware, unchangeable standards of doctrine. As I am also sure that you are aware, they are the Articles of Religion, The Confession of faith of the EUB, Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions and Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament. If we are writing or acting outside of that, then we have gone to far. That seems not only simple but workable.

      1. OK, it seems simple and workable. How? And furthermore: Why? Do we become so dedicated to the letter of our faith we forget the Spirit of it? Do we become like Lutherans in the Missouri Synod, in which members are to be tested by the pastor before receiving communion? You say it’s simple. Do we charge our District Committees on Ordained Ministries and our Conference Boards of Ordained Ministries as overseers of Doctrinal Propriety? Do we charge lay-people who might set to one side one of our Articles of Religion, or perhaps teach a class that violates Wesleyan doctrinal emphases? I grew up in a United Methodist Church in the 1970’s in which both the pastor and the Youth Leaders subscribed to the Dispensationalism of Hal Lindsey. Should the pastor have been defrocked and the Youth Leaders fired? If you honestly believe the answer to that question is “Yes”, that is far more frightening than the thought that somewhere, some United Methodist writes something that doesn’t agree with John Wesley.

        1. Now it appears as if you are just looking for reasons to argue. You are crafting scenarios that I never mentioned or alluded to. You did however prove my point wonderfully. Whatever conversation there may have been has degenerated to the point of something that is no longer profitable or even remotely related to the topic at hand. It seems clear that you have little concern for doctrine and the standards of faith and will advocate for them not being a necessity for unity, or even for proper teaching in the church, while I not only believe they are essential for unity, but our only chance at it. Thank you for illustrating my point and making the decision about allowing it in UMInsight much easier.

          1. Not at all. You insisted in the OP that it should be a requirement that United Methodist related publications, or publications that serve the United Methodist Church, should insist upon adherence to Wesleyan doctrine. When I asked for you to describe how that might work, you said it would be easy and workable. I asked how it would be workable, offering examples. I am being neither facetious nor argumentative. You, Scott, made the statements. I am asking for what that might look like in the real world. I even offered an example from my own life of both clergy and employed lay persons in the UMC who both preached and taught unWesleyan doctrine, and asked if you thought they should have been removed from positions of authority. I am seeking clarity here. This is no game. It gets to the heart of what our vision of the United Methodist Church is or should be. You propose as acceptable some mechanism that polices the stated or published or broadcast work of United Methodist clergy and laity. I want to know how that would work. That isn’t argumentative at all. It’s a fair question.

  4. Oh, Joel, I am so sorry that this whole misunderstanding started with my attempt at a light-hearted compliment and invitation to your previous post on a conservative UMC. This is an example of the main problem with social media — it filters out the 75 percent of human communication that relies on nonverbal cues.

    As for your attack on me personally and on my editorial judgment, I assure you and your readers that there is no malice involved in any of my choices for United Methodist Insight. The forum was begun for the express purpose of amplifying voices from the margins of United Methodism that often are not heard through the existing power structures, even though the decisions and administration of the institution vastly affect them. I can understand how you might see that this approach — which is how I define UM Insight’s “advocacy journalism” — would be intended to create false dichotomies. I think it is a measure of the overall lack of grace currently existing in United Methodism that we are unable to receive critique without anger or threat, when in reality it is negative feedback that provides the most beneficial instruction. Painful as this exchange has been, I am certainly edified by the conversations that have gone on, and will learn from them and try to modify my own behavior.

    In short, your public request on Twitter to have your column removed caught me not only by surprise, but with shock. As I said above, I had no idea you felt so strongly until now, and as I did in my column, I apologize again for my part in escalating our exchange because of my own hurt. Your contributions to Insight have been valued and valuable.

    I am still open to publishing Scott’s critique, unedited by me, on UM Insight as a response to my own column. Whatever you two decide, God be with you both!

  5. Sorry to bombard you with two versions of the same reply. I thought the first got lost in a Javascript error, so I tried to rewrite my thoughts. I hope at least my sincerity comes through, if not my consistency.

  6. I think I will decline having it printed in Insight, but thank you for the offer. I have seen the tangents of Mr. Safford just on this comment thread, and it has convinced me that whatever the intent, it obviously will not be well received there. He has, in just his comments here, misrepresented what I have said and taken off on flights of fancy that have nothing to do with the post. I have little doubt that if this were to be posted in Insight, that the response would be similar and perhaps I would even be lucky enough to be given the Watson treatment by one or more of your regular contributors. I have little desire for that.
    At the very least, Mr Safford has proven in this thread the point that I had made earlier “No one has left a conversation here, the decision was made that the advocacy of UMInsight and what we advocate for here were no longer in alignment in any way, and not only that, but so polar opposite that conversation was not possible and had degenerated to the point of insult and slander that served no purpose.” Now there was not insult or slander here, (the quote left unedited for completeness), it is obvious that the rest is true. Again, thank you for the offer, but I see no purpose in it being printed by UMInsight as I can only assume that your readership shares many, if not most, of the same views as those who are listed in your ‘perspectives’ section, so this will not be at all well received, nor will it be listened to. Rather attempts will be made to tear it apart not on merit, but upon invented issues that were never a part of it. That does sadden me, but it is also the reality. On one of the places Mr. Safford suggested that we needed to do better. An honest response was not received as such by him obviously. I have no evidence that it would be by your readership either. Good luck.

    1. I have gone off on no tangents. I specifically addressed a statement you made in regard to something I wrote. Initially you engaged those questions. Then, when I asked for some specifics, you insisted I was just being argumentative. I didn’t even realize we were arguing. I expressed no disagreement. I was seeking clarification. I’m not even sure how that is a tangent. It is, as you say, a conversation.

      1. I answered your question. Yes, we should all adhere to the standards of faith in the UMC. Everything past that is what you created out of thin air. For example, I never mentioned baptism, nor policing who would be allowed. I never mentioned any board of Wesleyan scholars, or anything else that you went on about. That is not conversation, it is a rabbit trail of ridiculousness that I have no need to go down. You mentioned all of those things, not I. You asked a question that was simply answered with a “yes”. Not sure how much clearer that I can be. Yes, we should all follow the Articles of Religion, etc. There you are, in the plainest form I can give.

  7. Joel –
    First you say I and others lie. Now you say we are “close to libel”. I harbor no ill-will toward either Dr. Watson or Drew. As I know neither person, that would be difficult to do. I certainly have never made statements about them or their writings that are false. I disagree with them and I certainly characterize our differences in stark terms. I would never claim either has written something they did not write, nor would I ever say anything about their persons that was false. On the contrary, I always provide links and extended quotations in order for readers to make decisions whether or not how I characterize something they’ve written. If anything I’ve written were libelous, I have little doubt some kind of legal action would have been taken by now.

    As regards your earlier statement that the libelous nature of certain statements ought to be adjudicated at the very least by the United Methodist Judicial Council, I have two thoughts. First, if you honestly believe that to be the case, write a complaint to the Judicial Council. Second, it is precisely this preference for Church-legal action that is so troubling. Rather than engage when arguments get heated, conversations cease and folks start tossing around accusations – “unWesleyan doctrine” and “libel” – without any supporting evidence whatsoever. Just as in my conversation with Scott, I want clarification. If I am, indeed, libeling someone, I want to know about it so I can apologize. I see no need for any sort of legal action. I think it is long past time for people to stop looking for the Judicial Council to do what adult human beings should be capable of doing: working out our differences without acrimony, seeking real just solutions.

    As for disengaging, I think that’s a difference of opinion. When you insist your work no longer be published in a particular forum you are indeed disengaging from the conversations that forum seeks to stimulate. Sure your stuff is available elsewhere. So is mine. I choose to allow Cynthia to publish some of my things there not because I’m “progressive” – a word that means less than nothing to me – but because I’m honored someone finds something I write worth sharing. Whether or not anyone agrees with me is beside the point. As it has always been.

    For now I’ll just leave this here. I will go back and read things I’ve written about David Watson and Drew. If I find anything in them that skates close to libel, I will most assuredly seek forgiveness and seek to do better in the future. Beyond that . . . good luck.

    1. a few recent examples:

      “To the three gentlemen who comprise Via Media Methodists, you managed to make names for yourselves!”

      And

      “Drew McIntyre was one of the three signatories who instigated action against Ginny Mikita.”

      And

      “McIntyre would deny the efficacy of Steve’s faith, demonstrated in his life and work already accomplished in and for Cornerstone, the United Methodist Church, and the Church Universal. McIntyre would do all this for one simple reason – because Steve happens to be gay. For this reason, he cannot fully participate in the life and work of the church, he cannot have his relationships blessed by United Methodist clergy, and he could not, if he felt called, serve openly as a United Methodist clergyperson. McIntyre thinks this is OK.”

      I mean, my God, Geoff, Drew has a bigger tag on your blog presence than God does.

      That’s a pretty big, and amusing, stretch to find a way that the whole “disengaging” nonsense can make sense.

      1. I’m not even sure how any of that is even remotely close to libelous. As for tags . . . really, Joel? Is that how we measure things? Very few posts go by in which I don’t write the word “God”; i just don’t tag it. I suppose I assume folks will understand that.This has reached absurd levels, to be honest. The first quote is certainly a sarcastic opinion. In the second, all I am doing is characterizing what I believe to be Drew’s position regarding sexual minorities. How that is libelous is beyond me. It is certainly more than possible that my description is inaccurate; that does not mean I am lying.It is a difference of opinion and interpretation.

  8. I read David’s post. Unfortunately, he and I have different recollections of his request. I posted a comment on his site to the effect that he remembers that he asked only for one post to be removed; I remember that he asked for all his previous posts to be removed completely from UMInsight’s database. I’m not unmoved that he implies I am, shall we say, prevaricating to suit my own purposes, nor am I untouched by the fact that he refused to publish my rebuttal and regrets. But I’ve been called worse before in my 43 years of journalism.

    I thank you, Scott, for having the courtesy to respond directly to my invitation. At the very least, may I share a link to your column in our “Best of the Blogs” list? I hope you understand that this second request is not an attempt to subject you to abuse, but is genuinely offered in a spirit of balance and keeping open lines of communication.

    And as for publishing Geoffrey Kruse-Safford on UM Insight, I can assure you of two things: 1) I have rejected more of Geoff’s work than I have published, and 2) I will continue to publish his posts when they bring a fresh perspective to the discourse, however passionate and unWesleyan they may seem to others.That’s because I believe above all that whatever doctrines we humans create, God works within and beyond them to achieve God’s purposes. Even when reflected in a mud puddle, the Sun is still the Sun. It all depends on how we perceive it. Thanks for your time.

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