I have an ambivalent, arms’ length relationship with Facebook.
Though FB says I have 572 “friends”, I’m not convinced. I see postings from some of them that indicate a “real friend” will comment with one word or one memory about how we met or connected…which challenges me to determine if I’m a friend in real life (IRL) or just, well, a virtual friend. In fact, if I don’t post something within 5-7 days, they say they will “de-friend” me.
There are others who, when their birthday reminder pops up in my notifications, invite me to contribute to their current cause or favorite charity. It’s sort of like the co-worker who brings their son’s Cub Scout Popcorn Sale order sheet to pass around the office in an effort to boost the sales of the budding capitalist in his quest for the Top Seller Prize (usually a paid week at summer camp). Do you buy the popcorn? What if you are prone to diverticulitis and your doctor says popcorn is not good for you? Do you make the contribution to the Coyote Rescue Ranch or not? Maybe you aren’t sure we actually need a lot more coyotes since they seem, at least the ones who wander through our neighborhood, to be doing pretty well for themselves without the ranch.
Perhaps you can relate to my ambivalence about Facebook and friendship.
There is no ambivalence, however, about the social media thrashings meted out for those who post something on a controversial or contested issue.
This came to mind as I perused the online comments reacting to a recent statement posted by a retired United Methodist Bishop. Robert Hayes personally and poignantly said a turning point has been reached in his beloved denominational home. I do not know Bishop Hayes personally, but I have heard him preach several times and know of his leadership across the church. He is widely regarded as a person of deep and authentic faith, a competent, fair, and attentive administrator, and a consistent advocate for the gospel of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, he’s the sort of person you’d expect a bishop to be.
But a letter he wrote to and on behalf of the congregation where he is now, in retirement, a “Bishop-in-Residence”, was shared on Facebook.
And the comments began rolling in.
As is often the case, those taking exception barely mentioned what the bishop wrote. Instead, they attack the bishop himself for his narrow view or his political motives or his lack of biblical understanding. Technically, this is called the ad hominem argument in which, if you don’t like what the person says, you attack the character or integrity or motivation of the person saying it.
So, what is it that the good Bishop said which deserves such attacks?
He commented on a portion of Scripture which he has found to be particularly pertinent at this moment in the slow-motion schism of the United Methodist Church.
Here’s the portion of Scripture:
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”2 Timothy 4: 3-5
Here’s his comment (my abridged version):
“It seems that the Church is constantly engaged in a battle between the way of Christ, and the way of the world. And therein lies the problem: do we follow the Holy Word of God that has been handed down to us for more than two thousand years, or do we change or amend that sacred Word to suit our own self-interest and desires? …(If you would like to read the entirety of Bishop Hayes’ statement, click here Bishop Hayes’ Statement “The Time Has Come”.)
“Please hear me well: This is NOT a minor squabble over people having the freedom to choose how they want to live or the lifestyle they prefer. Rather, it is a major conflict that goes to the very heart and soul of who we are as children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, and how we have made the conscious decision to follow the dictates of God and not be caught up in the ways of the world nor be defined by the world’s values. …
“Today, there are serious disagreements among Methodists, both theological and ideological, that threaten to undo our understanding of who we are and what we believe. The Social Principles of our denomination that oversee our stance on issues dealing with human sexuality have been broken; deep division exists over the integrity of the Holy Scriptures; and one of the most disconcerting differences rising out of our dysfunctional state is how some are even now questioning the identity of God and the divinity of Jesus. This cannot continue.
“The decisions we make in the coming weeks about how we will respond to the challenges ahead of us will have a profound effect on those who will follow us. But as for me and my house, I will serve the God who has been faithful in all generations, and who works to bring good out of every circumstance.”
The future of United Methodism may be very uncertain right now. But you can be crystal clear about where you stand as an individual.
Jesus himself indicated that with his arrival, the time, indeed, had come to make a choice:Mark 1:15
“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel.”
The current wrenching conflict within the United Methodist Church presents a choice, as Bishop Hayes has written, between the way of Christ and the way of the world. Despite the attacks on the integrity of his witness by social media vigilantes, he has issued a clear call to faithfulness. And that choice – in real life – is before us now.