The Layman’s Failure of Leadership

From time to time, our opponents–those we disagree with, those, even, whom we think are perilously wrong about something we care deeply about–will be threatened and maligned. How we react then will speak volumes about our integrity and the character of our cause.

Will we celebrate their misfortune? Will we claim validation for our opposition? Or will we denounce the forces that threaten them and stand with them to express Christian unity?

I’ve lamented the Presbyterian Layman’s lack of journalistic integrity for ages, but this week the organization revealed the corrupted moral reasoning motivating its project in a way that shocked even me. After four PC(USA) churches in Missouri received letters that warned they could be “burned to the ground” in retaliation for the denomination’s recent decision to allow clergy to perform same-sex marriages, The Layman’s President, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, released a statement saying,

Neither the PCUSA’s abdication of the Bible nor the letter writer’s abdication of the principle of peace are in the Spirit of Christ. Both are a violation of the fellowship of Christian believers who are called to be the very Body of Christ in the world today. Neither the witness of the PCUSA in seeking to bless what God does not bless nor the letter writer’s threat of violence against the visible church make the gospel of Jesus visible or beautiful; and neither should be exalted as a legitimate witness of Christ to the world.

“Neither” . . . “both” . . . “neither” . . . “neither” . . .

It is a bankrupt moral equivalency to condemn threats against churches by placing them alongside ecclesiastical decisions that upset you for shared judgment. You should denounce violence. Period. Using another’s threats as a vehicle for expressing your own grievance against the threatened is a failure of leadership.

Let’s be a church that leads differently.

@JeffJarvis on Data (for Presbyterians?)

A Jeff Jarvis book inspired this blog into cyber-being, and since then I’ve read his blogs and books ardently. His most recent book, Geeks Bearing Gifts, advocates a complete re-think of journalism and publishing for the cloud-based, connected world. It’s a great read.

Here’s a snippet that clarifies what I’m after in my desire for an alternative to The Presbyterian Layman for Presbyterians seeking information and analysis about our denomination (hint: it’s all about the data):

Data is a critical new opportunity for news organizations. What journalists have to ask — as with the flow of news — is how they add value to data by helping to gather it (with effort, clout, tools, and the ability to convene a community), analyze it (by calling upon or hiring experts who bring context and questions or by writing algorithms), and present it (contributing, most importantly, context and explanation). . . .

Lots of readers heard my earlier post as a plea for a progressive counterweight to The Layman’s right wing commentary, but commentary is not the problem I want to solve. Data is. The Presbyterian Outlook and the Presbyterian News Service are both reputable and reliable sources of data and analysis on a church-wide, institutional scale, but lack the distribution of resources needed to gather, analyze, and present data distributed across presbyteries.

I want there to be an instrument for

  • gathering data about what’s happening across the PC(USA), in presbyteries, synods, new worshiping communities, seminaries, and (fill in the blank),
  • analyzing that data (how is what’s happening with dismissals in San Gabriel Presbytery different from what’s happening in Heartland Presbytery? What data binds together churches leaving the denomination?),
  • and rigorously presenting that data in a digital format with an obsessive respect for facts and sources.

And I want to call it “The Main Line: News And Analysis for Presbyterians.”

Would you read that?

Where Is The Alternative To The Presbyterian Layman?

I keep thinking that Presbyterians need an alternative to the Layman, an advocacy operation dressed in journalistic garb that can’t see fit to perform the most basic functions of journalistic due diligence. The Layman is misleading and (more to the point) useless for constructive conversation about disputed matters in the Presbyterian Church.

We need an alternative.

(The Presbyterian Outlook is, in every respect, a superior product to The Layman; it’s a bi-weekly print magazine with strong convictions about a balanced rotation of commentary. Yet its news reporting resources are deployed mostly in Louisville and at national events.)

Here are two examples of why we need an alternative to the Layman.

1) A decade ago my colleague and I had a spirited disagreement about the state of things in the PC(USA). She expressed her views on a personal blog, and I believe I added comments. Mere days later The Layman published something in news story form that reported that this pastor, my colleague, had said all of these things as if a reported had spoken with her; the piece quoted her at length and added incisive editorial comment in support of her statements.

I, of course, recognized my colleagues comments as direct quotations of her blog posts. So I called her. “Did you know you’re in The Layman?” I asked. She did not. She was gobsmacked. Nobody from the Layman contacted her before printing a “news” article full of quotes from her blog.

2) Then last Friday The Layman published this piece about the presbytery I belong to threatening to “Renege” (sic) on a dismissal agreement it had made with a church (it hadn’t). The story’s sole source is an email from a party to the dismissal proceedings sent the previous day to multiple parties (myself included), and it shows zero evidence of even the most basic fact checking. No phone calls. No emails. Nothing. It simply dresses up an aggrieved individual’s email as a news story.

We need an alternative. The future of the church could be well served by a digital, broadly-distributed instrument of news and analysis. The only alternative now is to ignore The Layman. After years of dumping their unsolicited print piece in the recycle bin, that alternative is well-practiced. I think we need something else.

I think there could be real value in a digital source for news and information pertaining to the PC(USA) that has a progressive editorial agenda but takes seriously the conventions of ethical journalism?

Who’s with me?