The Archbishops have released a series of values intended to enable better, more Christian, Social Media interactions between people and groups. I think they should be congratulated for the initiative, and it certainly gives me, as an outspoken user of Social Media, some things to reflect on.
The Charter is as one would expect filled with good and sensible advice for Social Media use. As with all Christian calls, it will also e tough to live out.
The danger could be that it robs the Church of its sometime Prophetic role. There are times when the leadership of our Churches, and local leaders need to speak out for something, or against something and this, inevitably give someone offence: usually the invested powers which the teachings of Christ challenge. ++Justin is right to challenge Payday Loan Sharks, ++John is right to have stood up to the murderous and corrupt regime of Mugabe; but for ome shareholders and some political cronies, the Church will make them uncomfortable.
In the same way, should I not use Social Media to challenge Homophobia both within and without the Church, speak up for marginalised disabled people or the NHS? To do so will offend the holders of power; but I was not called to be a wet or fluffy priest like the All Gas and Gaiters Derek Nimmo and turbulent priests have always caused trouble (and got into trouble) when they spoke truth to power.
Now, the guidelines remind us that what is written on the Internet stays forever, and I am very aware of this. I made a big mistake a few years ago when the Labour Anti-Semitism row was just starting. At the time, I – because the bubble I lived in was not Anti-Semitic (although critical of the State of Israel) – thought it was an opportunist, right-wing smear. I said so. I was wrong. There is a deep, horrible layer of anti-semitism in the current Labour Party and it is one of the reasons I left (that and their pro-Brexit stance).
However, my comments (on a post by a relative of mine) were picked up by the Pseudoanonymous Archbishop Cranmer blog: a terrible right-wing Church and Politics blog by a man called Adrian Hilton, who is neither a priest nor an Archbishop but effectively hides behind this persona and is able to whip up a comments section of which every post would be in contravention of the Archbishops’ Charter.
Despite his claim that he always “asked politely”, Adrian and I exchanged messages which were full of veiled threats and the implication would be that he would turn me over to his attack dogs. Resignedly I said “bring it on then” – I suppose “Publish and be damned” would have been a better response, but then he’d have made much of the fact that a Clergyman has damned him.
The comments to his article were indeed horrible: vitriolic, homophobic, racist and protestant.
I fully accept that my assertion at the time about Labour Antisemitism was wrong.
That article on the Cranmer blog appears about half-way down the list when you search for me on Google. I have to live with that probably forever. My fault. I’m not going to link to it myself, partly out of shame and partly because his horrible site doesn’t deserve any more traffic. You can always Google it…
So, take my advice: be careful what you say on Social Media because it can and will come back to bite you. Sometimes I can be right on the button but no-one ever remembers these things, only the ones you get (spectacularly) wrong. I always say that I will only tweet what I would be prepared to say in a homily – and I will speak on Political or Social issues if I think the Gospel has something to say on the matter. I do not expect total agreement or compliance nor believe that I am infallible. I always say at all elections “I do not care who you vote for, but you MUST vote, you must make your voice heard” and that is all I say on parties, but Policies that affect the vulnerable in society, Antisemitism and Islamophobia, Misogyny, Homophobia, exclusion must be challenged because my Lord would have challenged them.
I will sign up to the Charter. I will try and abide by it. I will also not hesitate to speak out when the Gospel compels me to, and I encourage you to do the same.