by Bob Phillips

“Miss Information’ is the new hiss word in the kerfuffle roiling the United Methodist Church. The outgoing North Georgia bishop (I am sure to the everlasting gratitude of her successor), listed Miss Information as the unprincipled tart that wrecked an otherwise smooth and agreeable process of disaffiliation. Of course, the public announcement made the clear assumptions that conference clergy were massively unethical, conference laity were supernaturally gullible, and that Miss Information only seduced the traditional folks; progressives and institutionalists were, in the words of the irascible Tallulah Bankhead, “Pure as the driven slush.”

Very recently I listened to a presentation by a leader of Midwest institutionalists, warning against the lures of Miss Information. He then ticked off two examples, neither of which I have ever heard from any official traditional source, that all UM churches will be required (forced) to take a divisive vote and that the UMC shortly will denounce the Bible, Jesus, the resurrection…and cherry pie. Well, maybe not the pie, but examples I have heard from folks representing more liberal views who are offering examples of what conservatives like me have been saying. Huh?

Is Miss Information walking the streets, seeking to seduce whomsoever? Yes. Both “sides” find the cauldron of nastiness bubbling with false accusation, stereotype, and linguistic two-steps that muddy thinking and confuse faith. I offer the following to assist those who do wish to resist the wiles of Miss Information. I realize that those who already have embraced confirmation bias and filter everything through that lens both welcome and purvey the presence of Miss Information widely. After all, so they think, if it agrees with what my feelings tell me, it must be true, or as Debbie Boone once sang, “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” Marriage counselors and divorce lawyers deal with that merry notion all the time, but that is a different subject.

Consider the source. Social media in general and Facebook commandos in particular dish the goo by the bucket. I learned from such creeps that the GMC will revoke the ordination of women, will find reasons to ease blacks, Hispanics and ‘foreigners’ out of leadership, will enforce a “Rapture-Left Behind” orthodoxy on views of the Second Coming, serves as chaplains for the Christian Nationalism whackos, and was gravely disappointed by the failure of the January 6 thugs in their efforts to destroy constitutional government. Adam Hamilton isn’t saying this. My bishop, Frank Beard, isn’t saying this. Even Karen Oliveto, darling on the Traditionalist “Ten Most Wanted” list, isn’t saying this. Don’t heed the airheads who are sounding off on Facebook. Refuse to become a synthetic martyr or a professional victim whose feelings are perpetually hurt by such silliness. That goes for traditional folks also. Don’t consume it or dish it out. I also have read from the (far) right side of the aisle that the UMC can’t wait to bless polyamorous couplings and triplings, that not one UM church leader is a true Christian, and that a gay lobby is nearing total control of the system. Keith Boyette and Rob Renfroe and Tom Lambrecht and Bishops Webb and Lowry and Jones aren’t saying this. What I have noticed is that the Facebook snarling class of left or right who are clergy hold one common element…none of them ever served a church they couldn’t shrink. Check out their track record on UMDATA.ORG.

Consider the facts. Social media, like some committees, is ‘a cul-du-sac down which objective facts are gently lured and quietly strangled.’ When you hear either friend or foe say something that creates a double take on your part, pause to verify. The North Georgia’s outgoing bishop launched a nuclear strike on para. 2553, turning that conference into a theological Black Flag roach motel, i.e., you can check in but you can’t check out. She blamed it all on the shameless hussy, Miss Information, without providing a single specific example of time-place-person-setting where lies ran amok to a level mandating the canceling of…everything. This has created the moral irony that the clearest example of Miss Information’s activity in that conference was…the leadership of that conference in complaining without clarity or proof about Miss Information! Traditional folks also need to beware. If a single DS says or does a problematic or unjust thing, identify specifics, and raise the issue with the bishop. Do not post on Facebook that “the Cabinet” this or that. If every official seminary and professor are godless unbelievers, show the objective proof (hint: there is no proof that everyone and all the schools are seeping with nothing but heretics). As Jack Webb, playing Sergeant Friday in the 1950’s DRAGNET series would say, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Humor is a friend. Recall Chesterton’s classic comment that “the reasons angels can fly is that they take themselves so lightly.” Or consider lightbulb wisdom.
Question: How many traditionalists does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: Change?
Question: How many progressives does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: That’s not funny!
Amid passions of the moment, step back and take your foot off the hiss pedal. Luther commented that Satan cannot stand the laughter of the saints. Frivolity, sarcasm and silliness, no, but humor is the 9th fruit of the Spirit and can keep us focused.

Beware ‘dead orthodoxy.’ John Wesley was clear a person technically could be orthodox in theology and still be a jerk, shameless liar or whatever. Staunch defenders of the status quo are tempted to respond with obvious anger (or worse, holier-than-thou smugness) toward traditionalists whom they believe are out to kick Mother, as in holy mother church. Righteous advocates of God’s new and renewed church are tempted to impugn motives, actions, and anything that smacks of good in the legacy church or leaders. To all comes the same gospel song, “Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin.” In 2002 Norm Coleman ran against Minnesota incumbent senator Paul Wellstone. The campaign became personal and ugly. Then Wellstone, his wife and daughter, were killed in a plane crash. Because of the hard feelings, Coleman did not and could not pay respects at the memorial service, while Wellstone supporters turned the season of grief into an anti-Coleman campaign rally. Voters were disgusted by both sides. Do not speak about other professing Christians in such a way that you would be ashamed to attend that person’s funeral. Speak the truth, yes, but in love…or just shut up. Our main temptation in this season of division-Methodist Mitosis, is not primarily whether truth (traditional) or love (progressive) will prevail at the expense of the other, but whether a spirit of nastiness and spin calls the shots. Miss Information would love to have her way with you, me, us. Derail the temptation with responses that are holy and humorous, with the weapons of truth and grace for the right hand and the left.

Photo Credit

Chair WCA, Illinois Great Rivers Conference

Degrees from University of Illinois, Asbury and Princeton Seminaries, University of St. Andrews

Graduate of Senior Executive Seminar on Morality, Ethics and Public Policy, Brookings Institution

Captain, Chaplain Corps, US Navy (ret)

See Bob’s work on Methodist Mitosis in Methodist Review.