So true, what Jeff Jarvis says here:
As I learn in every damned meeting with news folks I ever have, comments have cooties. All they can ever hear from the vox populi is the voices of the trolls.
I hear it all the time. It usually goes like this. “I never read the comments. So much drivel”. I find that to be true also in comments on church organization blogs and articles which feature comments. There is a very strong presence of trolls, boosted by the apparent sense of being “evangelistic” by “standing up against the liberals” with their own pronouncements of the “real truth”. And those same church organizations have a blind spot on that issue. Even as they “struggle” to figure out how to handle this, they stubbornly (or maybe it’s “ignorantly”) refuse to invest more time in “being present” in those conversations they claim to be encouraging or enabling. I see a trend toward stepping up and insisting that the conversation remain civil, and then let the same crap go on for another year or so before making another vain attempt to restate the same. But the problem is that it’s not a conversation in which they see fit to invest. They avoid the role of voicing any opinion at all in order to uphold what ultimately amounts to “the view from nowhere” in theological dressing. I find that as difficult, if not more, galling in theological circles than Jay Rosen does in journalistic circles.
It’s amazing to me that this approach taken directly from secular, mainstream media is somehow considered to be feasible or acceptable in a context of church organizations. If there’s any place where there supposedly is “a point of view” to be expressed, I expect it to be here. And this is PRIOR to the question of confusing one’s own “point of view” with “God’s word”. This is simply an issue of JOINING the conversation. Very few non-fundamentalist churches would consider their senior pastor to be infallible, but they do look to them for a way to think about the role of a Christian or Christian community regarding some issue, or to RAISE the issue to their consciousness if it is something the pastor considers crucial (or even considers “possible”). Ask it this way: If a pastor opens their blog to comments, do they consider it advisable to actually participate in the conversations elicited by the post at hand? Most would say yes. And yet church organizations want to maintain anonymity or “objective”.
This is a key point Jarvis espouses in this blog post:
Aggregators, curators, and commentators bring audience—and value—to content.
And this is very important also in a theological sense and in context of theological communities. David Lochhead, a former online mentor of mine, and former Professor of Theology at Vancouver School of Theology, pointed out that prior to the Printing Press, the pastor of the local parish was often the sole source of information about the world outside their community. People looked to them for “interpretation” of the world from the perspective of the People of God. Lochhead saw the opportunity in the online world for the pastor to be a modern version of this kind of curation, which now involves much the same sort of “curation” to which Jarvis here attests. Church organizations and their Information Technology staffs have the opportunity to be an invaluable resource in helping pastors “curate” by creating libraries of resources that pastors can use with their congregations, and encourage their people to use.
The failed strategy of setting up comments and then leaving them and retreating (to behind what amounts to anonymous lurking) is akin to a church announcing a Sunday School class to be held in room A and then leaving a post-it note saying “here’s the topic: xxxxxxx , enjoy the conversation”. Step up to the text entry box and be present and be the people you are who value conversation. That space needs your prescence more than your claims to be “encouraging conversation” — which must ring hollow if you yourself are not there “in person”.