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Stifle dissent = lose power

History’s lesson about stifling dissent, from John Adams’ loss of the presidency amid backlash from his Alien and Sedition Acts to current ecclesiastical conflicts, is the same writes Wade Burleson:

One of these days men and women with power, whether it be ecclesiastical, political or corporate will learn that attempts to stifle dissent and criticism will only ultimately result in the people you lead turning against you.

In the comments, First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., Watchdog compares the “sedition” part Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts to a passage from the FBC Jax deacon’s resolution, which was directed at him in a “public flogging of a former member.”

You may recall that Watchdog aggressively blogged FBC Jax’s policies and repressive governance, especially the pastor’s accumulation of power. After a period of self-muzzled silence, Thursday brought new Watchdog coverage of the drive to strip him of his anonymity and silence him.

We look to Adams’ extinct Federalist Party for the price of repressive governance. The Federalists did much good but embodied sweeping distrust of and intolerance for dissenting views.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Churches, History, Law, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , | Comments Off

FBC Jax Watchdog unmuzzled

Thursday brought us Watchdog coverage of the drive to strip him of his anonymity.

You may recall that Watchdog aggressively blogged First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla.’s, policies and repressive governance, especially the pastor’s accumulation of power. The deacons adopted a resolution directed at him and it was approved in a vote by the congregation [video] — after he was no longer a member there. Etc.

BaptistLife.com site administrator William Thornton observed that FBC Jacksonville conducted a “public flogging of a former member” — a process which sounds “less Biblical than it does medieval.” [Amen to that.]

We did not celebrate the earlier caesura in self-expression about matters which at every step have appeared to be legitimate public concerns. It is good to see the hard questions asked now about privacy, conflict of interest and (still) church governance. Such public debate can be redemptive by revealing the truth.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion | , , , , , , | Comments Off

Hard questions about the collapse of FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity

Wade Burleson is asking important, hard questions about the collapse of FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity. The legal circumstances do seem disturbing. The questions raised about the potential misapplication of power do require answers.

For those who say it’s none of Burleson’s business (or perhaps ours), on the World Wide Web, Enid, Ok., is right next door to Jacksonville, Fla.

Church blogging ain’t beanbag there and could easily take similar twists on your computer desktop, in your sanctuary and perhaps in a courthouse nearby.

Watch and question. If you need anonymity in this country you have it if, as Benjamin Franklin warned about the Republic, you can keep it.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Law, WWW | , , , , , | Comments Off

Anonymous FBC Jax Watchdog ‘muzzled’ for the time being

Watchdog

Watchdog

Advised to fall silent about First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., “until certain on-going events run their course,” the Watchdog has proclaimed himself “muzzled.”

Watchdog promises to tell his story then, and it sounds both interesting and illustrative of what can befall anonybloggers:

When I tell my story, it will be the entire story of what has occured regarding this blog, the legal proceedings, Comcast subpoenas, field reports, official JSO trespass warnings … all of it. It isn’t pretty, and many people will be sorely disappointed at what has transpired in the last few months behind the scenes.

Public-spirited anonymous blogging deserves our support and defense. After all:

Do we not protect the discourse itself by protecting this one blogger?

A collapse of anonymity appears to have led to this silence — a caesura in self-expression about matters which at every step have appeared to be legitimate public concerns.

Do not look here for a celebration of such silence.

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Law, Religion, WWW | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anonymous blogging under fire and deserves defense

Anonymous blogging is part of a tradition of protective self-expression whose origins predate electronic communication, as an anonymous comment at Enid, Ok., pastor Wade Burleson’s blog eloquently explains:

All of this talk about anonymity has got me thinking. The term “coward” is sure getting thrown around a lot, and that is unfortunate. I wonder if anyone here has ever read or heard about the Marprelate tracts? They were written by (anonymous) Puritans in 1588-89 criticizing the abuses of Anglican bishops and clergy. They knew the consequences if they were discovered, but they could not remain silent. In fact, two men (both ministers) died (1 executed, 1 died in prison) because they were linked to the printing of the tracts. The printer, Waldegrave, had his press confiscated and was financially ruined. It is debatable whether or not the authors were ever really discovered. When the Anglican Star Chamber issued an edict in 1586 declaring that the Anglican church had the power to license and/or forbid all printing in the country, these men knew that they must speak out, but they didn’t necessarily want to die for it. After all, when a “trouble-maker” is discovered and dealt with (i.e. ruined by those in power that he critiques), then the criticism is silenced and people remain in the dark about the issues.

Read the rest here.

Anonymous blogging does permit the less powerful to constructively express themselves about the powerful. It does honorably trace its heritage to the anonymous pamphleteers, like those who wrote during the American revolutionary era.

Through anonymity authors may escape intimidation and other retaliation that would silence them and as was the case in 2007 with a New Jersey blogger, “daTruthSquad”, legal action is sometimes required to preserve their anonymity and thus their continued self-expression.

Demeaning anonymous self-expression as “cowardice” is in such cases merely additional pressure on the blogger to fall silent.

As gwfrink3 wrote at the time:

Democratic government cannot be well-conducted in the dark, and this anonymous author is casting good light.

Yet anonymity is sometimes required if one is to both make responsible contributions to public discourse, and also put bread on the family table.

Do we not protect the discourse itself by protecting this one blogger?

Frink recently argued the public service case for FBC Jax Watchdog .

Aware that like all examples (ourselves included) he is imperfect, we have defended him as well. Anonymity and all, the less powerful critic’s risk is real. Care is required.

We back up today on all of this not a single step.

March 5, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Law, Religion, WWW | , , , , , | Comments Off

Anonymous blogging’s confrontations with power are fraught with risk

Anonymous blogs are one answer the relatively powerless have when speaking what they believe is truth, to power.

Power is typically governmental. So it was when the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation was required to help an anonymous New Jersey blogger, “datruthsquad,” face down the township of Manalapan when it sought to unmask him in 2007.

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Sometimes power is corporate. The corporation may be, as we see in the confrontation between First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla. and FBC Jax Watchdog, a church. In every case, some risk attends attempting to say to power things it would prefer not to hear.

As gwfrink3 documents, not all serious, careful bloggers who come under direct fire from the powerful emerge from it in good condition. That’s why it is important for anonymous bloggers to attend to the technical details of their anonymity.

With or without the cloak of anonymity, some fear of retribution, not always legal retribution or even retribution for a real offense, is legitimate. Kathy Sierra and others were simply fallen upon by evil doers [login required].

The nature of the modern blogging landscape suggests that FBC Jax Watchdog is exercising due caution, as explained by Wade Burleson in a blog which relates an interview with Watchdog:

The Watchdog has not gone public with his name, receiving a great deal of criticism for blogging anonymously, but explained to me he remained anonymous out of fear of retribution from powerful civic leaders who are members of the church and could intentional[ly] seek to ruin his name and business. He told me his compelling story, details of which are startling, because he said he trusted me.

Matters may not go that far, but thinking ahead and guarding against any number of possible unfortunate possibilities is simply due caution.

Before taking a single step down that path, read the legal guide[s]. Read and apply the technical guide. Make sure it’s worth the risk.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Churches, WWW | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Church blogging ain’t beanbag

Aggressively blog a church’s policies and governance, and the deacons may adopt a resolution directed at you and see it approved in a vote by the congregation [video].

Some approve of the action at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla.

Some do not and defend the anonymously penned FBC Jax Watchdog blog, which is the target of the resolution.

FBC Jacksonville attracted considerable attention by sponsoring blog posts calling Catholicism a cult [eventually removed from the site]. Although the grievances of Watchdog certainly neither began nor ended there. They blogged, for example, about how the pastor accumulated power through changes in FBC Jacksonville’s bylaws.

The bylaws governing resolution of grievances within that church do appear to be heavily loaded against dissent.

Whatever the merits of any particular issue there, that oppressive approach tends to drive debate underground — often into anonymous blogs — not eliminate it.

Addendum

William Thornton notes that FBC Jacksonville conducted a “public flogging of a former member” without, of course, “naming names.” He goes on to say the disciplinary process sounds “less Biblical than it does medieval.” [Amen to that.]

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion, WWW | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bylaws which are intended to bully

FBC Jax Watchdog caught the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville pastor using church bylaw changes to set himself up as a law unto himself over his parishioners. Christa Brown explained today just how dangerous and deliberately abusive that is:

. . . the FBC-Jax leaders put on their steel-toe boots and delivered this kicker of a clause:

“By joining this Church, all members agree that biblical conciliation efforts shall provide the sole remedy for any dispute arising against the Church. All members waive the right to file any legal action against the Church in a civil court or agency.”

I know bylaws are boring, but no one should snooze on this one. This bylaws clause is designed to cripple any who might attempt to bring church wrongdoing into the light of day.

These are bully bylaws.

Please read the entire piece here.

February 6, 2009 Posted by | Law, Religion, WWW | , , , | 1 Comment

Anonymous blogging FBC Jacksonville pastor’s power

Anonymous blogs can if well-handled hold an institution accountable, somewhat the way a good newspaper does, by getting facts out.

On Dec. 8, 2008, we held FBC Jax Watchdog up as an example of how it’s done. Not done perfectly. But done well.

Today, we checked back by, and they still appear to be doing the report, document and comment process we found earlier.

Looking at church bylaw changes, what they found is, just stated plain, startling. For example:

In the previous by-laws, there was no distinction between how discipline was to be carried out by different positions in the church – that is there were just “members” – and all “members” are to bring about reconciliation in accordance with Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-16. Any “member” who is accused of wrongdoing worthy of discipline would be investigated by the Deacons. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that all “members” are equal in this case – whether it be senior pastor, associate pastor, secretary, or layman – all must seek scripture reconciliation followed by Deacon investigation and report to the church. All persons including the pastor could be investigated and subjected to church discipline by the deacons.

Not so any more.

In the new bylaws, there are two distinct processes defined for church discipline: one for the pastor and other clergy, and one for everybody else. If a member has a grievance against the pastor he/she must seek reconciliation through Matthew 18, and still if no resolution is reached, and the church agrees, mediation with the Florida Baptist Convention will be used. Sounds reasonable, but the end result is this: the pastor is not accountable to any lay body for misdeeds he may commit! Its the offended party seeking reconciliation, and then arbitration with an outside body IF the church approves it.

Drop by and read that post all the way through if you have time. Indeed, read the series. If you’ve ever served as a deacon or an elder, anywhere, it isn’t difficult reading.

BTW: Is that typical of big Baptist churches are run these days?

February 1, 2009 Posted by | WWW | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Anonymous blogging an institution

Apparently determined to show the world of religious blogging that mainstream newspapers are irrelevant, the Florida Times-Union published a Sunday story which dwells heavily on a single, anonymously penned blog whose name and URL it haughtily refuses to publish.

We agree with Frink about the right of the author of FBC Jax Watchdog to anonymity.

Church governance and its abuses are our concern.

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., is the church with which FBC Jax Watchdog concerns itself. It is the church whose executive pastor for education, Jim Smyrl, attracted our earlier attention by declaring the Catholic Church to be a cult. Smyrl has also abjured anyone who voted for a pro-abortion candidate to repent.

The blog mentions those two issues and raises a variety of other significant issues which, if false, are easily rebutted. Indeed, charges should be rebutted and corrected if and when errors are made. Accountability should, in our view, run both ways.

The blog’s charges are often documented with audio recordings, copies of deeds and the like, very much the way a good online news article should be documented. Although the tone is far too strident to be confused with mainstream, professional, American journalism.

The third largest of the 43,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention is its principal concern – ample reason for an aggressive, frequently updated blog.

This blog and its peers will be of growing importance as more traditional publications continue their decline in resources and number.

Noncommercial blogs like FBC Jax Watchdog are often our nation’s best, current substitutes for (rapidly disappearing) aggressive, local, weekly newspapers, the best of which in their time held community institutions accountable to the communities they served.

Update

Another look: Anonymous blogging and church bylaw changes.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | WWW | , , , , | 1 Comment

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