In recent days, I’ve been watching the Manning/Wikileaks case with particular interest. It’s a complicated situation: what first seemed to be a story about transparency and confidentiality has raised questions about freedom, justice, conspiracy, and even sexual identity. Those topics are being discussed and explored elsewhere, but for our purposes, I want to reflect specifically on what we, as Christian communicators, might distill from the case.
And before you shy away from joining this discussion, for fear that only those editing diocesan newspapers or managing parish websites are communicators, let me be clear: I believe that all believers are called to be communicators. By what we say and what we do, we’re called to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. It’s as simple as that.
We confess that reality every time we renew our baptismal covenant:
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.
It’s also the first mark in the Marks of Mission, the framework Anglicans use to describe our call to participate in God’s mission:
- to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
We’re all communicators. And if we’re able to see our every word and action as a tool for that communication, it becomes very clear that truth is important. At the most basic level: Ten Commandments stuff. Truth is at the core of Christian communication.
But what does that mean? What do we do with that? And in all of that, how do we make sense of a 35 year sentence for truth telling? After all, while truth telling is at the core of Christian discipleship, our communities also call us into covenants of trust: often, we’re expected to respect confidentiality regarding finances, medical care, family matters… the list goes on.
I spoke with a number of other theologians over the course of the weekend, and all admitted that they don’t yet have any clear answers around the Wikileaks case. It seems we’re all just trying to unpack it. But Manning’s words, “sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society” have grasped me. What could they mean, for those of us who believe the search for and proclamation of “truth” is at the very core of our identity?
I don’t know yet. I can’t help but draw parallels between this event and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: truth told in the search for justice: truth that isn’t easy, and truth that has possible implications for all involved. I can’t help but think about how transparency plays itself out in parish ministry: in decisions and reports that are publically accessible, in tensions that are resolved one-on-one before they are allowed to fester, and even in difficult conversations about musical style or the non-permanent nature of donated pews or candlestick holders. Truth that needs to be told. Truth that isn’t easy.
More immediately, it’s forced me to consider truth within the context of my day-to-day life and ministry. For instance, I’ve chosen not to live with separate personal and professional accounts in social networking (I’m not criticizing those who choose to do–in some situations, my solution simply wouldn’t work). My ministry life and my personal life are integrated, at least when it comes to who I am online. It’s not always easy, because it requires that I consider a broad audience every time I make a post. It demands that I think about what I say, and post more intentionally. And while it’s not a perfect system, I find that it helps me let my yes be yes, and my no be no (or in the slightly less poetic words of Popeye, “I yam what I yam“). It demands that I do this work in the light of my baptism: God has united you to Christ. Now go, and be who you are.
So, Christian communicators, what do you think? What tools and methods of communication call you most naturally to live out your baptismal covenant? How do you seek truth and transparency in what you do and what you say? Is it more difficult online than offline?
And finally, are we willing to tell the truth (especially about who we are in Christ) when we might pay a heavy price?