Here’s a no-brainer trend: blogs, Twitter and Facebook pronouncements by public religious leaders going viral with all kinds of unintended negative consequences. Besides making me shake my bald head, it raises the question of what the “best practices” trend will be when discussing potentially explosive issues in online (public) forums.
The landscape is littered with ill-considered statements by those who have difficulty with the concept that what we write online is, while perhaps deeply personal, also highly public. That miscalculation can do tremendous damage to gospel witness.
Martin Accad teaches Christian-Muslim dialogue both at Fuller Seminary in California and the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon. That topic is often testy in the United States and explosive in the Middle East. Accad teaches what he calls a “SEKAP” spectrum. SEKAP is an acronym listing five postures or tones of interfaith dialogue. They are:
S — Syncretistic (“all roads lead to heaven,” multicultural and pluralism promotion)
E — Existential (looking for common ground in truth or morality all parties can agree on; for instance, loving the poor or social justice)
K — Kerygmatic (positive proclamation of the gospel in respectful, civil dialogue that allows those of other faiths the same reciprocal opportunity)
A — Apologetic (recasting the case for my faith to persuade outsiders)
P — Polemical (aggressive, triumphalist assertion of one way, excluding all alternatives).
As you move from No. 1 to No. 5, you travel from a more liberal “accommodationist” perspective toward a more conservative, “conversionist” viewpoint. The art of missionary interfaith work, according to Accad, is to know how and when to range along the SEKAP spectrum. While he eliminates No. 1 and No. 5 as very rarely helpful, some ability to range contextually from Numbers 2-4 can be useful. Accad’s rule of thumb: the more private setting (i.e. personal conversation), the more you can use higher numbers. In more public settings, lean lower.
Pick a topic — Christian/Muslim relations, homosexuality, immigration, politics. The trend is that many Christians and religious leaders will continue to blog and Facebook Number 4 and 5 types of public statements that are contrary at their heart to heal. These public statements will continue to harm gospel witness and their own leadership. And they will obliviously continue to blog and post this way.
This is a trend that I hope to sit out.
John Chandler is leader of the Spence Network, www.spencenetwork.org.