Monday, March 24, 2008

Musings from Jon of Arcadia

Posted for Jon Of Arcadia

On Anonymity and Participation

There have been some comments (not to mention the recent letter from consistory) criticizing the use of anonymity by Joan of Ark, myself, and many other regular participants in this blog, so I thought it may be pertinent to address the question of why I do not use my "real" name.

On this blog, there are discussions taking place that are historic in the life of this church. Never before have people felt comfortable discussing this divisive issue- and if it were only Joan of Ark espousing the pro-women views, it would be one thing. But there are many distinct people sympathetic to her views contributing to the comments on this blog, and all of them, save one, are either anonymous or using pseudonyms. And I think that, instead of condemning this practice, we should try to understand the why.

Fear of Reprisal
"I can't speak for council because we are under a gag order. But, be rest assured that this blog is being read by many Council members. I don't agree with what we are doing and will just pass my time until the end of my term. I would hope that we can respond to this post but I'm not putting my head on the chopping block. I have to live and work in this community." -Anonymous

Now, it must be said that council, in their letter to the congregation has asked itself if this comment has come from one of their members, and they have determined that it has not. And perhaps they're right- the comment is anonymous, it could have been posted by anybody. On the other hand, if you were a council member who posted this (and I'm speaking strictly to the men here), would you say, "Oh- yeah! That was me. Sorry, I meant to mention it, but it had slipped my mind." It is no secret that the people who are against the concept of women holding positions of authority in this church are both in the majority and in power. And these people are willing to officially and actually Shun members of this congregation who disagree with them. "I have to live and work in this community." Say my employer is a member of this congregation who has taken to shunning- I would be exceedingly hesitant risk my livelihood to participate in a theological discussion. However, if I have an opportunity to do so anonymously....

Ad Hominem
"The Ad Hominem argument consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. The process of proving or disproving the claim is thereby subverted, and the argumentum ad hominem works to change the subject."

When I first began participating in Joan of Ark's discussion, I had referred to her as him/her, s/he, because, really- I don't know. It could be a woman, or it could just as easily be a man (or, for that matter, a couple writing together- a concept I like better. It's more romantic.) The point is, it doesn't matter if it is a man or a woman. The same goes for me- I could be young or old, a man or woman, a new member of the congregation, or a charter member. It doesn't matter. What matters is what I have to say. If the audience of readers knew who I was, attention would be drawn away from my message, and pointed towards me as an individual, much in the same way as was done to Jonathan. Jonathan's arguments were too powerful for a certain reader, who decided that, if s/he couldn't refute what Jonathan had to say, s/he would attempt to reveal something about him that might potentially discredit him, and "the process of proving or disproving the claim is thereby subverted."

Why participate at all?

It is important. As our congregation is sinking more and more into the minority of acknowledging and admitting women into positions of authority in our denomination, this issue becomes more and more critical. Certainly, as other anonymous people have suggested in the comments, I and others could go to another church. But that would mean giving up- giving up a denomination and this specific community that I have grown to love so well. (I don't know about you, but an Anglican or Roman Catholic church just won't cut it for me... I love my CRC.) We would also be giving up this fight- if we were to leave, who would be left to carry it on?

And so, here I am, participating in this blog, anonymously doing my best to follow God's word of speaking the truth in love. Consider it my interpretation of how to live out Matthew 6:3, as written in the New King James Version: But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.


Annette said...

but a person of conviction stands behind their words regardless, otherwise their words have no conviction to them. If you have to hide behind a curtain, then your point is being masked and therefore can be easily rejected. Besides I'd rather chat/discuss with a real person than someone who isn't brave enough to say who they really are....especially when those someone's feel free to attack me, but aren't brave enough themselves to open their lives up to examination. Seems cowardly in the long run.

Jonathan said...

I was thinking the same thing, Annette, and I think it's more complicated than you make it out to be. I, like you, also use my first name when I post comments, but I don't feel like I am any more a person of conviction than anyone else. I have read a great many posts by anonymous posters that have contained a great deal of conviction. And so I don't think *conviction* is the real reason people "hide" behind a "mask".

For instance, while you use your first name when you post, Annette, you don't have a lot to lose by doing so. You may be drawn to this blog because you come from a denominationally similar church, and you are also a resident of Exeter. But at the same time you are not a member of Exeter CRC. Your social circles will not be negatively affected by your participation in this blog. And so it is less of a risk for you to use your name.

I'm in the same boat. I grew up in Exeter CRC. I attended Sunday school and Catechism in Exeter CRC. It was in Exeter CRC that I found the foundations for my faith in Christ, and I professed that faith in front of the Exeter CRC congregation. But I do not currently live in the Exeter area, so I am free of the exclusion current members might feel if they were to use their names. I know that I won't lose any friends, or even my job if I post things on this blog. So you can see that we are very much the same in our willingness to reveal our identities -- neither of us has a lot to lose.

It might be better to show some understanding for the ramifications of revealing one's identity. Exeter CRC is a congregation that is built on the importance of family, and the closeness between families. Revealing names could conceivably mean conflict between family members, or distress between friends. It could very well mean a shunning of the kind that has already occurred between members of the Exeter CRC congregation over this issue. It may be too painful to destroy friendships, or damage family relations, over this issue, as important as it is. So we need to factor in the unenviable repercussions of revealing one’s identity (I was googled!) when we consider the reasons for anonymity. No one eagerly adopts Luke 12: 53 if they can avoid it.

Which isn't to say I don't have any friends and family at Exeter CRC. It's just that I don't discuss these issues with my friends when I visit. And as far as my family goes, we are on the same page. In my family, there are more women than men, and I support those members of my family when they find themselves in a community that would treat them as second class.

You may have been a bit hasty in calling into question the bravery of those willing to post. There are more variables here than you think. It may be a bit harsh to suggest that an anonymous poster is a coward. There may be good reasons for not revealing a name. There is more to it than simply the fear of having one's life examined, or the fear of being attacked. Besides, JofA has made a commitment to vet personal attacks and malicious comments. See? I have disagreed with you for several paragraphs, and didn't attack you once!

For now, it will be okay that there are anonymous postings. I don’t think anonymity is hurting the conversation in any way, and a lot of wonderful things are being said. And perhaps a day will come when everyone will feel comfortable using first names, a day when Luke 12:2-3 will be a reality for all those women who strive to realize their God-given gifts within the Exeter CRC congregation.

John Proper said...

You are right, Annette, it is cowardly to attack someone from a position of anonymity and a discussion with someone you know or at least can know is often more enjoyable and enlightening. That being said, outside of a personal attack, there is a place for anonymity. Not everyone feels safe or confident expressing thier opinions openly, especially if those opinions are unpopular in thier community. Often being able to vent in secret is important for one's mental health. Not everyone is cut out to be a Stephen before the Sanhedrin.

Annette said...

So basically it's okay to lie is what you are saying.

You are saying that an anonymous person can say "I can hide behind anonymity and attack a person behind that mask or make a statement against a church that I have agreed to be a part of, but in real life I'll make sure that no one knows my true feelings because I"m scared of what the fall out will be". That's what you are saying.

And just where are we told in the bible that it's okay for us to lie?

Anonymous said...

I think it is the same part of the Bible that condones lying when you say, there are no Jews being hidden in our house. Or perhaps the part of the Bible that says you can lie when your husband strikes you and the doctor asks what happened. If you see this as lying you live in a wonderful little world and can thank God that you haven't been dealt the hand of misery. Keep thanking Him, over and over. You live in a bubble Annette. There is a real world out there.

Annette said...

oh please....haven't been dealt the hand of misery? You Have NO idea of what my life has been prior to this discussion. Not serving in office is NOT being dealt the hand of misery.

Remaining anonymous in this discussion is not hiding being beaten by your hubby or hiding someone that the government will kill or imprison if they discover them.

Jonathan said...

The decision to withhold your identity is hardly a lie. Anonymity isn’t a form of deception, and it isn’t untruthful. In fact, it makes a writer’s decision about his or her identity very plain. It would be deceptive to use someone else’s name instead of your own, but that is not what is taking place when someone writes ‘anonymous’.

In fact, if I were to donate to $1000 to my favourite charity, but anonymously, they would hardly look at my gift as a lie, nor would they be on the lookout for a deception because the giver’s name is not known. They would be more likely to accept my gift, and honour my desire to be unknown.

That said, your interpretation of what I am saying is mostly correct.. An anonymous person can say things that would be otherwise difficult if that person could be identified. Perhaps you have seen, in news programs, a person who is interviewed in shadow, or with their voice and appearance altered, so that they can speak openly about an issue, but without endangering themselves. Persons who have worked within organized crime are often interviewed in this manner, to protect them from the fallout of their words. We protect the identities of children in criminal cases, for the same reason. The concept isn’t too different here. It’s hard to speak your mind, on sensitive issues, in a close community, without making enemies and creating hardship. One anonymous poster even threatened to “sit in a different pew” if he ever learned JofA’s identity!! With threats like that, it’s no wonder JofA prefers her mask.

Of course the bible does not instruct its readers to lie, but you know that. And the bible is filled with books written by anonymous writers, so I don’t know if it’s so wise to drag the bible into it. Being anonymous isn’t lying. It isn’t a deception – it’s a way of saying:

“In order to speak the truth of my heart, I will have to keep my identity unknown.”

Sometimes it’s in the face-to-face conversations, with the forced smiles, and the trite banter, that people learn to live the lie. Perhaps that is a sad comment on what this debate has forced some people to do, but that is something that occurs when power politics take precedent over equality between adults in a given community.

Aside from your critique of anonymity, I don’t see the big difference between anonymity and the using of your name. You use your name, Annette, but we don’t know you any better for it. For instance, you say above:

“You Have NO idea of what my life has been prior to this discussion.”

Even you agree that the using of your name does not cast any new light on the identity of Annette. I know you just as well as any other anonymous person. That is, if your name is really Annette...