Friday, May 19, 2006

Simple Civility

In the past, I've contributed to the seminary's Board of Declaration (check out these three posts for comments on this phenomenon that I've made in the past). I've continued to read some of the debates that have grown on the Board in 2006, but so far this year I have avoided contributing, myself. The often hostile nature of the Board makes it difficult to contribute and keep from escalating into emotional outbursts.

The most prominent (and arguably most contentious) issue on the Board in recent months has concerned the appropriateness of pacifism. Usually using the current war in Iraq as a backdrop, but also in more general terms. One prominent contributor is a Mennonite, who speaks out of his denomination's long tradition of Christian pacifism, and believes that this is what the Bible teaches. A couple of other contributors are more conservative, and obviously disagree (often quite strongly).

Things started to get especially ugly a couple of weeks ago when one of these conservative contributors accused the pacifist of being "un-American" due not only to his pacifist stance, but also his willingness to call America to account for certain acts (which I won't bother detailing here). He also called the pacifist a "criminal," citing the pacifist's history of civil disobedience, and actually attacked the seminary for accepting this "criminal" into our PhD program. These posts were taken off of the Board within a couple of days, and our Vice President for Student Affairs posted a note explaining that the debate had crossed the line into inappropriate behavior, specifically stating that ad hominem attacks were outside of Board policy. He did, however, say that the debate could continue if it remained civil.

Yesterday, the other conservative mainstay of this debate added a new post. In the middle of this rather lengthy contribution was a new accusation that the pacifist contributor has proved himself to be "anti-American" by his statements.

What is it about some people that they don't seem to understand that such attacks are inappropriate? It was specifically stated (and is still prominent on the Board in large letters) that ad hominem attacks are not permitted. Does this conservative contributor think that saying that someone is "anti-American" is somehow not "ad hominem" if the statement is borne out by the target's own statements? Does the conservative contributor merely think that he is above Board policy? Most basically, does the conservative contributor think that it is unimportant to keep debates civil, so long as he can get his "two cents worth" in?

I have already told a couple of friends that I think this particular contributor, who has often crossed the line of what I consider to be appropriate Board practices in the past, should be banned from posting on the Board entirely. I doubt this will happen. Either way, I think that he should be called to account for such behavior, if the Board policy is to have any efficacy whatsoever. I feel that this conservative contributor owes not only the pacifist contributor, but the entire seminary community, an apology.


  1. Mark,

    This needs to find its way to the Declaration Board! Well put and deserving an audience of Declaration Board readers.

  2. Thanks. I actually did post an abbreviated version (didn't include all the context, which our community that reads the Board already knows), but it's since been taken down (along with all other posts related to that topic), and I have no desire to raise the issue in isolation.



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