If you can’t say something nice…

“Thumper, what did your father tell you?”

It’s a scene that I think most of us remember from the movie Bambi. In Thumper’s case, he was a curious child simply commenting on the inability of the fawn to stand up straight. All he was doing was telling the truth as he perceived it. Why then does his mother scold him for his words?

During the past couple of years, we have had an ongoing struggle at The United Methodist Reporter regarding comments. On the one hand, we wanted to hold on to a vision of respectful and reasonable conversation about life in the United Methodist Church. On the other hand what we experienced was folks on the fringes of our church’s political and theological spectrum spewing words back and forth in an attempt to prove the rightness (orthodoxy?) of their opinions. While some attempted to engage issues in a thoughtful and respectful way, those voices tended to be drowned out by others who would engage in the online equivalent of shouting. This isn’t unique to our site, in fact we see similar things on news sites all the time, but we hoped that the people who are interested in United Methodist information might allow their faith to guide them and be driven more by the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) than some sort of winner take all righteous anger driven out of a need to win the debate.

Of course, one option for trying to control the conversation is moderation, but very frankly, moderation is difficult to sustain, and can never be totally objective. We’ve tried to be tolerant of a wide swath of belief, but the line between opinion and attack is very thin, and requires us to make value judgments about what is appropriate and what is not. Comment moderation can be a very time consuming process, and frankly we don’t have the time to oversee the cage match that our commenting system facilitates, so we are discontinuing comments on our stories. Comments will still be possible on our Facebook page, but we take no responsibility for what folks say in that space.

We wish it didn’t have to be this way. We wish that we call could remember the words of Thumper’s father to avoid conversation that disrespects the other (words we think that our own Holy Father could embrace as well), but that has seemed impossible. As such, we are shutting the lid on comments for a while until we can discern a better way. May we all discern a means by which we can talk  with one another with respect and dignity, being slow to speak, willing to listen intently, and holding one another accountable in love.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and MethoBlog.com. Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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