Saturday, February 16, 2008

Limiting laptop and cell phone use at Gen. Conf.

Here's an interesting issue raised for General Conference that caught my eye on the Methoblog. The Rules Committee for GC has called for no cell phone use and limited laptop use during the plenary and legislative sessions, as reported by UMReporter.

Of concern is the limited table space, 27", allotted to each delegate (a small area when you get all the books out that you need for following the legislation), the inequity between the techno "haves" and the techno "have-nots", and the potential for additional distractions from the business at hand.

Jay Voorhees raised an additional issue in his comment on the Methodblog:
The issue is ultimately one of the political structure that we have. The prohibition of electronic communication devices arises from the fear (and the reality) of someone controlling large voting blocks electronically. The fact remains that many delegates are driven as much by ideology and relationship as any sense of vision or discernment. We have a long history of delegates looking to delegation heads to inform their voting, and the fear exists that electronic communication could allow blocks to organize more efficiently and thus thwart the presence of the Holy Spirit. Of course some might suggest (probably correctly) that the blocks of votes have been so organized coming into the meeting that the Holy Spirit couldn't blow through anyway.

My initial reaction, which I put as a comment on Gavin's post on the Methoblog, was that the rules were impracticle, followed by an assertion that, regardless, I would use text messaging to keep up with my teenage daughter when we are busy in our different legislative sessions. But the discussion has me now thinking on another level.

Jay's comment saddens me. I know the ideological groups in our church are present at Gen. Conf., but I find it hard to believe the delegates would be looking to a "party boss" to tell them how to vote. Here in S.C., the rebel state, we dare anyone to tell us what to do, much less how to vote on an issue. I know such voting directions, or suggestions, occur ahead of time, when the caucases meet to discuss upcoming GC legislation. There's really no way to prevent that, nor I suppose, should there be. We are free to meet with like-minded persons in an effort share concerns and multiply influence. The Holy Spirit can work in that setting as much as by guiding the individual privately.

Rules of behavior must walk the line between "what is necessary to protect the common good" and the "need to respect and protect the freedom of the individual participant." And I approach that line with the belief that you have to expect mature behavior, and base your guidelines on that, not on the lowest expectation of behavior. For instance, instead of saying "no cellphone use" why not say: "Cell phone use should be limited to text messaging, with no audible alarm. Delegates should not allow such use to become a distraction for themselves or other delegates."

Anyone going to General Conference as a delegate knows they carry a responsibility to the Conference they represent, and to the whole church at large. Delegates should know for themselves what is a reasonable use of their time, their prayers and reflections, their relationships, and their support technology in order to do the best job they are able to do.


Joseph said...

I wonder if the number of spider solitaire games will plummet over those days?
Seriously, technology does exist to block cell signals--I wonder if it will be used?

What does this ruling say about the committee's fears and beliefs about people (according to Jay's post)? Is that a valid fear or belief given the conference's history?

It seems to me technology is not the issue here. If we see general conference as a bunch of voting blocs fueled by technology and thereby interfering with the work of the Holy Spirit, what are we really saying about general conference? If we see the rules committee as imposing on our personal freedoms and convenience, what are we saying about our place and importance over the good for the Body of Christ?

roadtripray said...

I believe that the Holy Spirit can and does influence someone's ideology to cause them to identify (or not) with a given group of people. I blogged about the four young black men who staged the first in a series of sit-ins at an all-white lunch counter on February 1, 1960. I like to believe the Holy Spirit was moving those four young men and using each of them to goad and inspire the other. I think it is defeatist to think that the Holy Spirit can't be involved if outside influences are allowed to compel delegates.

In fact, you could take the opposite extreme position and say that the "establishment" is trying to increase its influence by limiting delegates' information stream to that that is made available on the floor.

Politics! Ugh!