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Why Mennonite leaders need to stop complaining about social media

5.22. 2016 Posted By: Tim Nafziger 3,463 Times read

In his address to graduating students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) on May 2, President Loren Swartzendruber complained about social media. On May 2, the Daily News-Record quoted him:

“Here’s the challenge we face,” he said, “namely the question of how we engage in meaningful, life-changing, civil conversations in a world that’s impatient for quick answers … and is all-too ready to vilify those who disagree.”

He said important discussions “are extremely difficult to conduct via social media,” and require intra-personal relationships.

There’s plenty of reasons to be concerned about social media, but there’s a story and a pattern behind this complaint that needs a closer look. Swartzendruber’s critique comes after months of pressure on his administration around its handling of Luke Hartman’s employment at EMU. Social media played an important role in that pressure.

Eric Barron, president of Penn State University, recently made similar complaints after facing pressure around a sexual abuse cover up, namely new allegations that football coach Joe Paterno knew about Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse as early as 1979. After complaining about “social media and the blogosphere,” Barron said in a statement, “I have had enough of the continued trial of the institution in various media.”

David Boshart, moderator elect of Mennonite Church USA, also complained about social media in a sermon at Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va., on April 26. Park View is the church that Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA executive director, attends. Boshart jokingly alluded to the pressure that Stutzman feels:

“Yet as I listen to the conversations that are going on in our church in this season, it can sometimes feel like we’ve swallowed an anchor that is threatening to drown us dead in the depths of the sea. I found a deluge of commentary in the social media and criticisms: diagnosing the church as though it were fatally ill… snarky attitudes reaching for simple fixes… if Ervin Stutzman would just work a few more hours.” (From 14:00 in this video of his sermon at Park View Mennonite)

Five hundred years ago, another church leader worded his complaint with a very similar wet metaphor. “Daily there is a veritable downpour of Lutheran tracts in German and Latin…nothing is sold here except the tracts of Luther,” complained Jerome Aleander, Pope Leo X’s envoy to Germany, in 1521 (source).

During the reformation, the “problem” for church leaders was the printing press and pamphlets. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci looked at the parallels between the “information cascade” of the Arab spring and the wild surge in popularity of pamphlets in parts of Europe in 1523-24. In both cases, information spread far more quickly than those in power expected and allowed a mass of people to signal their discontent to one another and to their leaders far more easily than previously.

Tufekci points out how this network of printers made information flow difficult to control, just like social media today. When one town banned a pamphlet, pamphlets printed in nearby towns would flow in to fill the gap. Even for illiterate people, possession of a satirical woodcut could allow them to signal dissent to their community.

Social media is creating similar problems for Mennonite institutional leaders today. It provides communications channels that are completely outside of institutional control. “[W]hat’s happening here is the audience is deciding what’s important and amplifying it.” says author Tom Standage in an interview describing sharing and retweeting on social networks.This more egalitarian approach to sharing information has a leveling effect that can be unsettling for those with institutional power.

Role of Social Media in Luke Hartman case

Last year I summarized three waves of feminist organizing around John Howard Yoder’s abuse on this blog. This organizing outside of institutional structures played a crucial role in forcing the Mennonite church to face its failure to deal with Yoder. Some of those same activists have been involved in challenging institutional cover up around Luke Hartman’s case. As it did in the third wave of organizing around Yoder’s abuse, social media has played a crucial role in giving survivors and their advocates direct access to the Mennonite community.

On March 6, Marissa Buck posted on Facebook about Luke Hartman’s abuse of her sister, Lauren Shifflett (unnamed at that time), and her dissatisfaction with Lindale Mennonite Church’s handling of the situation. This was the first public naming of the allegations.

On April 12, Our Stories Untold (OSU) published Shifflett’s story in her own words. The OSU Facebook post for the story reached over 7,500 people and 2,500 people clicked on the post. To date, 29,000 people have read the article on their website. A week later Buck wrote for the site about the failure of Eastern Mennonite University and Lindale Mennonite Church’s to address the situation. On the OSU Facebook page alone, 3,500 people saw the post about the story and over 900 people clicked on it. A total of 11,000 people have read Buck’s article on the OSU web site.

Blogs and Facebook provided important platforms from which to challenge EMU and Lindale’s silence. On May 13, the Mennonite Church USA Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention called on EMU, Lindale and Virginia Mennonite Conference to hire an outside agency to investigate what happened in this case. Would the church have reached that milestone without social media?

“Social media allowed us to share the truth, to reach and offer support to other survivors, to be supported by other survivors, and to propel the Mennonite community to discuss abuse and work towards change in how abuse is viewed and handled.” Marissa Buck says, “Lauren feels like she has a huge group of people who believe her and who wish her well. That support is healing, and she wouldn’t have that without social media.”

Buck first found out about the invitation from Mennonite Church USA to report abuse by Hartman from a friend who had seen it on Facebook. The invitation was later removed, but an archived version is available here. This invitation led Buck to the Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests who had issued their own invitation a few weeks earlier.

As with the pamphlets of Luther and other reformers, social media has catalyzed concerns widely in the Mennonite community. “We heard from multiple pastors and leaders in the Mennonite community who are outraged and want the system to change,” said Buck. “Many of these leaders realize they wouldn’t know what to do with an abuse case. Now they are thinking about it, because of social media.”

This support and encouragement has been in dramatic contrast to the lack of support from local Mennonite institutional structures. “Thank God for the support we have received on social media because we have not received any support from the communities who we would expect to surround and support us – Lindale, EMU, Virginia Mennonite Conference,” said Buck, in an email interview on May 19. “I am especially disappointed in Loren Swartzendruber for talking against social media as a barrier to having meaningful, face-to-face conversations when he has not once reached out to Lauren through her advocate.”

In April, two EMU alumni, Emily Harnish and Erika Babikow wrote a letter and gathered the signatures of over 270 other alumni, organizing in part through social media. You can read their letter here.

Social media also offers unprecedented access to leaders traditionally protected by gatekeepers. Jay Yoder, a member of the Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of SNAP, recounted a conversation with MC USA Executive Director Ervin Stutzman in which he told Jay that he reads their postings on social media. “I’ve mentioned many times before how equalizing I think social media is,” Yoder said. “I could never pick up the phone and get a meeting with Ervin Stutzman, but he apparently ‘see[s] everything [I] put on Facebook.’ Insiders can’t put up walls like they used to.”

Social media is not a panacea or magic bullet, but it has played a crucial role for organizers challenging the ways perpetrators of sexual abuse have been handled in church and educational settings. Other groups marginalized by the church will also continue to use these platforms.

Unfortunately, many Mennonite leaders have chosen to complain about social media rather than recognize its equalizing impact. We have an opportunity as a church to have a broader conversation about power and how our institutions and their leaders wield it in the changing landscape in which they find themselves. Hopefully they can adapt more adeptly than Pope Leo.

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42 Responses to “Why Mennonite leaders need to stop complaining about social media”

  1. Tim’s essay is an excellent example of the difficulties we face as we move from journalism to speculation/innuendo as our primary source of information about important events. He uses the word “abuse” 14 times while writing about a consensual sexual affair between two adults.

    • Brooke Natalie Blough says:

      Berry – Lauren said stop, Luke refused. That is not consensual, that is abuse.

      Lauren – I’m sorry there are still people who don’t believe you. I believe you. I stand with you. I hope you don’t read Berry’s comment, but if you do I pray you read this, too. You are not alone.

      • Bradley Yoder says:

        The adult relationship was established and manipulated upon trust gained and fostered when Lauren was a minor. Because they were indeed consenting adults at a later date does not mean that vulnerability carrying over from a mentor/mentee relationship when the latter was a minor does not mean that an abuse of power was not utilized to catalyze the consent. Lauren seems not to try to avoid responsibility in her original blog, but paints a picture that asks us all to examine the whole rather than narrowing in on a technicality about when, exactly, consensual sex took place. I don’t disagree entirely with Loren Swartzwndruber’s assessment as I think there is something lost in the willingness of most of us to wield tones and terms we would not in person, and I won’t let the pendulum swing the other way fully to say that the sort of shield that the relative anonymity of online communication is entirely valuable in order for truer emotions and facts to be revealed, but somewhere in between the point about ease of dissemination of information has value, even as sensorship and editing are left to the discernment of each writer.

  2. Craig Anderson says:

    Thanks for this excellent and thought-provoking article.

  3. M. South says:

    I’m all for more openness in disclosure of information. But doxing of individuals based on the mass emotional outrage manipulated by instant propagation of 140 character “tweets” which by necessity are reduced to no more than unverifiable truncated disinformation, is not genuine democratic accountability. That Tim favorably compares it to the various mob-based street revolutions that have resulted only in repression, regardless of success, is indicative of his own unconsidered willingness to justify mob manipulation to achieve his own agenda for overthrow of our historical church faith, regardless of consequences. Perhaps the collateral damage to the innocent along with the guilty, by confusing accusation with the proof of conviction, is considered to be the acceptable breaking of conservative eggs in making the progressivist Mennonite omelette. I believe that using such unChristian secular revolutionary means is coincident with a self-righteous rationalization for attempting to exercise power over, rather than service from under. In all the “color revolutions” that have changed nothing, except resulting in death, violence and even more repression, there is in no way any objective to further that Kingdom Jesus described and modeled. I think that is very telling, that advocates for the overthrow of our traditional faith, should model that same betrayal towards secular means to power that Jesus rejected, in the desert before the Accuser, before the mob that demanded a military messiah in Jerusalem, and before the imperial power itself.

    There is also the consideration that spy agencies themselves, in concert with giant internet corporations, have themselves manipulated social media in order to control and subvert messages.

    Scripture is clear that Christians are not to be unruly agitators in the street, or participate in mob action.

  4. M. South says:

    I also find jarring Tim’s favorable comparison of social media mobbing with Martin Luther’s questionable methods, which fatally compromised his sought good ends. Luther himself through his own rude and often exaggerated vilifications and unconsidered intemperate accusations, became himself a prime persecutor of our anabaptist forbears. Until recently, the Lutheran church itself maintained the justifications of heresy against anabaptists that incited their burnings, throttlings, drownings and other tortures that led to executions. One can credibly say that Luther’s own “social media” broadsides against the Jews, calling for them to be burned out of sysnagogues and homes from Germany, helped justify the mob actions that Lutherans later acceded to and even participated in during the Nazi era.

    I would counter with the considered and erudite scholarship of an Erasmus, who while on the side of reform in the Catholic church, nevertheless refused to compromise the end with the bad means of alliance with the violent secular forces of the age, by which Luther secured his own revolution.

  5. Frank Lostaunau says:



  6. Marty Troyer says:

    This added yet another layer of how we are learning to understand better how institutions use their power. The power of information – and its suppression – is real. It can silence and sideline, it can empower and give voice, it can stagnate or make change. I have not connected social media to the use of power. So thank you for uncovering a pattern which needs to be understood, and safeguarded against.

    Marty Troyer

  7. Tim Nafziger says:

    M. South,

    I have to say this is the first time someone has accused me of having an agenda for the “overthrow of our historical church faith.” I have to say, I’m quite tickled to have unlocked that achievement. That said, I’d like to add a bit of nuance to your framing of my agenda.

    I’m interested in overthrowing the current bureaucratic paradigm in Mennonite Church USA. Back in 2009 during the executive director search that ended up with hiring Ervin Stutzman, I wrote a blog post here on the death and resurrection of institutions that elaborates on this hope. For me, the call for death and resurrection flows out of the radical discipleship tradition that follows Jesus in challenging the centralization of wealth and power. The the transformationist stream of Anabaptism is very much a part of that tradition.

  8. M. South says:

    Well Tim, I’m tickled you’re tickled by trenchant analysis of a betrayal of the historic faith!

    However, you’ve not only added nuance, you’ve amplified what I’m pointing out.

    I think, in its own way, the radical choice for the means used by secular politicking you advocate, is prone to the same psychological error made by the author of “The Politics of Jesus.” That is, inadvertently, you fall into the practical patterns of the ways and means that Jesus actually rejected, by employing the paradigms of radical politics. His mission was not centered on overthrowing the “centralization of wealth and power” as he explained to Pilate, but on addressing the problem of sin’s hold over us at our core. Decentralizing wealth and power could be an improvement, but if sin is not addressed, it is likely that you will only get evil directed by a multitude, rather than a few. That is the error that equality by itself constitutes justice, as if offering equal opportunity evil doing somehow expands Jesus’ Kingdom.

    Social media mobbing by Tweet outrage is just the same sort of power exercised by the radical Jesus Barabbas (“another Jesus”) over the crowd and its own demands for warped “justice,” which just happened to mirror the ascendant ideologies of the day, in opposition to the Jesus Way, rejecting Him. (How imperial, for the Empire to support its purported enemy, almost like ours now suddenly finds Al Quaeda useful to its own aims, contrary to Christianity.)

    The Mennonite leadership you critique, trying to keep to the Confession of Faith against the imperium outside the church, whose reigning LGBTQ ideologies coexist with its war aims, is not on that ascendant arc that comports with the new reigning ideologies that you share.

    There’s nothing new under the sun, when it comes to the apostasies and heresies that challenge the church and which it will survive, even if outside a merely human organization that is hollowed out by change agents and become Ichabod.

    • Alan Heise says:

      M. South,

      The second time I read your comment, it struck me that the language and arguments you used could have fit just as easily in the mouths of church leaders speaking out against the American Civil Rights movement. “Scripture is clear that Christians are not to be unruly agitators in the street, or participate in mob action.” Would you have been against the boycotts and marches organized by Christian leaders to apply pressure needed to end unjust Jim Crow laws? Or was this an acceptable form of organized protest?

      Any systemic change is going to be painful. Yet for too long, the church as an institution has shielded the perpetrators by offering cheap grace. This grace without accountability, left no room for healing of either the victim or abuser. That this new pressure is uncomfortable to the established leadership, used to being looked to for the right answers and with power to excommunicate “heretics,” is not a reason to end the online discussion.

      As Tim points out, posting from users on social media has provided the support that was absent from church communities. It has given a voice to the voiceless; a platform for those without opportunity to be heard. It calls us back to our Anabaptist values, with an emphasis on consultative leadership and nurturing communities of faith.

      • M. South says:

        Sorry if you think that scripture can be used to justify racism; it can’t. Moses himself married a black woman, and his own brother and sister were censored by God Himself for complaining about it. In fact, Miriam become positively afflicted with whiteness, and it required Moses’ own intervention to heal her.

        Nowhere in scripture is having light or dark skin pronounced sin; that is of more modern invention. In the same way, scripture does speak explicitly of sin, and includes homosexual practice among them. It is also of very recent worldly connivance to try to make of this sin instead an instance of affirmation and celebration. That owes everything to the erotic Summer of Love and absolutely nothing to the agape of God’s Love.

        Now if you think that Martin Luther’s vilification of and calls for violence against the Jews in Germany can be compared to Dr. Martin Luther King’s principles of nonviolence, then you do damage of misunderstanding him too. Yet Tim called Luther’s questionable methods praiseworthy.

        It’s well known that Dr. King himself wrote pastoral advice against engaging in homosexual sin. So by this accusation you make of Dr. King your own adversary, as well – not someone who you can marshall in a very different defense – that of acceptance of sin.

        Riot in the streets is more akin to what Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown were into, and which Dr. King pronounced as undermining what he was trying to achieve – and called them dangerous heretics to the Beloved Community.

        As for the various street revolutions in the failed Arab Spring, which had nothing to do with Christianity, they were undermined by their own means of violence and even their ends, which sometimes had the objective of imposing their own varieties of tyranny. As mentioned, it’s been revealed through the WikiLeaks documents, Snowden disclosures and other whistleblower revelations that western governments have been involved in manipulating social media, sometimes in direct coordination with the companies, particularly Google, which has been very close to the Clinton State Department. A major Cuban social media site program which manipulated and even endangered Cubans was exposed as nothing more than a covert anti-Castro operation. Yet these were among the examples that Tim touted.

        A characteristic of weak argument is the resort to ignoring the particulars, instead using pejoratives like “racist” to distract. Unable to answer, some resort in discomfort to characterizing views that their biases resist as “rants.”

        • Ed Benner says:

          Blogger South, It would also appear that you are at least somewhat unfamiliar with the rhetoric and composition critique category described as “rant” in argument essays. “Rant” alludes to undocumented or insufficient sourcing for points made in an argument paper. Likewise, it would seem to appear that you may not be coming at this issue from a solid, disciplined academic perspective.

          • M. South says:

            Solid, disciplined, academic perspective == positions expressed I agree with.

            Rant == positions expressed I disagree with and dislike.

            As in Facebook “Likes” or “Dislikes,” thumbs up or thumbs down.

            As in, “Dittos.”

        • Becky Murphy says:

          “Sorry if you think that scripture can be used to justify racism; it can’t. ”

          Well obviously you are ignorant of history, because scripture absolutely WAS used to justify slavery for many years during the slavery era in the US.

          • M. South says:

            It couldn’t legitimately be used to justify racism, any more than it can be used to justify the LGBTQI agenda. There was simply no scriptural basis at all to do so; people just made things up, clutching at straws and outlandish interpretations. Just because some said it did, didn’t mean it did. It can’t be used to justify racism, even if some people tried to assert it did, based on what they wanted to be true but wasn’t – because of the predilections they already had.

  9. Ed Benner says:

    Blogger South, it appears that, perhaps, the only positive and constructive content which you have reiterated here is the dependent clause “Decentralizing wealth and power could be an improvement.” The rest of the post could arguably be construed as a rant.

  10. David Boshart says:


    For what’s its worth, I think you’ve taken my quote out of context. I am not a critic of social media, I was simply identifying what I’ve been hearing in social media as it shows up in my newsfeed. Everything I quoted came out of my Facebook newsfeed in a single day, except for the comment about Ervin working more hours. That was an attempt at framing the matter with some levity.


    • Tim Nafziger says:


      Thanks for clarifying the specifics of your personal position on social media. Social media can certainly be used to cause hurt, as can any medium for communication. I have a specific follow up clarification question: How do you view the organizing work via social media that I’ve described above? Does the equalizing dynamic that Marissa and I describe ring true to you?

      At the beginning of your sermon at Parkview, your work with the Friends of Pastor Max campaign was cited. Has that campaign benefitted from social media in your view?

    • David Boshart says:

      The Friends of Pastor Max work has definitely benefited from social media. It certainly helped organize a collective, nationwide response. I would say that it took old-fashioned organized phone calling to get and keep the attention of the federal governament. I agree that social media makes a great contribution in democratizing and empowering the town square conversation and advocacy.

      Whatever one may think about social media, it is clear it is here to stay. If I have any concerns about social media it would be these:
      1. As with all forms of technology, the speed of development often runs ahead of our ethics. Where does the conversation take place where we examine the ethical use of electronic mediums?

      2. An example of technology running ahead of ethics is that when one is offended by another Matthew 18 gets turned on its head. Rather than working through an offense, person-to-person, where the focus can be on restoring a strained or broken relationship, I observe the offended person venting into cyberspace with the effect of others “piling on.” I don’t see this approach contributing to either reconciliation with the offender nor healing for the offended.

      3. In the Anabaptist tradition, the ends don’t justify the means. The means are as important as the ends and in some cases more important than the ends. In terms of using social media for activist purposes, it seems that the intended “end” of the activism matters a lot and the means of expressing the activism is whatever will garner the needed attention whether the means reflect the spirit of Christ or not.

      • M. South says:

        As a practical matter, the means used, are the ends achieved, at any particular point in the process. Bad means don’t magically achieve good ends, either, as practical analysis later exposes.

        For instance, that was the temptation offered Jesus in the desert, to achieve domination of all the kingdoms of the world through force, in order to exercise compulsion to do good. A revolution achieved through force, must rule by force. Ends and means are then indistinguishable.

        This is the psychology inherent in making “winning” the objective, making victory by any means and no matter the consequences poisoned by how it was achieved, its own justification.

      • Stephanie Krehbiel says:

        Dave, there are actually many places in which discussions of the ethics of using social media are happening, both within church communities and in U.S. culture at large. If you haven’t encountered them, I encourage you to start exploring. Perhaps you’ll learn some things. In feminist work, LGBTQ-supportive work, anti-racist work, disability advocacy, and sexual violence survivor advocacy–just to name a few of those spaces–people are constantly talking about the ethics of social media.

        And every person I know who is involved in that kind of work has weathered absolutely vicious attacks on social media, myself included. I know that every time I contribute to The Mennonite, for instance, I will be taunted with snark and vitriol by a particular individual in ways that attack my motives, my education, my commitments, and my value as a person. The reality of being attacked on comment forums and social media is always a factor that I consider into my deliberations as an activist, especially when it comes to anticipating risk to myself. And this individual, at least, is constrained by a forum that doesn’t allow him to call me the B word or the C word (not that he would); women on the internet aren’t always so lucky. I’ve had my share of that kind of language, too.

        Every activist I know has their own bullies to contend with on the internet. And every activist I know also realizes that in the world we live in, with all of its institutionalized inequalities, we need social media to do our work. It helps us get past the doors that are regularly slammed in our faces. Some of us do that more effectively than others of us do. But what I truly dislike hearing from church leaders is the fairly regular insinuation that the use of social media is equivalent to a lack of deliberation or ethical considerations in relation to it.

        Those deliberations and considerations might lead us to different places than they would lead you, but that doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t happening. It just means it’s happening in places that aren’t legitimated by the church. It’s hurtful to be lumped in with the same people who are calling us nasty names. Please don’t do that to us, Dave.

        • Dr. Krehbiel, an essay of yours entitled “The discernment of knowledge: sexualized violence in the Mennonite church,” was recently published online by Somatosphere. There you state you “have not attended a Mennonite church for almost 15 years,” but that your “Mennonite name” continues to provide you with opportunities to relate to Mennonites in a variety of ways (“friends, family, antagonists, co-conspirators, to name a few”).

          Your essay goes on to describe your work as an ethnographer.

          “Like many religious groups, Mennonites commit a lot of sexualized violence. I use the word ‘sexualized’ here rather than ‘sexual’ because it suggests a broader spectrum of violation, encompassing not only what bodies can do to other bodies, but also what theology, institutional structures, and communal processes can manifest in the lives of those who are caught up with them. For the past seven years, I’ve been writing about the ways in which Mennonite peacemaking practices enable and perpetuate certain kinds of violence while carrying our activism at documenting the epidemic of sexual abuse in Mennonite churches. Woven through all this work have been competing claims about what constitutes violence.”

          To summarize, you describe your professional work as an ethnographer as advocacy for a new and very broad definition of “violence” that includes Mennonite theology, institutional structures and communal processes you personally have rejected. Your essay goes on to describe how you do this work through “a new chapter of the thirty-year old, largely Catholic, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)” that focuses on Mennonite pastors, church leaders, professors and church members.

          You do not indicate in your essay whether the Mennonite chapter of SNAP you helped launch uses Catholic definitions of “abuse” and “violence” or your own, new and very broad definitions, but SNAP media releases and essays suggest the latter.

          As you tell it in your essay, your work of broadening the meaning of “violence” to include Mennonite theology, structures and practices began with research for your PhD dissertation. “In the interviews I was doing with LGBTQ Mennonites around the country, I kept hearing the word violence: rhetorical violence, spiritual violence, institutional violence, systemic violence. The violence they spoke of was often quiet and subtle, invisible to many. It happened in the wording of denominational statements, in all the ways in which LGBTQ identities were cast as worldly distractions from more important church work; it happened in families, inherited patterns of sexual shame that thrived on the specter of a monstrous sexual outsider. It happened most particularly in the process of what Mennonites call ‘discernment’.”

          As you go on to state, your “case files” are “full of stories of queer people and sexual abuse survivors.” These “case files” add to your power: “I do have power. It’s tied to having a PhD, but it’s bigger than that. It’s the power that comes from knowing the people for whom the existing sexual ethics aren’t working; it comes with naming, with claiming, with pronouncing what is violence and what isn’t, what is abuse and what isn’t, what is love and what isn’t. It is the also the power of secrets, of knowing things I’m not supposed to know.”

          Readers can judge for themselves what they think of this project of yours, one that conflates rape, sexual harassment and the sexual abuse of minors with the historic teachings of Scripture and the wisdom of the cloud of witnesses known as the church of Jesus Christ.

          Because I oppose your project, I expect you will continue to call me a “bully” and claim to be victimized by my words. This is an old tactic in wars or words: acting as the aggressor, pretending to be the victim.

          As for the “absolutely vicious attacks” you are “weathering” from your critics, I leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson (courtesy of Charlie Kraybill): “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”

  11. Lisa Schirch says:

    This is an important article – information is a form of power and identity. I’m grateful to The Mennonite and Mennonite World Review for understanding that there are many different types of Mennonites with many different beliefs. Our Mennonite press actually embodies a democratic church – even when official institutions fail to listen to all stakeholders and design inclusive processes.

  12. The apostle Paul handled this dilemma in his letter to the Christian church in Rome (Romans 5:3-4). My interpretation is ADAPT! Be patient and persistent as you adapt to the world as it changes (and it will never cease changing). Patience and persistence build the strength of your character. It’s in your character that there is hope. Social media? Engage, adapt, use it for Him.

  13. Ron Hershey says:

    As I read this response thread, I see Loren’s concerns about social media communication exemplified, in that little effective communication is actually taking place. For this reason, I hesitated to enter the fray, as I’m certain that someone will take my comments and make some assumptions about what I am actually thinking. But obviously I decided to take the plunge!

    I listened to Loren’s communication speech in totality and did not hear a call for an abandonment of social media, but an increased understanding of it’s limitations. Social media, for the reasons stated, can be a powerful tool of communication, but please, let’s allow it’s effectiveness to be challenged as well, without being vilified when doing so.

    The call that Loren did clearly put forth was for the development of technology to prevent texting while driving. Too bad this challenge was not highlighted.

    • Tim Nafziger says:

      I agree with you that commenting on blogs or on social media can be an intimidating experience for the reasons you outlined, but I also have found that there are times when it is possible to have a useful conversation despite its limitations. Thanks for taking the risk and leaving a comment. Your comment has already been helpful to me, because I did not realize that the entire audio of Swartzendruber’s commencement address was available on-line before. For others who might be interested in listening, here it is:

      Podcast of Loren Swartzendruber’s 2016 commencement address

      I do want to emphasize that the broader pattern I am drawing attention to here has to do with at the social location and leadership positions of those raising these concerns at this particular time. Aside from the examples I used above, there are others whose critique of social media I’ve heard about off the record. The argument of each person mentioned has different nuances, but none of them, that I’m aware of, acknowledged the way that social media can help equalize power and give access to those on the margins. David Boshart’s comment above is the closest I’ve come to seeing that analysis. If I’m missing something, please send a reference my way as I’d be glad to know about it.

  14. […] The Lutherans aren’t the only mainline denomination talking about social media and digital ministry. Tim Nafziger wrote in The Mennonite, about “Why Mennonite leaders need to stop complaining about social media.” […]

  15. M. South says:

    I hear Tim’s call for the poor and powerless to be empowered, as a virtuous statement. Yet to the man who has a hammer, the temptation might be to see everything as a nail in the church’s coffin. Tim’s own privileged Silicon Valley perch at an internet powered development company gives him both cachet in terms of belonging to that moneyed elite, also famous for its progressivist hegemony, as well perhaps a self belief that what he does to make that money is driven by progress and social concern. Which is quite a big ideological hammer to use to nail a church’s leadership to the cross with. What if it’s just the new boss, overthrowing the old boss, claiming a new power over? Might there not be some privilege to check?

    • Becky Murphy says:

      Not sure why you think you have the ability to call out someone else’s privilege when you don’t even know how the Bible was used to justify slavery.

      • Dave Hockman-Wert says:

        Hi Fran,

        Welcome to The Mennonite’s comment boards.

        I find it intriguing that the website linked from your name is identical to the one linked from “M. South” (in content, if not precise web address). I am guessing you have some relationship? Could it be akin to the relationship between Donald J. Trump and “John Miller”?

        Given that you criticize Tim (falsely) based on “facts” you gleaned from web searches, I find it sadly ironic that you steadfastly refuse to use your real name on these discussion boards.


        • M. South says:

          One of the enduring tropes of social media – ironic to this discussion – is the applicability of Godwin’s Law:

          “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitler approaches 1 -​​ that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.”

          As a corollary, the tradition in internet social media is that once such a comparison is made, whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.

          I don’t watch Fox News nor for that matter any other commercial broadcast or cable television network, having gotten rid of TV in 1989 when we realized we couldn’t control its bad effects on our very young children, and as a matter of fact on our own psychology.

          So I’m purposely removed from the somewhat futile heat of duopoly party politics, in which it’s apparent that whoever “wins,” the result is not going to be a much more peaceable and less warlike America.

          However, at the same time this comparison of me to Donald Trump was made, I am aware from what I’ve read that riots were taking place outside a Trump political event in California, where “progressive” demonstrators became violent, consumed with hatred of the political figure they have decided is the latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler. No doubt the language and accusations were inflammatory once this belief took hold and love was not a verb. I think the reference was to a sexual act against Donald Trump that can be performed out of lust, not just love, against his will. That sounds like rape.

          I understand that the commentator disagrees with just about all of my expressed positions on his desire for the transformation of the church to conform to the LGBTQI agenda. Particularly, the link to a site that mentions EVANA rankles and makes him sad. No doubt, from his perspective, all that relegates his opinion of me to be on a par with the hated politician Trump, the putative Nazi. Although, to be fair to Trump, he is not likely to share my faith convictions, either, having expressed support for Bruce Jenner’s cross-dressing.

          However, since I don’t believe that any politics is going to solve the problems of our society, let alone the predicament of the church, the comparison is a misplaced assessment that is more revealing of the accuser’s political obsessions than that of the accused.

      • M. South says:

        There never was any legitimate use of the Bible to justify slavery. The Gospel is the Good News that we ought to be freed from slavery, even of our own appetites. Some folks will always try to quote scripture to justify the sins they love to do, just as Jesus said the Devil himself deceptively attempts. I’d say they are fooling themselves, and it’s not shaming the Devil.

  16. John Gingrich says:

    The challenges to Mennonite institutions caused by social media is not going to be a concern to most Mennonites, both conservative or liberal. Our tradition of flat organizations and priesthood of believers theology makes us happy to see ivory towers being lowered. We have always thought we were as wise as our leaders. The one thing healthy about much of the MWR, The Mennonite, and even Our Stories Untold forums is the use of real names. I have long ago discounted and ignored comment sections that are anonymous. Also, the posting by Lauren on OSU was vulnerable, honest, and courageous. There is an accountability in that type of transparency that carries it’s own authority and power. Any discomfort, conviction, indictment, and shame that results from that action whether it is on social media or other media has the full applause of heaven. I thank OSU and Lauren and Marissa for the use of social media in this way.

  17. M. South says:

    We ought not to be so childish, as once we were when we first learned to read, to believe because it was printed in a newspaper or book, that it was necessarily true.

    “Right there in black and white!” and read all over, was no guarantee of truth.

    “I read it on the internet!” and therefore it is necessarily true? You’d have to be naive.

    And if there are a flurry of inflammatory one-liner tweets from a mob, the verdict is doxxing?

    It’s true that social media can allow more people to gain an audience; but it also perversely allows for easier catfishing via the Haven Monahan effect. In that case, it was old school media that made the charge that a young woman had been gang raped at the University of Virginia and that the fraternity and the administration had covered it up. Rolling Stone Magazine’s article made “rape culture” a national issue. The problem is that the sensational charges hadn’t been fact checked, and were in reality completely fabricated. With the amplification of social media outrage, along with the bald assertion that those claiming to be victims never lie, reputations of the innocent were ruined, careers derailed and years of productivity lost. What had been inflamed was instead rape culture hysteria. And the troubled young woman at the center of it was not well served at all either, to say the least.

    If the magazine had exercised journalistic responsibility and performed the required editorial function of fact checking, especially where reputations are at stake, the story would never have been published and the harm to all involved would never have occurred. Now the magazine itself is being sued for astronomical sums.

    So let’s be aware, that in social media there is no required fact checking, just unfiltered opinion, whether true or untrue or various permutations in between. A lot could be reasonably classified as gossip. It is completely reasonable to be skeptical of what is posted – even if you want to believe it because it confirms one’s own biases.

  18. M. South says:

    “We have always thought we were as wise as our leaders. ”

    I suppose one less than salutary case of this unexamined belief in a priesthood of unbelievers, could be what went on down below, while Moses climbed the mountain, to meet God face to face.

  19. M. South says:

    I notice that in a comment, reference to a particular individual, as “attacking” with “snark and vitriol,” as well as the individual in question’s own response, has been removed.

    I do realize that when one feels that what is driving one is considered to be (in one’s own eyes, at least) self-evident righteousness, that it’s easy for it to seem just to make accusations that will seem unfair to those who sincerely don’t agree, and to take personal offense when they respond in the same manner. (Don’t you see – they’re wrong – so they aren’t entitled to be unfair! The same tactics we use, when used by those with whom we disagree, aren’t at all the same, taken to Manichean extreme: i.e., our enhanced interrogation, their torture, our liberations, their insurgencies, etc.)

    Let me put forth a perception from this side: that the advocates for this new dispensation of LGBTQ revelation, are highly aggressive in their radical push to discredit current leadership, overthrow historical church teachings, and to exclude through highly vocal marginalization of both motives and the persons who by conscience must disagree. When this is properly resisted, the tactic changes to claiming victimhood, thereby trying to elicit sympathy by alleging to have been hurt by those who must honestly disagree. This is classic passive-aggressive strategy, which Christians, who are inclined to sympathy and empathy, are particularly vulnerable to. It’s an attempt through invoking vulnerability and victimhood to exercise the power to shut down, to shame into silence. It’s a distraction from the issues. Personally, it has no power over me, since I know it for the political tactic it is. But we would all do well to recognize it, and to not be distracted.

  20. Dave Hockman-Wert says:

    Tim, if I understand correctly, your premise is that there is a “story and a pattern” of complaints about social media among Mennonite leaders, and they should stop this. Thus, the headline.

    Yet, you include only two examples of this “pattern.” (Your third example was non-Mennonite.) One of those two was debunked by the person in question, David Boshart. The other was at least partially (if not fully) debunked by a commenter, who, unlike you, had listened to Loren’s full speech. (I listened to the full speech also.) You were trusting a quote in a newspaper article, without the full context, and appear to have extrapolated based on your underlying biases.

    Given that neither of your examples effectively supports your premise, would you like to reconsider your premise? Making accusations based on a lack of good data might support a critique of social media, were someone to actually make one.

    Failing any real data, this essay simply seems to fit into your general anti-Mennonite-institutions series. That is fine, since it’s a reasonable gestalt that is worth sharing with the wider Menno world. But I don’t think you actually prove your premise.

    After all, I found all of the important articles you mention about the Hartman case thanks to the “old media” in new form — i.e., TM, MWR, and Our Stories Untold. (And I’m glad I did.) It might be a worthy discussion as to whether OSU counts as “social media,” but I guess I tend to define that as FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc., not general websites.


    • M. South says:

      Dave H-W’s comments about social media are the practical acknowledgement that like any tool, it can be used for good or ill (and things in between that are just neutral or entertainment.)

      Old media never was objective (though at least there was some fact checking required, to prevent at the least lawsuits, and at best more professionally to uphold journalistic standards) although the public tended to trust the Cronkite authority figures. The best of them lived up to that, despite personal bias.

      Social media is basically unfiltered. Fact checking is not required before information (or disinformation) is widely distributed. It could be spreading false accusations, or holding authority accountable. It could be expressing democratic ideals, or incitement of mob action.

      There is still a need for regular, traditional journalism, even if the distribution method changes. There need to be at least ad hoc trusted fact checkers, even if not before social media spreads the message, assessments we can trust afterwards.

      Whatever the case, however, moves to censor social media by third parties are misguided, because the question then arises, who, and why? It’s as bad to spike a Seymour Hersh as it is a Lauren Sheflett. As the jurist Louis Brandeis observed, the remedy to bad speech, is more speech, not less.

      The old gatekeeper paradigm gave us Randolph Hearst and the Spanish American War by pretext, Judith Miller and non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Better we should engage weapons of mass discussion.

    • Tim Nafziger says:


      I have a couple of points about the broader pattern of Mennonite leaders complaining about social media that come to mind in response to your question.

      First, as I said above in response to Ron Hershey, I’ve heard other examples of these complaints off the record from others.

      Second, I read Boshart’s comments as respectfully engaging with my perspective and offering a nuanced and complex response, but his response doesn’t invalidate my original challenge. It’s two parts of a conversation in which we disagree. Both points of view can co-exist without invalidating the other.

      Third, my analysis of these patterns in Boshart’s and Swartendruber’s speeches were not simply based on my own personal reading of them, but based on what I heard from the AM SNAP community and their supporters. Here’s a quote from Dale Metzler, married to Barbra Graber, who heard David’s sermon first hand:

      “In an April sermon given by David Boshart at Park View entitled Boundary Crossings, he extolled the Godly virtues of one Tabatha found in Acts of the Bible. He sad she was a model disciple, did good works and acts of charity, made clothes for widows and the poor and was just an all around good person. I have no doubt she was a woman of God.

      From here, David transitioned into his disdain for social media and the ‘snarky comments’ made by people who use this medium. I have observed since his sermon that the negative comments about social media have come from men while most of these so called “snarky comments” on social media are coming from women on OurStoriesUntold or SNAP.

      What is the message here? That women should learn from the life of Tabatha and adopt the role of “model disciple?” Is the long held patriarchal system being challenged and threatened by women who are rising up to tell their truth?
      Is David himself crossing boundaries that maybe he should not cross while women cross boundaries they should cross?”

      What you and Ron Hershey take away from Boshart and Swartendruber’s speeches is going to be very different from what someone in a different social location takes away from it. My quotes from Marissa Buck clearly speak to the impact of Swartzendruber’s remarks on Marissa Buck and her sister Lauren Shifflet. That’s just two examples of the perspectives that were the foundations for my piece.

      The perspectives of leaders is shaped by their social location and power. For Swartzendruber tells a story at 41:23 of dictating messages to transcriptionists in the basement at the beginning of his career in 1975. How might that story look different told from the perspectives of the transcriptionist? Swartzendruber’s 41 years in university administration have been deeply shaped by being the one who dictates rather than transcribes. Which is why I argue social media provides a helpful in amplifying voices that have been shaped by social locations outside of institutions.

      Fourth, Sara Wenger-Shenk, president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, also raised questions about social media behavior in a recent article. She said:

      “As a leader, I grieve when fellow leaders who seek to offer moral guidance are thrashed and shamed on social media and from blog pulpits by those whose moral indignation boils over in public condemnations.

      I am also among those who watch in dismay as church leaders who should exercise moral authority on behalf of victims and disenfranchised persons fail to do the right thing and then cover-up or make excuses rather than apologize for their failure.

      Wenger-Shenk’s speaks both to people in leadership and people using social media. I agree with her call to leaders to be humble and vulnerable and I see her message as more nuanced than the examples above. However, I still feel that characterization of this use of social media by those outside leadership does not adequately recognize the balancing effects that social media can have.

      Fifth, one of the key mechanisms in which I see social media functioning in this balancing is the sharing and amplifying of articles published by traditional media. And this is where I am drawing on my experience as web developer: fewer people today are going to the front page of a publication to read all their articles the way they would when picking up a magazine. They find an article in their social media feed and then go back to the feed rather than browsing further in the publication. This is forcing publications to revisit the structure of their site, but having an article go viral can be a boon to an publication by helping them reach far beyond their traditional audience. A parallel would be the way that pamphlets in the reformation didn’t negate the work of traditional scholars: they amplified it.

      Finally, I don’t claim that the argument I made in this article is the only valid one. Rather I hope it is one that can provoke conversations like the one you and I are having here. Thanks for joining in.

  21. […] List would not have happened without researcher Stephanie Krehbiel, who now administers the list, Tim Nafziger who has offered ongoing consultation from the beginning, and all of the dedicated people of  SNAP […]

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