2010 Blog Resolutions on Ethical Discussions

We have an interesting community at Messianic Jewish Musings. I get emails from people all over the world and from many different points of view. The internet simply brings a lot of people together.

My purpose in cataloguing some of the types of people and labeling them in groups is not to demean any group or point of view. I am listing these because I think readers might find it interesting and a good lead-in to talk about better ways to converse on blogs this new year (new decade, for that matter).

I will, as best I possibly can, rank these groups and points of view from the furthest to the nearest to myself in terms of theology and practice. The following people, based on emails and comments I receive, read this blog:

–Neo-Nazi and Aryan Christian types. There have been a few comments (quickly deleted by me) over the years and a few emails.

–Angry Muslims and sometimes more respectful Muslims, usually reacting to something about the state of Israel.

–Atheists who are sometimes hostile and sometimes simply interested in friendly debate.

–Sabbath-keeping Christian groups, Seventh Day Adventists, United Church of God, former Worldwide Church of God, and so on.

–Various non-Jewish Torah movements, Hebrew Roots, Two House, and the like, sometimes belonging to Messianic congregations but in various ways against Judaism and usually seeing no unique calling for Jewish people.

–Christians who are not necessarily positive about Israel and definitely against Torah-keeping for Messianic Jews.

–Jewish Christians, Jews in churches, and those affiliated with Christian missions to the Jews, also sometimes belonging to Messianic congregations and usually not enthusiastic about rabbinic tradition or the idea that Jews should remain in Jewish communities. Yet I put these in a closer category to myself than the non-Jewish Torah movements because usually these groups show more love in communication and are less apt to speak judgmentally.

–Israel-loving Christians who want to read the Bible in a Jewish-sensitive way and yet who do not think of themselves as Jews or that “grafted in” means total identification.

–Messianic Jews and non-Jews who love Israel, keep Torah, and yet believe that Torah is either required or preferable even for non-Jews. Some One Law, Two House, and Hebrew Roots people fit into this category.

–Messianic Jews who believe in the unique calling of the Jewish people, in the redemption of Israel in Yeshua, and in building a traditional, Yeshua-centered Judaism. As one in the process of converting, this is the category into which I would like to place myself.

The Ethics of Discussions
With all these groups reading and sometimes commenting, there are arguments here, just as there are on many blogs and public forums. I have been guilty of belligerence and unkind speech myself more than once. Isn’t 2010 a good time for all of us to grow in our ethic of treating one another in conversation?

Enjoying a good read on ethics, I sometimes immerse myself in Joseph Telushkin’s A Code of Jewish Ethics (I only have volume 1 at the moment). I just spent a little time in Telushkin’s book on the subject of when to criticize and how to criticize. Inspired by some of his many thoughts, and also by some principles from Hashivenu (see hashivenu.org), I have some resolutions for 2010:

–Since God says “you shall rebuke, yes rebuke, your fellow” (Lev 19:7), I will consider it important to challenge harmful ideas and actions, but in a manner consistent with love as shown below.

–Believing that “love without criticism is not love” (Genesis Rabbah 54:3) and “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov 27:6), I will speak gently but truthfully, considering the person I am challenging as a friend and not an enemy.

–Since I must be more concerned with the speck in my eye (Matt 7:3) I will consider myself unworthy of merciless judgment, especially knowing the mercy of my Creator.

–So that others will not think I condone a harmful idea or action, I will not let it go without a challenge.

–I will make it my goal to overlook personal slights since he who forgives an offense seeks love (Prov 17:9).

–I will always seek to correct myself before I correct others (Talmud, Bava Mezia 107b).

–I will seek to correct others gently, patiently, and if possible to avoid embarrassing, privately.

–I will try to be winsome in challenging others, believing that “the righteous person comes with pleasant, gentle words and draws people to Torah” (Midrash Proverbs 10:20).

–Confine criticism to specific words and actions; do not generalize. (For example, do not say, “why do you speak hatefully?” implying that someone habitually does so).

–Ask myself, “Am I being fair or am I exaggerating?”

–When criticized or challenged, I will not be defensive, but will consider and admit partial or complete wrongs.

–I will regard all people I discuss with as sharers in God’s image and likeness and as potential teachers.

–I will practice the rule of love given by our Messiah: treat others as I would want to be treated (Matt 7:12).

Discussion Starters
If you have been a reader of blogs and comments on blogs, perhaps you would like to share some of your thoughts.

Do controversies and arguments bring more readers and more attention to blogs?

What helps you learn the most in a dialogue: belligerence or civility?

Is there a principle of ethical discussion you would like to share or would you like to comment on one from my list?

Has a blog discussion ever caused you some unpleasant emotion and what have you learned?

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 2010 Blog Resolutions on Ethical Discussions

  1. peterygwendyta says:

    Controversy for controversy sake is never a good idea and there are some in the blogosphere who can’t get enough of it. Although I must admit that it seems that controversy does bring more readers and comments to blogs. I have no problem discussing controversy but when the comments become insulting and demeaning I start to switch off. This shows more about the true heart of the person making this comments than about the subject itself. As someone from Northern ireland I have seen first hand where political or religious argument can lead and it is not pretty. When I first came upon the Messianic movement I was expecting one unified group but instead I found as many denominations and viewpoints among messianics as I do among Christianity. controversy does need to be discussed but it should always be done in civility. Obviously from time to time things may get heated but they should never get personal. There have been times when I have written responses to comments which have not been good and more often than not I deleted it before I posted it because it would definity have not helped the discussion. At the end of the day our main purpsose should be to bring honour to God not how great we are at delievering a knock out blow in favour of our point of view. Keep the discussion up and even controversy but the spirit should always be right as well.

    Derek as always a great blog.

  2. Peter:

    Interestingly, I can tell you readership goes way up with controversy. At first I thought the numbers were only people reading and rereading posts as the comments piled up. But I found that with argument came many new people as well. A fight attracts people as —- attracts flies!

    Well, if arguing heatedly and resorting to insulting language shows more about the heart of the person than the subject itself, and I think you are right, I have to be embarrassed about some of the things I have said!

    Derek Leman

  3. josephmcole says:

    Thank you, Derek, for your sensitivity in classifying your readers. As one of these readers, I saw myself in a category and felt somewhat validated. In our dialogue over the past year, we have not always seen eye to eye, however, I’ve always appreciated your responsiveness. I look forward to reading more of your insightful–sometimes controversial–post and podcasts.

  4. judahgabriel says:

    >> “Do controversies and arguments bring more readers and more attention to blogs?”

    In my experience, absolutely. I’ve got hard statistics to back this up. :-)

    Of course, a more important goal than getting a broad audience is building up Messiah’s people. I think the arguments and controversies usually hurt and tear down Messiah’s flock. Especially on the internet, where your words can be nitpicked and are interpreted in the worst way possible, and your readers, empowered by the anonymity granted by the internet, rip apart people without hesitation. Usually over matters that, in the long run, really don’t matter that much.

    Derek, if you really do as you say in your post, it will contribute to peacefulness in the Messianic movement in the 2010s. Good luck.

  5. davidjchavez says:

    I enjoyed reading this. You have to appreciate those with other view points. Even though we we may not agree 100%, they have a different point of view which enables us to view the Scriptures from another perspective. You have also inspired me to finish my Joseph Telushkin collection!

  6. “”I think the arguments and controversies usually hurt and tear down Messiah’s flock.”

    Yes, they certainly do. But they don’t start on the internet – the roots go much deeper than that. They are in the every day reality that we see in our congregations and interactions with people we meet elsewhere. Internet is simply a convenient and safe meeting place for people who would normally stay clear of each other. The reason we stay clear of each other is because many of our important views, visions and goals are not very compatible or downright opposite and can’t coexist side by side in a peaceful manner for very long without eventually inciting real life theological [or, as history shows, worse] brawls.

    We can’t always avoid conflict because we are faced with reality that this world is fallen and that not every compromise for the sake of peace will lead to truth or real lasting peace. However, at least we must try to be more respectful and kind to each other in 2010.

  7. Judah, Gene, David:

    I hope those of us who frequently interact will develop helpful habits of discussion about ideas and practices. I may fail to uphold these resolutions, but I give everyone permission to quote chapter and verse and call me out when and if I do.

    I’d say my favorite bullet point is the one drawn from Midrash Proverbs 10:20 that I found in Telushkin’s helpful chapter: I will try to be winsome in challenging others, believing that “the righteous person comes with pleasant, gentle words and draws people to Torah” (Midrash Proverbs 10:20).

  8. I like what Seth at JudeoXian said about “that hot feeling welling up inside of you” (http://judeoxian.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/so-what-about-the-goyim/). I know what you’re talking about Seth!

    > I give everyone permission to quote chapter and verse and call me out when and if I do.

    Same here! Generally I’ve seen Messianic bloggers do reasonably well in 2009 at calling out inflammatory language from opponents. I do think there is room for improvement among bloggers who fall within the same “category” in helping their fellow idealogues to honor these practices (I’m thinking of my own category as much as anyone else’s). Perhaps this might make for more collegiate discussions in 2010…

  9. warland52 says:

    On a similar theme from the internet site called the Christian Think Tank:
    1. The God of Truth is NOT afraid of our questions.
    2. Our God is God of the whole person: will, emotions, body, even our intellect.
    3. God is seriously committed to truth–whatever the cost…as His children, so should we be.
    4. Taking a person’s questions seriously is an act of respect and love, even when they don’t really take them seriously.
    5. Distortion, misrepresentation, or deception through omission are unethical.
    6. When we don’t know the answer, we must say ‘I do not know’…
    7. If a sincere question (as a felt need) comes our way, we should attempt to meet that need through answers, resources, or encouragement to patience.
    8. We are not allowed to be contentious or to argue for argument’s sake.
    9. We should be changing the shape of eternity, one conversation at a time.
    10. Sometimes the best answer is silence.
    11. Prov. 18:13: “He who answers before listening — that is his folly and his shame.”
    12. “Slander” includes misrepresentation.
    13. Chronic ignorance can become irresponsibility, and chronic irresponsibly can become a moral failure.
    14. It is not a sin to have unanswered questions and agonizing doubts–you can raise more questions in 5 minutes than you can answer in 50 years!
    15. It is generally dishonest to reject a belief which you have N+1 arguments for, on the basis of only N arguments against (all argument weights being equal)…it is also somewhat foolish.
    16. Unanswered questions CAN be a source of emotional pain.
    17. This is NOT A GAME we’re in.

  10. judeoxian says:

    Great guidelines. I think I’m going to re-post your list (with due credit, of course).

    Back when I blogged as “torahguy,” there were a number of bloggers I followed whose blogs were endless controversy. This constant controversy resulted in spiritual damage in the lives of a few (though as mentioned, the blogging was just representative of a deeper malfunction).

    Cheap shots and fiery rhetoric just end the discussion for me. I’m gone. When civil discussion is modeled between two parties, it is a thing of beauty.

    So I think discussing controversial topics should be handled with care, but they cannot be ignored.

    My life-long motto has always been, and will continue to be, “Speaking the truth in love.”

  11. tnnonline says:

    I know that many people are totally sick of ad hominem arguments, and instead want to stick to the issues. De-personalizing complicated subjects is not always something that is easy, but is something that we should all strive for.

    I wish you the best with your new ethos statement.

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