Kentucky UMC Social Media Policy Requires Access to Pastors’ MySpace, Facebook Accounts

kentucky UMC logoIn a move that screams “we fear what we do not understand” the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is requiring its clergy to sign a “MySpace, Facebook and Website Disclosure Agreement.”

The agreement requires clergy to “agree to allow the Kentucky Annual Conference to examine any and all MySpace, Facebook, or other blog and website accounts that I may have.”

While the agreement clearly requires access to all text and media posted publicly to social media accounts, it’s not clear whether it requires access to private messages. The document says, it gives the KY conference permission to “examine any and all … accounts” and “access to any part of these accounts will not be blocked.”  “Any part of these accounts” could reasonably interpreted to include private messages.

A person has to wonder, however, whether the people who wrote the document and implemented the policy have much familiarity with social media.  The policy is awfully concerned about MySpace, which hardly anyone still uses. The document also states the Kentucky Annual Conference can be found on Facebook at bom@kyumc.org. Really? It also asks for the pastor’s Facebook user name. Facebook doesn’t use usernames, unless you consider that to be the part of the URL that follows http://facebook.com/

I’m all for personal accountability, but for the most part accountability is a natural part of social media. People know what they write on their blogs and post to social media is going to be seen by the family, friends, and people in their church they’re connected with online. And in the event of a momentary lack of judgment, I expect one of them would do as Jesus instructed in Matthew 18:15 and send their pastor a quick message asking, “Do you really want to say that publicly?”

What do you think of this policy? Good accountability? Overreaching?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

18 Responses to “Kentucky UMC Social Media Policy Requires Access to Pastors’ MySpace, Facebook Accounts”

  1. Wow! What great debate that can come out of this. And from so many angles; world, spiritual, personal freedom, accountability, representation, etc.

    My short answer is this is overreaching and the Kentucky UMC should not put their clergy in such a position. Rules like this are of the world and Mark 12:17 comes to mind.

    17Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

    Ultimately we are accountable to God.

  2. I am guessing this came as a reaction to some "scandal" that conference had regarding a Pastor and their Social Media account… I can see where they are coming from… and realistically any Pastor who is participating in Social Media shouldn't really have a problem with this. They really should be doing things that are already public anyway. That would be the point of using Social Media, right? :)

    Any Pastor who is doing things in secret probably isn't doing the "right" thing anyway… and they definitely need to realize that whatever they do on FB/Twitter, etc is PUBLIC for the world to see… :)

    Patrick Steil
    ChurchBuzz.org

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jul 1, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Absolutely. The policy is unnecessary and just makes the KY conference look out of touch and like they're more concerned with monitoring and controlling pastors than supporting them.

  3. In an article – http://umportal.org/article.asp?id=8000 – from a United Methodist magazine (who bothered to talk to the conference about the policy before reporting on it) an representative from the conference is quoted as saying:

    “I’ve been surprised by all this,” said the Rev. Tom Grieb, chairman of the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, which adopted the policy. “We haven’t had any pushback from our ordination candidates.”

    Is it reasonable to expect candidates for ordination to push back? When someone is seeking ordination from a Board of Ordained Ministry (yes the acronym is "boom") they aren't predisposed to make waves.

    In my opinion the policy seems over-reaching in the absence of a problem or accusation. Do conferences ask for newspaper clippings of every time candidates have been quoted in a news paper (they still have those right)?

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jul 1, 2011 at 8:49 am

      Brian, thanks for bringing that article to our attention. I'm glad the UM Reporter got more info and published the article. The commenting system choked on the parentheses around the link so reposting that here: http://umportal.org/article.asp?id=8000

      “We haven’t had any pushback from our ordination candidates” doesn't seem like adequate proof the policy is good.

  4. forgot to subscribe to replys. sorry for the double post. :)

  5. My personal opinion is that I do believe there should be some monitoring but not to the extreme of reading private messages …here is my example …if I am having a day and need someone to vent to its my pastor and what advice he gives me is between him and I. If I wanted the whole world to see my problems or a board of people I would've sent it to the board. Pastors even though they are "the door" to the spirit. They are human, they are of the flesh, they have reached a lot of youth and saved a lot of people becuase of social networking. They have a right to use things and reach out the public just as well as anyone. It's a touchy subject becuase I understand that they don't want pastors looking at things they shouldnt but honestly if you have the internet its there …and its not fair to take internet away from pastors who use to reach out to help people and bring them to God. I pray for all clergy around the world they have a big job, one that is not on the easiest top 10 list. Thank God for that.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jul 1, 2011 at 8:54 am

      A policy like this could cause people who are a part of Methodist churches in Kentucky less likely to reach out to their pastors through social media knowing that people at the state headquarters may require access to the private messages.

  6. It definitely sounds like a knee jerk reaction (by social media neanderthals)to scandalous activities reported by the mainstream media of other churches. I would argue there still needs to be some level of trust and privacy thrust upon those being placed into positions of responsibility. It's sad that it has come to this level.

  7. residentgeek Jul 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    while at first thought it may appear as overreaching, as far as for ministry i think it is a good idea.. ministry leaders should be held to a higher standard.. there is a lot of one thing on the platform and another online..

    however, if it gets to reaching into the pews.. then its too much.. judgement comes from God not men.

    • residentgeek,

      Exactly right judgement comes from God not men. This is the same for those in the pews as well as those on the platforms; they are both men accountable to God. However, Christians should be held to a higher standard period. Pastors are no more Christians than those in the pews. They are just often times more equipped to teach, lead and guide their congregation. They are no more or less than those in the church. Also, scripture has a plan for resolving a conflict with someone. I believe this is for the pastor as well. Matthew 18:15-17 (15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.)

      This does not say you should be constantly looking for wrong doing, but when wrong is done then you take care of it as stated in the verse above.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jul 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      Don't you think a ministers will be held accountable by the friends they're already connected with in social media?

      And what does this say about the conference's view of social media – does it show they trust their pastors and encourage them to build relationships online or does it demonstrate they're fearful & distrustful?

  8. The e-mail address they request you to friend on Facebook takes you to a conference employee's Facebook account. However, it appears that this person has a separate personal Facebook account, which is a violation of Facebook's Terms of Service. I continue to be amazed that this is not brought up by the press, though a few bloggers have mentioned it.

  9. Rev.wolff bachner Jul 6, 2011 at 7:19 am

    i will be blunt. this is fascism. period.

    • Rev.wolff bachner Jul 6, 2011 at 7:30 am

      im so glad im non denominational and im sure the umc is too. you guys remind me of the dark ages. so sad. i guess trust only comes with intrusive, soul denying spying on those you wish to tame for your priesthood.

  10. I think it show a remarkable lack of trust.
    Someone in Kentucky has way too much time on their hands.

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