Parish fights spreading online

The Internet give us extraordinary tools to communicate a message to a large group of people. In recent months this ability has started to cause the fall of governments and given new life to populist movements. But there’s a downside. The anonymity of the Internet can allow people to take the every day squabbles of life and magnify their effects so that the community is seriously and quickly threaded.

Case in point is the story of the parish level conflict that has broken out at Christ Episcopal Church in Bethany Connecticut.

“Fabian Ortiz had been the music director at Christ Church for four and a half years. Over the past month, through a series of miscommunications, and in some cases, too much communication, Ortiz decided to resign his position, leaving many parishioners feeling bereft having lost their pastor and now their music director. With little familiar to cling to, things began to unwind.

Round one began when parishioners were asked to attend a rally to demand Ortiz be reinstated as music director. When that failed, an anonymous email blast asked parishioners to attend a meeting demanding that the vestry be removed.

And then it grew incrementally worse. Another volley of emails went out asking people to attend a meeting on Sunday, Oct. 9. The invitation, titled “Fabian Ortiz Must be Punished,” said the parish would be asked to vote on filing a class action suit against Ortiz, “seeking damages for insubordination, theft, reimbursement of salary he made to be paid back to the church for poor job performance and for leaving the church in disarray.””

More here.

The article goes on to detail the way the conflict escalated – to the point where an email in support of the Vestry was sent with the subject line: ‘“Angry Parishioners in Support of the Vestry” [which] invited people to “Stop Fabian Ortiz Dead in His Tracks.” It was illustrated with a picture of Ortiz with a crosshair on his face.’

The church congregation has responded admirably, with much prayer, and it appears that for the moment the conflict is ebbing.

But what can congregations do to limit these sorts of conflicts spreading out of control, fanned by strong cyber-winds? Is it a matter of being clear about the community’s norms? Is it hiring cyber-detectives? Is it in finding a way to slow down the speed of the responses?

Have you seen things like this? What did you do?

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