Keyboard burns a career



The headline in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention: “Facebook and Twitter Postings Cost CFO His Job.” Rachel Emma Silverman reported (May 15, 2012, B-1) that 63-year-old Gene Morphis was fired because he showed no restraint on Facebook and Twitter.

The ex-chief financial cfficer for the women’s clothing company Francesca’s Collection who received a salary of $1.8 million in 2010-11 is now unemployed because of posts and tweets like these:

March 6: “Dinner w/Board tonite. Used to be fun. Now one must be on guard every second.”

March 7: “Board meeting. Good numbers=Happy Board.”

March 13: “Earnings released. Conference call completed. How do you like me now Mr. Shorty?”

Morphis learned the hard way that there is a huge difference between griping at the water cooler versus grousing on Facebook or Twitter. Although both actions can potentially damage a company, the possibility for collateral damage is exponentially higher when thousands of people are readers. Mr. Morphis ignored his own tweet, “Must be on guard every second.”

Facebook, Twitter and other social media instruments can encourage healthy dialogue, giving pastors and other church leaders the means to engage in healthy long-distance conversations about important issues. But with this technology comes the need for appropriate restraint. Recognizing these potential dangers, the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church requires all candidates for ordination to friend” the Board of Ordained Ministry on their social media sites. Is this policy overkill? A Kentucky Methodist leader says it allows the church to be aware of those candidates whose language is “flippant, degrading or unbecoming of UM clergy.”

I read a virulent Facebook posting last month by a pastor who used this social media to complain about a denominational leader using defamatory language that made Mr. Morphis’ comments tame. A few disgruntled laypersons piled on, other clergy chimed in.

Some will shrug this off: “It’s a free country…people need thick skins…if the shoe fits, wear it, let the chips fall where they will, etc…” But had Facebook existed in Jesus’ day he might have said, based on Matthew 18: 15-20, “If you have something against another person, don’t tweet or post it. Speak to that person. If that doesn’t work, try again with 2-3 other persons. If that still doesn’t work, take it to the church.” This 3-step course of action involves a social component requiring courage and integrity while allowing for healing and redemption.

I write as one convicted of my own complicity in the sin of gossip, carping, self-righteousness that likely has undermined other person’s or congregation’s ministry. To cite another cliché, “It takes one to know one.” The book of James (3: 6, 10) has it right, “The tongue is a fire ... From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters this ought not to be so.”

If the tongue is a fire, where does that leave a keyboard, a tweet and a Facebook post?

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.