On October 12, 2014, I asked Cynthia Astle not to republish my work going forward on UM Insight. I didn’t state this publicly because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I wasn’t looking for a fight or to criticize UM Insight publicly. I had actually not given this much thought at all since that time, but a few days ago Astle wrote an article stating, “David F. Watson asked that his previous material be removed entirely from our database.” She suggests in the article that by doing so I have “disengaged” from “the conversation.” The article also intimates that I did this because of criticism from another blogger.
There are a few items related to this matter that I wish to address. It is untrue that I asked that all of my previous material be removed entirely from the UM Insight database. My exact and only request was, “I am writing to ask that you not re-post any of my blogs going forward on UM Insight.” That was it. I asked for nothing else.
This request was made in a private conversation via email. I never intended for this to be a public matter, and I wish it had not been made one.
Why did I request that UM Insight stop republishing my work? I did this because I think much of what is published on UM Insight is unhelpful to anything like meaningful conversation, and I don’t want to contribute to a site that I disagree with so strongly in its basic philosophy of discourse. I simply got tired of ad hominem attack. I got tired of character assassination. I became weary of insult, the attribution of false motives, and bad argumentation. I felt that the articles should have been vetted more carefully. Yes, UM Insight publishes some good articles, too, but the accumulation of posts that I felt were irresponsible made me uncomfortable allowing my work to be republished there. I therefore withdrew permission for her to publish my work in that particular venue. As a writer, that is my prerogative, which I chose to exercise.
As for the charge that this represents a withdrawal from “the conversation,” I can only respond that UM Insight does not represent “the conversation.” For that matter, there is not simply one conversation going on in the UM world. There are many. I surmise that by “the conversation,” Astle means to refer to the ongoing disagreement among United Methodists about the future of the UMC, particularly with regard to issues related to LGBTQ persons. Yes, that is one conversation, and an important one, but there are other important conversations as well, and I, along with others, continue to engage in these. I am not willing to allow one conversation to drown out discussion regarding such important issues as Holy Communion, ministry with people with disabilities, methods of biblical interpretation, Christian discipleship, church renewal, and related matters.
Regarding public conversation, I have continued to publish on my blog, which is listed on the Methoblog website. I have also written for print and online publications officially and unofficially connected to The United Methodist Church. In addition I have spoken publicly in a number of venues, particularly on the topics of biblical interpretation and ministry with people with disabilities. No, I have not “disengaged” from “the conversation.” I have simply engaged in conversations (plural) on topics that are the most important to me in ways that feel appropriate to me.
Over the last couple of years I have written a few pieces on what I consider the most helpful ways for Christians to engage in public discourse. I remain committed to intellectual virtue and charitable discussion among people of faith. Properly undertaken, public dialogue can be a great way to create understanding and even facilitate cooperation. But the ways in which we express ourselves and engage one another really do matter, and UM Insight has not been a site on which I have found consistent expressions of healthy discourse.