The Great Hack and The End of Democracy

The other night I watched the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack.”  It was both a fascinating and disturbing look at how Cambridge Anayltica weaponized the enormous amount of data that is available for everyone in the US in order to swing the US election in 2016. 

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The Trump campaign was by no means Cambridge Analytica’s first national election for which they weaponized data.  Their clients resided on every continent.  Even though Cambridge Analytica is now defunct, other groups are already rising up to fill the gap because the strategy is so effective. 

In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a saying, “Alcoholism is the only disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease.”  In other words, denial is the fuel for dysfunctional behavior.  What struck me as I watched The Great Hack was that nobody thinks they are susceptible to propaganda or targeted misinformation.  Everyone thinks they are way too smart to be duped.  Part of what makes the weaponization of data so frightening is our complete denial of its effect on us. 

A few months ago, I read Yuval Noah Harari’s book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century.”  In the third chapter on Liberty and Big Data, he predicts the following:

As algorithms come to know us so well, authoritarian governments could gain absolute control over their citizens, even more so than in Nazi Germany, and resistance to such regimes might be utterly impossible. Not only will the regime know exactly how you feel, but it could make you feel whatever it wants.  The dictator might not be able to provide citizens with healthcare or equality, but he could make them love him and hate his opponents. Democracy in its present form cannot survive the merger of biotech and infotech.  Either democracy will successfully reinvent itself in a radically new form or humans will come to live in ‘digital dictatorships.’ (p. 66)

At a minimum, there are many of us who will remain skeptical of how the outcomes of every election going forward were attained.  If trust in the democratic process is the foundation of democracy, the foundations are crumbling. 

Dana Hicks
Mayor Pete's "Rules of The Road"

I’m on Pete Buttigieg’s email list. A couple weeks ago, he sent out his “Rules of the Road” that outline the values for which his campaign is aspiring. Like most of Mayor Pete’s writings, it is well thought out and articulated. In fact, I thought it would be a great set of values for a faith-based organization to espouse. So, I stole it and re-framed his “Rules of the Road” for a church context.

What would you think about a church who embodied these values?:

RESPECT

In our thoughts, words, and actions we cultivate a sense of respect. We respect one another on this team, we respect the tradition of the United Methodist Church, and we respect every individual we encounter. The better we hold up this value among ourselves, the better it will reflect outside.

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BELONGING

We seek to serve and unify a diverse congregation. Let us build a leadership team and a coalition of volunteers that kindly embraces and reflects the increasingly diverse city to which we belong. We will honor this value not just in our makeup but in our practices, as we proactively work to include people of different backgrounds and viewpoints in every major decision, and cultivate a sense of welcome to all.

TRUTH

Honesty is in our nature, and it is one of our greatest means of restoring faith in religious organizations and building a movement rooted in trust and faith in God. Internally and externally, our effort will be characterized by fidelity to the truth.

TEAMWORK

We are all working to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. In moments of disagreement, the temptations of pride and ego will arise. Rooted in our mission, let our common purpose be a touchstone as we foster a climate of trust and mutual respect.

BOLDNESS

We will not hesitate to take bold stances and to accept risk in the defense of our values. Our respect is reserved for people, not for conventions. We accept no truisms without questioning. The spirit of originality will create the pressure and permission for us to do things not done before, to stand out from the crowd not by waving our arms for attention but by the fact of being different.

RESPONSIBILITY

The conduct of a church can be as influential as its programs. Everyone on this team has a responsibility to live up to our values, and every participant, from a first-time volunteer to the senior leadership staff, must model this. When there is a mistake, we take ownership, learn, adjust, and move on. Missteps are inevitable, but they should never be repeated. We own our choices and our work.

SUBSTANCE

There is no point in being merely existing as an organization unless it is one of substance. We have the opportunity to open meaningful conversations. We will wrestle with contemporary questions seriously. We will lay aside the superficial in favor of the meaningful. We embrace complicated challenges, and will work to improve the overall dialogue in how the church relates to our world.

DISCIPLINE

A movement like ours will require enormous discipline. Through energy and determination, we will handle our resources with the stewardship they deserve, mindful that this organization is fueled by the gift of other people’s time, money, relationships, and reputations.

EXCELLENCE

A healthy church is a marvel and gives life to its members and its community. But the standard we should hold ourselves to in every part of our work is not whether it is at the level of a historically great church, but whether it is at the level we would expect of the best church of this time and place.

JOY

Amid the great challenge we have accepted, let us be joyful. We are privileged to be in the very center of the most important movement in the world. We are assembling a team of wonderful human beings. Along the way we will all get many opportunities to lift one another up and lift up those we encounter. Being involved with movement of God in our world will shape us but we can shape it too. Let us shape it, partly, by spreading the joy of working for our beliefs.

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(Mayor Pete’s origional “Rules of the Road” can be found here: https://go.peteforamerica.com/rules-of-the-road/)

Dana Hicks
Ordination Questions, Part 10: Theology of Ministry Statement

Please see the introduction to Part 1 for the context of these questions…

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Theology of Ministry Statement: Please make a brief statement of your theology of ministry. It should be no more than 1/3 page, typed and single-spaced. Upon a positive BOM recommendation you will read this statement aloud at the upcoming Annual Conference clergy session.

 My theology of ministry begins with the notion that God is love.  Additionally, the model of Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling among us is the concrete expression of what it means to be a representative of God in the world. 

  • I believe that sometimes the bravest and most important thing a person can do is just show up. 

  • I believe that spiritual values are transferred best through relational environments and is often more about unlearning things than learning things.

  • I believe that it is more important to change what people care about than to change what they believe.

  • I believe that ministry is not giving people what they want, but rather it is about changing the wants themselves. 

  • I believe there is no growth without change, no change without loss, and no loss without pain.

  • I believe that the church does not have a social strategy; the church is a social strategy. 

  • I believe that Jesus meant to start a movement, not an institution. 

  • I believe my calling is about saving people not saving institutions. 

  • I believe that often the greatest enemy to the movement of Jesus is Christianity. 

  • I believe that movements are living things and multiplication is what mature living things naturally do.

  • I believe that those who change the course of history are usually those who pose a new set of questions rather than those who offer solutions.

  • I believe that “us” and “them” are illusions.  There is no “them.” 

  • I believe that a pastor is as old as their cynicism and as young as their dreams.

  • I believe that the greatest temptation of a pastor is to be a hireling rather than a leader.  

  • I believe that the Beatles got it wrong. Love isn’t all we need.  Love is all there is. 

**I am indebted to many people who have shaped my ideas and been “mentors from afar”: Peter Drucker, GK Chesterton, Frederick Buechner, Dave Browning, Stanley Hauerwas, Erwin McManus, Eugene Peterson, Tony Campolo, Gustavo Gutierrez, Patrick Lenceoni, William Willimon, and Brian McLaren. 

Dana Hicks