While poking around The Clergy Project (TCP) website the other day, I noticed that the “History” page had been changed since my last visit and that one section on how TCP was formed had incorrect information.
Although I know how well-meaning people can get information jumbled after a while, I also know how important it is to keep it straight, especially in a venue that is thought to be authoritative. In presentations that Dan Dennett and I give, we’re always careful when describing the connection between our study and TCP because we know how easily people can become confused.
Still, I was very troubled by this. It reminded me of the confusion caused by mistranslations of the Bible.
But that took centuries, involving ancient languages and nameless scribes. How could this happen just five years after TCP was founded? In plain English? On the Internet? With all the original players still alive?
I suppose I could have made a study of it, just as 19th century scholars did with the Bible, trying to figure out who did what, when they did it, what the historical context was and what, if anything, could be gained or lost by rewriting history. But I didn’t care about sorting out whatever human error or motive had caused this. I just wanted to fix it fast.
That turned out to be easy, thanks to plain English, the Internet and reliable human communications.
Here’s the problem and the solution:
The History page misrepresented how the first TCP members were selected and the role that the research Dan Dennett and I conducted played in the formation of TCP. I emailed TCP President Terry Plank, Communications Chair Drew Bekius and co-founder Dan Barker with the correct info and everything is fixed now – just two days from when I first noticed the errors. While I’m upset that it happened at all, I’m very gratified by the rapid response to fix it.
To reinforce the facts, I’ll recount the true story of how the first members of TCP came to be:
Dan Dennett and I approached Dan Barker to help us find pastors for a study we were planning on non-believing clergy. Ultimately Barker identified three of the original five active, non-believing clergy who participated in the pilot study, Preachers Who are Not Believers, which was published in 2010. After the pilot study went public, Dan Dennett and I received emails directly from clergy interested in participating in the larger study we were planning. Some of those clergy, after screening, became study participants. Then, before March 2011, when the private TCP site opened, I called all the people who had originally contacted us about the study to see if they were interested in or qualified for TCP. Most of those who were qualified decided to join.
The other, separate source of original TCP members came from a list that Dan Barker had compiled over the years of former clergy he had met while giving talks and attending Freethought conferences.
That’s it. I conveyed this information to TCP leadership, Dan Barker confirmed and voila, the information was corrected. For the full story of the founding of TCP, see its History page.
But there was more work to be done. I also noticed that the TCP Wikipedia page had some incorrect information. I signed up as an editor and went in and changed all the errors. It was frighteningly simple and was another reminder of how quickly history can be changed. Still, I was not able to add my photo to the lineup of the named founders.
(Two other founders, “Adam” and “Chris” are now out of the clergy, but not yet out of the closet.)
When I tried to add my photo, the moderator charged me with “vandalizing” the site! If anyone knows how to add photos, please advise – or sign into Wikipedia and do it yourself. I hope you’re not labeled as a vandal.
Moral of the story: To err is human; to correct quickly is a gift from the Internet.
>>>>>>>>>Photo Credits: “The Scream” by Edvard Munch – WebMuseum at ibiblioPage: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/Image URL: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/munch.scream.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg#/media/File:The_Scream.jpg
Dan Barker, by Brent Nicastro. © Brent Nicastro, Madison, Wisconsin.
“Daniel Dennett 2” by Dmitry Rozhkov – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daniel_Dennett_2.jpg#/media/File:Daniel_Dennett_2.jpg