Information, Misinformation, and Hyperinformation

Sometime ago, somebody out there in wherever land started calling this the Information Age. I clearly understand why they started calling it that, though it may be titled the Misinformation Age. With 24-hours a day, unceasing news being forced in our ears and down our throats, with computers that blog, phones that text, and everything that twitters, we have information rushing back and forth at us at speeds that can only be measured in nanoseconds. It is information on steroids and it can and often does get us in trouble. Judith Martin writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the land under a feature called Miss Manners. Her article is actually a day-to-day Q & A session with her readers and questioners.

Recently, she received a question from someone who had a new minister on staff. The problem was that the new minister had a practice of whenever he received information about someone who was hospitalized, sick, or having surgery, to send out an email sometimes with much detail, to a number of people across the congregation. Of course, each one of them may have friends or family, acquaintances or contacts in their circle that they could immediately forward it on to in just seconds of time. You can imagine how quickly the word spread reaching across the country or even around the world.

The problem as posed by the questioner had to do with the fact that at times this information was personal and private and at other times had no business being distributed indiscriminately. Miss Manners immediately affirmed the right to privacy and said that it needed to be explained to their new minister. Miss Manners and the questioning congregant were right. While privacy is an important issue, follow-up and confirmation of information is equally important. Some people get information through an email or a phone call and it barely has time to be absorbed into their eyeballs or into the inner ear before it is passed on to others. It may not be correct.

I could tell you of a number of instances through the years that information came to the church or to me and it was misinformation. Sometimes it was in error and at other times, it was totally false. On some occasions, if the information was passed along, it was just embarrassing. I will never forget one morning a call came to the church and the caller wanted to know if we had heard that Mr. So-andSo, one of our members, had died. No, we did not know that he was sick. We did not know that he had something happen during the night and that now his sweet wife, another member of our church, was a widow.

They lived only a few blocks from the church and so upon receiving the information I jumped in my car, rushed to the house, lightly tapped on the door, and the wife came and answered the door. Not knowing what had really taken place and since I was greeted by a cheery, warm smile from this new widow I did not know quite how to read all that was taking place. I just asked how he was doing and she said, “Well he is doing great. He is sitting in here drinking a cup of coffee. Could you come in and have a cup with us?” I said, “I would love to but let me call the church and let them know that I am going to be a little late getting to the office.” I called the office and simply told them that I had stopped by this house and was having a cup of coffee with Mr. So-and-So, who was supposed to be dead. I went and enjoyed another morning cup of coffee. The church secretary called the lady who had reported the death to tell her not to order flowers yet.

That was several years ago and now the problem is far worse. Information that should not be released is damaging. Misinformation can be totally destructive and hyperinformation, just getting the word out there with no checks or double checks, is not just poor immature journalism. It is just out and out wrong. Now for those who may not be alert and aware of privacy issues related to medical information, it is more and more a significant issue both in the medical community and with the church community as there are laws related to disclosure generally referred to as HIPPA laws. They govern what can and cannot be told and what can and cannot be released about a person or their condition.

While I have never personally heard of a church or a group of believers who were sued or threatened with some kind of action because they had given out information, it is not bad to keep in mind that you are not the one to be releasing private information on anyone else. They can do it themselves or ask that it be done but it is extremely helpful for us to treat information discreetly, accurately, and sometimes not at all. How quick we get out information and how fast we can call for prayer support is not nearly as important as making sure we get the right information out and that we do not send out information that the person or the family does not want revealed.

You can always talk to God about things you do not fully understand because if you ever pray that is the way you approach Him. He always sees further, knows more, and understands the connection and the circumstances way beyond anything that you and I are able to comprehend. As the Scripture says, “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay” (Matt. 5:37). Don’t just let your statements be as some unsubstantiated words.

Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer