To paraphrase Jon Huntsman Jr., diplomacy is the art of saying something when there is nothing to say, and saying nothing when there is something to say.  Blogging (and 24 hour news) is pretty good at the first half of that, but fairly lousy at the second half.  That’s because blogging relies on rehashing old arguments, hyperbole, and straw man arguments.  Somewhere between the neutral and the sensationalistic lies journalism.  And if you take one step toward sensationalism, there’s blogging.

Diplomacy and silence may be the wisest course of action when dealing with authoritarian cultures like China or perhaps the church (I’ll draw the parallel in a minute).  I was recently reading an interview with Henry Kissinger in the Wall Street Journal about China.  Although the interviewer’s questions were pretty straightforward, Kissinger’s answers were often as cryptic as a fortune cookie:

  • “Nationalism will play an important role.”
  • “The issue of reform will be substantially up to the next group of leaders.”

When asked “What are the historic sources of Chinese vulnerability, and what are the current ones?” Kissinger essentially shut down the interview, saying:  “It’s that I don’t know whether I choose to talk about it at this moment and in this forum . . . .  And I don’t mind dropping the interview and I don’t mind you saying that I refused to go any further and pay the price for it.”   Why does such a renowned diplomat end with this abrupt and awkward halt?  He gave clues in a few additional statements:

  • “I am trying to protect the option of a political relationship between the United States and China.”
  • “Is it possible to achieve enough of a cooperative pattern [with China] to avoid sliding through a series of mutual misconceptions, of stepping on each other’s toes, into a situation where an ultimate confrontation becomes inevitable?  And looking at the fact that we have not known how to end our little wars, I have no great hope that either side would know how to end such a conflict . . . Am I optimistic that it’s going to be done?  No.”
  • “Experience has shown that to seek to impose them by confrontation is likely to be self-defeating–especially in a country with such a historical vision of itself as China.”
  • “I have not joined public denunciations in order to preserve the possibility of maintaining influence on human rights issues.”

The bloggernacle is full of people who would like to see reforms in the church.  There are groups of people who write and form activist groups to try to push for change.  Are they likely to be successful?  IMO, this depends entirely on whether the church is as autocratic as it claims to be or not.  I tend to think it is not.  However, those seeking change should bear in mind Kissinger’s advice on working with China (arguably the most autocratic country out there today – well that we have to talk to anyway).  To paraphrase some of his methods:

  • Pick your battles.  Kissinger sidestepped talking about economic sanctions so he could maintain influence in speaking up for human rights.  Prioritize.
  • Don’t swing at every pitch.  Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away from an issue, even if you have an opinion.  It’s not exactly the old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” but it’s related.  You only have so many negative things you can say about an organization before you will be marginalized by that group.  The more autocratic the organization, the fewer negative things you can say and retain influence.  Use your words judiciously.  Give enough praise to balance your criticism.  Look for positives.  State negatives as neutrally as possible.
  • Consider context.  What are you saying to whom?  It matters.  Are you talking about the organization or to the organization?  Are you talking openly and visibly to enemies of the organization, and if so, what are you saying to them?  These are questions effective diplomats consider.

Why do we speak and reduce our influence?

  • When we are beyond the influence of the organization we are speaking out against
  • When we want the glory of being right and we lack self-control or judgment to be thoughtful about what we say
  • When we want the approval of like-minded people more than we want to influence change in the group

Essentially, we give up influence to find allies to wage war.  We move from diplomat to enemy.  And maintaining influence is the key to diplomacy and the only way to encourage change.

OTOH, if the church is not as autocratic as it claims (which I believe), then blogging and speaking up does have influence, provided that it is done as an insider to the church and done diplomatically.

What do you think?  Is the church open to change?  How autocratic do you think the church is?  Is Kissinger right that diplomacy requires judicious silence when dealing with autocratic organizations?  What evidence do you have to support your assertion?  Discuss.