Woman using a smartphone. Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr

Preachers of many faiths wonder if anyone in their congregations ever pays attention to what they have to say. That complaint was common in clerical circles long before everybody had a direct line to the internet, instead of God, right in their pocket or purse.

Could social media be about to force churchgoers to start paying attention to sermons?

Highly unlikely. Some things really are eternal. Just the same, Michaela Glasgo certainly learned a lesson of biblical proportions this week: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, pay attention to what your preacher is saying — at least if you’re going to snatch up thy smartphone and tweet!

Glasgo is the United Conservative Party candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat. On Sunday, presumably while sitting in the pews at the Hillcrest Evangelical Missionary Church, she thought she heard her pastor say Alberta’s carbon tax was going to cost their church $50,000 this year.

I’m reasonably confident Glasgo tweeted this not-so-good news immediately, without pausing for reflection or prayer, because the time stamp on her now infamous comment is 11:26 a.m. As any churchgoer knows, that’s just about the moment the preacher is getting up a head of steam for a sermon that could take God only knows how long.

“Unbelievable,” she tweeted, clearly outraged. “Today at church we learned that the Carbon Tax is going to cost our church $50 000 this year ALONE. …”

At least Jason Kenney had the excuse he wasn’t ignoring the same homily when the UCP leader took up the cry at 11:31 a.m., presumably tweeting from his pew, given the hour. “We hear stories like this all the time, sadly,” he lamented.

Holy smoke! This set off a storm of sarcastic protest from social media users, many of whom presumably were not in church at that hour. The first one in asked, “Do you worship in a coal plant?” Folks with sharp pencils — or perhaps calculators as well as Twitter apps on their smartphones — were soon reporting that something must be seriously wrong with the church’s furnace.

Caught out on the fact the carbon tax couldn’t possibly have been that high, Glasgo doubled down, insisting the $50,000 figure was true because her pastor’s church has many rooms.

Things kept up in this vein for hours until at some point on Monday the preacher himself weighed in: “In our service yesterday we spoke to our congregation about our overall church operating costs,” said Rev. Steve Pahl. “We stated that in recent years there has been an increase to our overall operating costs of about $50,000 per year. The carbon tax was used as one example of the kind of increases we have incurred.”

“Someone misunderstood that to mean the carbon tax was responsible for the entire $50,000 increase and tweeted about it,” he said. “The carbon tax portion of these increased costs is $5,443.00, which is about 10 per cent of the overall increase.” (Emphasis added. As an aside, I must say I personally felt vindicated by this outcome.)

“For us the carbon tax is not a political issue,” Pahl continued. “We are more than happy to pay our bills, whatever they are and need to be. Many people in our congregation are concerned about environmental issues.” (Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, in other words, which is a principle too seldom discussed in North American evangelical churches nowadays.)

“I sure would have loved to have her ask me some of these questions — ‘Did I hear you right?’ — and I would have discouraged her from sending that out,” the pastor told the Medicine Hat News.

If Pahl was unhappy that some of the 1,000-plus tweeters were calling for an audit of his church’s books — on the obviously incorrect grounds he endorses Glasgo’s views — he can take comfort in the knowledge that he’s probably never had more people paying close attention to his sermon on a Sunday morning.

Having heard from her pastor, I guess, Glasgo yesterday published a grudging admission she got the numbers wrong, but she didn’t seem to feel the need to seek absolution.

As for Kenney, he never explained who else he’d heard this story from, and went merrily along with no acknowledgement he’d retweeted false information beyond a bland link to Glasgo’s non-apology. His spokespersons insisted he had nothing to apologize for. (“Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.”)

Late yesterday, former Progressive Conservative deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk weighed in with some advice for Kenney: “I have it on good authority that if you pray to St. Rachel, parish Carbon Tax will go down to 1/50 of what you claim.”

My conclusions: Thou shalt do no tweeting from thy pew. And don’t believe everything you hear in church.

Here endeth the lesson.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr

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David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...