Ethics: Pastoral Search Committee Asks for Online Passwords

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What would you do Wednesday!

Today’s topic comes at the suggestion of  a Georgia pastor friend. He tweeted an article to me titled Want a Job? Fork Over Your Facebook Password, Employer Says.1 The suggestion was to substitute ‘search committee’ for ’employer’.

Great idea!

Sitting before a pastoral search committee during what will most likely be the final interview the committee members believe they have a bit more due diligence to conduct.

On behalf of the whole committee, one member inquires.

Mr. Potential Pastor, you have told us that you have both a Facebook and a twitter account. In this age of social media it is possible that you are active on other social mediums such as blogs and groups like the ones found on Yahoo and Google.

In order to get a fuller picture of who you are, we request that you give us all of your social media user names and passwords.

What would do or how would you advise this pastoral candidate?

  • Turn over the user names and passwords as there is nothing to hide.
  • Decline this unreasonable request.
  • Ask the committee members for the same so you can begin to get to know the new congregation.
  • Tell them you need a day to think (so you can create some fake user names).
  • Or…
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tagged as , in Church Issues,Culture

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Les March 28, 2012 at 11:05 am

Good question. I think I read Facebook’s response to the article that employers asking for such is a violation of privacy laws. If that is the case, I would decline the request from the committee and remind them that what they are asking is a violation of the law.

If it is not a violation of privacy laws, I would decline and tell them they are welcome to “friend” me or connect with me on any and all social media I use to see what I post and Tweet, etc.

2 Jacob A. Allee March 28, 2012 at 11:06 am

There is no doubt that this constitutes “going to far” in the vetting process. I think that them asking you to agree to do “covenant eyes” or some other program where your internet browsing and emails can be seen by another mature Christian man is a legitimate thing to ask if you’d be willing to do as their pastor. But such accountability is a good thing for all people. But to have unrestricted access to all of your information is certainly unreasonable. After all, social media such as facebook, twitter and blogs are all meant for sharing things publicly anyway, they don’t leave a lot of room for hiding dirty secrets.

I would tell them that my life is an open book, that they are welcome to take a look if they like, but that I wonder if they would be willing to share that same information with me?

3 Chris Roberts March 28, 2012 at 11:07 am

Offer them user names and links but no passwords.

4 MORGETTE bryan March 28, 2012 at 11:08 am

This is interesting & strange. While I would like to think a potential interviewee has nothing to hide, it would seem to me that this is crossing the line. I have no problem giving my wife my usernames & passwords to any accounts I use. (unlock code for phone, email pass, twitter, facebook, etc)

You typically don’t give that information to someone you’ve just met.

I say it’s unreasonable and I would decline.

5 GP March 28, 2012 at 11:36 am

Decline, and then launch into an impromptu exposition of Romans 13.

6 Andrew Wencl March 28, 2012 at 11:46 am

I love these kinds of questions because I work in HR. I still shudder a little when I hear about churches asking for DOB and family information.

At this stage of the interview process I would have probably already shared with them the links to blogs and articles I write online. But that’s public information. I wouldn’t share passwords because

1) it’s an unreasonable breach of privacy, and
2) it exposes me to the risk of identity theft.

7 Joshua Collins March 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm

No way! My wife was telling me about that news article and couldn’t believe it. Identity theft is real, the committee would freak if you asked them for such information, and it’s probably illegal to do so. I have nothing to hide (my wife has access to all my accounts at home if she wants to check them), they can certainly befriend me (though you have to be careful doing so if you have a current job and random people from some other town start befriending you all at once!) and look at all my public stuff. they’re not getting my password, though, unless they give me their debit card numbers and PIN. 🙂

8 Robert Kunda March 28, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I’d just give them my passwords.

9 anthony clay March 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm

if a pastoral search committee asks such a question, it’s obviously a trap. They are secretly wanting to know if you will bow down to the authority of the deacon board.

10 Cathy M. March 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I love #3, “Ask the committee members for the same so you can begin to get to know the new congregation.” I’d also require their bank PIN number so I could “shepherd their souls” with regard to financial stewardship.

11 Jonathan March 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm

If they don’t know a man enough to trust his use social media, then they have no business even thinking of hiring him.

I would not only say no to this question, but would seriously doubt whether a relationship with that kind of ministry was in me and my family’s best interest.

12 Dan Smith March 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm

A church is not the kind of organization that should be asking a potential pastor for passwords. I don’t think any organization should, but definitely not a church. I agree with Les. They can have any link I have, and they are welcome to friend me as I will friend them once hired. It’s honestly the best way to know if someone is talking bad about you behind your back.

13 Knight March 29, 2012 at 7:29 am

Interesting question. Since social media is public by definition then why would they need the passwords? All they have to do is “friend” him or look it up on Twitter. Though I am not a pastor, I have a blog and Facebook account and welcome anyone to look at what I have written. Do I allow anyone off the street to look at my FB information? Absolutely not. There are pictures of my children on there and there are some disturbed individuals out there so the answer to that is a polite, no. To ask any interviewee candidate this is ridiculous. At the same time we need to avoid the temptation to consider our social medial life as separate from our real life. Let us not be a different person online that we are in public.

To the pastor in tis situation I would advise him to offer a polite no. They can read whatever they want but giving away the access to the account is over the line. How would he know he could trust them?

14 Andrew Wencl March 29, 2012 at 9:15 am

I still shudder a little when I hear about churches asking for DOB and family information.

By the way, I’m joking here. 😉

I just don’t like discriminating based on silly things like the presence of a spouse or children. I saw a ministry opening for a youth minister that specified they were looking for a guy with children. I have a friend who’s a youth minister and he and his wife have been unable to have kids. Why make children a requirement?

15 Stan McCullars March 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm

While you’re at it why not hand over the PIN for your debit card?

16 Peter L March 30, 2012 at 8:47 pm

I choose: Ask the committee members for the same so you can begin to get to know the new congregation.

If they refuse, tell them I refuse as well. It reminds me of when the Pharisees asked Jesus where he got his authority and he slammed them with the John the Baptist question.

17 willadair July 25, 2013 at 11:23 am

Give them the usernames. Yet I wouldn’t give my password to anyone but my wife. I’d be happy to login in for them.

18 John July 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

An interview process is a two-way street. This request tells me all I need to know about this church. I would end all communication and consideration with them right then and there.

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