“The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6 NIV)
The other day someone commented, in response to a blog, that it was a “vicious attack” and then thumped me with a Scripture reference that I promptly forgot to read. But they couldn’t have read much more than that particular proof-text because, otherwise, they would be doing less Bible-thumping about my lack of their religious refinement and their protest sounded remarkably similar to those offended who stopped Jesus to ask him if he realized that his words were insulting to them.
My words were not slanderous nor untrue and not written to be meanspirited either. In fact, I never even mentioned a name, because my point was not about the person, it was about the behavior and errant ideas behind the behavior. Sure, it was a rebuke to those who engage in this sort of thing, but certainly not as severe as the preaching of Jesus and definitely not as scathing as what St. Paul had to say to these sorts of religious bluebloods who were trying to influence others to live by their standards:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
(Galatians 5:1-12 NIV)
Paul was taking direct aim at the Judaizers (equivalent to the “good Mennonite” or others who hold their mastery of a particular tradition as a point of pride) for burdening others down with their rules and employed a very crude double entendre to make his point. I mean, circumcision is literally to “nip the tip” of the male genitalia, as part of the Jewish tradition, and Paul is telling them he wishes that these men would cut off the whole cucumber to prove how superior they are. Of course, he’s also saying he wishes they would leave the church, compares them to a contaminant, and is definitely not mincing his words to be polite.
Jesus would not have tickled the prissy ears of the pretentious. He was provocative. He would likely be called a racist today for using “dog” in reference to a Canaanite woman. St. Paul too, he would surely have made the religious prudes blush then and would have enraged our social police. Both men threw their rhetorical bombs at those who felt too secure in their self-righteous positions and they made no apologies for it. The truth is sometimes harsh. Waking people from the stupor of their pride can take some colorful persuasion. Yes, absolutely, we must keep our own pride in check, but passive and mealy-mouthed men are not living the example of Jesus.
In the end, the opinions of some clucking hen, taking offense on behalf of a man quite confident in himself already, means nothing to me. As the old saying goes, “Throw a rock into a pack of dogs, and the one that yips is the one that you hit.” Feel free to shatter my “glass house” of hypocrisy if you see where I do not live up to my profession. It is better that I am insulted today than be forever damned. Niceness is not a synonym for love and Jesus was not some “you do you” hippy either. And this insulted woman would know that if she would read (or was able to comprehend) the Bible. Jesus didn’t come so that we can be feckless and ineffectual, he came to upset the status quo and the religious elites were his favorite targets.
It is better that I rhetorically cut false teachings to pieces now, while those holding them can still be saved, than allow anyone to go unwarned to final their final judgment and be cut to pieces, thrown in a fire, and destroyed. The yelps of those insulted and offended are proof that the message is true enough to not be laughed off as a joke. Those using the Gospel of Jesus to sell their political-ideological Social Justice wares, trying to enslave others to their repackaged Marxist philosophy, will find no quarter here. I will whip them, and whip them good, with the truth of God’s word.
The mass exodus off of Big Tech social media platforms has begun. Alternatives, like Parler, MeWe, and Gab, overnight, have gone from being the virtual Leper colonies of “wrong think” to viable communities for those fed up with the increasingly Orwellian mainline platforms.
After the 2016 election, and the influence of meme warfare and anti-establishment messaging on social media, the establishment (predictably) began to put pressure on for a clampdown. These self-appointed gatekeepers of information, the enraged Democrats and their corporate billionaire benefactors, were bitterly determined to have control of the narrative back in their own hands.
By hook or by crook, by any means necessary to get the job done, they would not allow a repeat of their crushing defeat in 2020, they would get Donald Trump out of the White House and be restored to the positions of power they believed were rightfully their own. Trump was a clown, they were smooth and sophisticated, how dare he takes away their glorious coronation—how dare he troll and mock them?
Facebook and Twitter, encouraged by the corporate legacy media eager to eliminate competition, facing the demands of angry ‘progressive’ activists, slowly began to strangulate dissident perspectives on their platforms. It started with the extremists like Alex Jones, along with white supremacists and others on the fringes, then slowly worked in from there, throttling content, shadow banning, adding ‘fact-checks’ to posts, and completely removing viral videos that they deemed to be misinformation.
Learning From the History of Establishment Narratives
Three episodes from history, recently made into movies, involve those who questioned the established narrative, who endured terrible slander campaigns by the corporate media and government, and some were only vindicated years later.
The first, “The Current War,” tells the story of Thomas Edison and his electrical competition against George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and their alternating current. Edison, clearly for personal gain, tried to paint the alternative, as being extremely deadly and dangerous. He went as far as to do demonstrations, killing animals (including an unfortunate elephant), and even helped to invent the electric chair, to prove the superiority of his own direct current. He had the press in his back pocket then much like Big Tech has influence over the corporate media. They ran his stories critical of Westinghouse without truly understanding the topic material themselves.
The second movie, “Mr. Jones,” tells the story of a true journalist who uncovers the horrible truth, at great personal risk, about the millions starved to death in Ukraine due to Stalin’s economic policies. But rather than being embraced as a hero, his account is denied by a Pulitzer winning New York Times reporter and dismissed by the powers that be. Had he lived today, his stories would likely be ‘debunked’ by the fact-checkers, he would be ridiculed as a conspiracy theorist, accused of trying to create a false narrative, and canceled. Sadly, it took years before the truth of what was actually happening under Communist rule finally leaked out from around the self-appointed gatekeepers who were the true propagandists.
The third story, “Richard Jewell,” shows how nasty investigators and sleazy journalists can be when they think they have you pegged. An innocent man nearly got railroaded into confessing to a terrorist bombing despite being one of the first responders. He was profiled and painted as the villain. If not for a helpful attorney friend, who brought him to his senses about what he was truly up against, he may have spent his life behind bars for a crime he did not commit. And the media establishment still does the same today, rushing to judgment based on political agenda or popular narrative, indifferent to the real damage they cause to individuals in their neglect of due diligence. The story of Jewell should be a wake-up call to those who trust the establishment narrative.
The allegations of Alt-tech being home to conspiracy theories and racism reminds me of Edison’s smear campaigns against Westinghouse and alternating current. Do you think Big Tech will not try to influence you against their competition? Of course, absolutely, they will!
The attempts to silence those who are questioning the election results remind me of the tremendous pressure put on Gareth Jones to deny what his own eyes had seen in Ukraine. Do you really think that the own current crop of corporate ‘journalists’ today and establishment politicians are incapable of being corrupted like those of the past who denied Stalin’s terrible abuses? No, are you kidding me? They certainly are not cut from better cloth today, the New York Times is the same leftist propaganda rag now as it was then, and we should always question the narrative!
The Time To Speak Out Is NOW!
As one who understands that censorship is sold as protection and is actually always about control, this was troubling and brought to mind the poignant words of Martin Niemöller, German Lutheran pastor:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Niemöller penned those words after the war to confess his regrets as one of those who did not speak out against the censorious Nazi regime. He, like many other Germans, had initially supported Adolf Hitler. Hitler had promised to unite and heal the country, under National Socialism, after years of turmoil.
The thing many do not understand today is that murderous tyrants do not advertise themselves as villains. Hitler was promising things like health care, economic security, and safety, what could possibly go wrong?
His harsh rhetoric against the privileged few would have sounded quite progressive.
It wasn’t until after the war, until seeing people relocated or being sent to a concentration camp for standing up to the regime, that the full extent would be known. Niemöller ended up imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and Dachau, was nearly executed, which is why he wrote the poem that he did, as a warning to us. Unfortunately, many of us are still waiting for Nazis, who are targeting Socialists, trade unionists, and Jews, not realizing that the next Hitler won’t be pushing nationalism.
In our current context the poem could as easily be written:
First they came for the conspiracy theorists, but I did not speak out—because I was not a conspiracy theorist. Then they came for the far-right, but I did not speak out—because I was not far-right. Then they came for Evangelicals, but I did not speak out—because I was not Evangelical. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The point being, the categories, and labels can be changed. The equivalent of Nazis today, the people smashing windows and cracking skulls in the name of social justice, call themselves anti-fascist. That’s how they fly under the radar, they claim that anyone who stands up to their violence is a Nazi and deserving of death. And, rather than stand up to the madness, many take these Marxist thugs at their word and our political establishment simply goes along with it. Why? Well, because they are afraid, ignorant, misguided, sympathetic, or complicit in the abuse.
Many well-intentioned liberal folks, for example, support BLM not realizing it is a political organization, with an extremely narrow ideological perspective and far-left agenda. They’re duped. They think they are protesting against systemic oppression and racism, they join those who feel disenfranchised, and others who are genuinely compassionate people like them, never aware that they are being used by those who care less about black lives and are cynically encouraging racial grievance as a means to gain political power. By the time that good folks realize their mistake, there will be nobody left to speak for them.
Many others cower in silence because they are afraid of being called “racist” or a “Nazi” or “far-right” or “conspiracy theorists” for daring to challenge the establishment narrative. They think that if they say nothing that it will all go away. They, like Richard Jewell who believed the system would protect him from mistreatment, will be shocked when eventually end up being cast as the villain by the establishment-enabled mob. They do not understand that those ‘canceled’ before them were not always in the wrong and those who did the deed were not as righteous as they claim to be. Don’t wait until it is your turn to be smeared to speak up!
We must see past the propaganda, we must see past the labels slapped on those who dissent against the establishment narrative, we must speak for those who are silenced or we will suffer the same fate as them and there will be nobody left to speak for us. Things are not always as they seem. The next Hitler will not look or act like Hitler. No, it will be bright and colorful, come holding a sign “celebrate diversity” or chant slogans like “black lives matter” and things that most of us would agree with at face value. Evil is insidious, treacherous, it does not announce what it is, but you have been warned and it is now time for you to question the narrative and not be silenced.
Slander, Censorship, and the Current War
Oh, wow, you made it this far?
Let me continue…
It is maddening that so many seem incapable of seeing what is right before their eyes and should be obvious. There is an unbelievable double standard, based on race and social status, but not the double standard that is constantly obsessed upon by those at the top. There dangerous rhetoric, disinformation, and outright lies, but it will not get you de-platformed or banned.
And I’m not only talking about mobs, looting, arson, and murder being described as “mostly peaceful protests” nor teenage Kyle Rittenhouse being called a “mass shooter” for his defending himself from a potentially deadly assault by adult men, with felonies to their name, one being illegally armed, and then being portrayed as hapless victims. I’m not talking about Nicholas Sandmann who was the victim of a vicious smear campaign, targeted by our media and cultural elites, for a confrontation they totally misrepresented.
One of the scariest things I’ve ever heard from a Presidential candidate’s mouth was during the first debate when Antifa, a violent political hate-group, was described as being just “an idea,” refusing to denounce the billions in damages, countless assaults, and a growing number of murders. It is as chilling as saying racism and white supremacy are “just ideas,” that the lynch mob arose spontaneously rather than being an organized event, therefore it can’t be condemned. He didn’t excuse, he didn’t deflect, he simply acted as if the most violent far-leftist movement in this country didn’t exist and was allowed to move on without any further questioning about it.
This kind of gaslighting is becoming increasingly common, coupled with censorship of all narratives that challenge the establishments narrative, fact-checking that is truly misinformation and more misleading than the content it claims to debunk, and removal of grassroots efforts.
My own exploration of social media alternatives began after observing a couple of pro-Trump “silent majority” groups rapidly grow in size, friendly people putting out a warm welcome to all and especially those who had voted for the Democrat last time now converted. These groups would reach the size of a few hundred thousand members and then suddenly go dark, removed. And then it got close to me. A friend, a stand-up guy, who moderated a pro-2nd Amendment group, without warning or explanation, was de-platformed from Facebook along with the other moderators. His own personal account deleted without cause.
This was election interference. It has happened to other people, their accounts, and groups. Meanwhile, Antifa, BLM and other violent far-left groups are allowed to organize, with impunity, without fear, on these same platforms. The Russian collusion narrative, a political disinformation campaign has never got anyone flagged or banned. Nor was anyone ever punished with account removal for spreading falsehoods about an innocent high school only guilty of smiling nervously while a deranged man pounded a drum in his face. But to so much as suggest that there is fraud in this election and your protest group will be taken down and hashtags silenced.
Big Tech censorship is brazenly partisan, clearly suppression of dissent, and yet there are still those concerned about the alternatives being havens for conspiracy theorists and racists?
The same kind of lies we hear now about Alt-tech were told by Edison and parroted by media a century ago. If you believe the ‘fact-checkers’ today about election fraud, you would’ve believed Stalin’s hirelings, establishment ‘journalists’ with Pulitzers, who were truly propagandists and covered up the atrocities of the Soviets in Ukraine. The real control freaks and fascists, those willing to do whatever it takes to hold on to their monopoly of power, will not hesitate to lie, sow seeds of chaos and promote confusion. We, like Niemöller, will not get a chance redo for our mistakes. Unlike him, we may not have anybody to fight off the tyrants and rescue us when they come.
One of the markers of Protestantism, from the start and especially in the current evolutionary stage, is the purity spiraling of those still seeking the perfect church on their own terms. In a sense, the protest of Protestantism never has ended and continues to fracture the Western church into oblivion.
As a product of that way of thinking, I had always sought after and argued for my own ideal for the church. It could very well, if I was slightly more ambitious, had eventually led to the formation of the Perfect Church of Joel. That is what many Protest-ants do when they become disillusioned with the tradition they were born into, they protest and start their own new and ‘perfect’ church.
Of course, the shine of these fresh attempts to reform or restore the ‘original’ church is soon burnished. The next generation comes along, or disagreement comes up between these idealistic individuals, and soon spawns the next Protestant group, and the next after that, and the next after that, ad infinitum.
The Seeker Versus Slanderer
The concluding end of Protestantism is only perfect disunity, with everyone staying at home on Sunday as to be away from those other hypocrites and to do church right their own way. And, yes, if you’re thinking of the retired Burger King “have it your way” slogan, that might as well be the banner over these endeavors. Protestantism is the church for the consumerist age. It is defined by individualism, marketing campaigns, and seeker-sensitivity, or alternatively, pride, perpetual discontentment, and perfectionism.
There is nothing new under the sun.
Like now, there was also self-aggrandizement in the early church:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
(3 John 1:9,10 NIV)
There was plenty to criticize in the early church. There was sin overlooked or even celebrated locally, there were cliques of those of higher social status and those left out, arguments among leaders, and plenty for someone to be dissatisfied with. But Diotrephes took things a step further, he rejected church unity altogether, refused even the Apostles, and I’m sure, in his own eyes, his theology was impeccable. However, it is quite evident that Diotrephes had put himself first and, despite his inflated ego, was as sinful as those whom he arrogantly slandered or shut out.
There is no indication that Diotrephes ever wavered in his commitment to himself and his own understanding, it is quite possible that he remained inordinately impressed with himself until his last breath, but we certainly should not follow his example.
This is what we should seek after:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
(Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)
Casting Pearls Before Swine
Had I still been seeking a perfect church I would not have become Orthodox and I would not have joined your silly cult group either. I can pretty much rip anything to shreds with my critical spirit and, at the right point in my life, would’ve been one of those that Jesus advised his disciples about, saying:
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
(Matthew 7:6 NIV)
It is likely not a coincidence that this quotation above follows Jesus saying “judge not, or you too will be judged” and recommends us taking the beam out of our own eyes first.
There is nothing to be gained by dialogue with a cynical and divisive skeptic. They aren’t there to learn, they are there to tear you apart as a means to prove their own superiority or justify themselves. Their goal is not to understand, it is to trip you up so that they can smear mud in your face. I think we all know the type. They live for controversy, for an opportunity to debate and disparage.
Do not engage these people. They are not seeking after the unity described by St Paul. They are proud, self-righteous, demanding, and never satisfied.
No, these contentious people are no more hopelessly lost than anyone else. They may be sincerely seeking and yet will not be argued or logically driven from their own position. However, despite their perpetual restlessness as a result of hidden uncertainty or insecurity, they cannot see the folly of their own way and are only engaging you to feel better about themselves. They will ridicule and mock because it distracts from their own inner lack of peace.
It is not worth arguing with someone who is focused on the imperfections of everyone else. They will need to come to terms with their own imperfection first and by not arguing with them you give them that space they need to turn their inquiry inward. Jesus said to pray for those who persecute us, he did not say to try to argue and persuade those not truly interested in hearing or considering their own need for repentance.
I’ve spent years of my life trying to convince people. I believed that people were changed by means of the mind, that we were rational creatures, and could employ reason to drive people to a correct perspective. But there is more to than that and, as a wise uncle recited to me years ago, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” The pigheaded, those blinded by their own bias, will stomp, snort and sneer at anything they don’t want to accept. Without a change of heart, without repentance, trying to engage with them is a waste of time.
Correcting Our Orientation
Looking back the problem is clear. The divisions in the denomination that I was born into, the conservative versus liberal, had to do with a horizontal rather than vertical focus. We were oriented wrong. We thought we should be unified by our shared standards, our understanding of theology, and purity on our own terms. But the reality is that this was an approach that led to quarrels and a form of religious pride disguised as righteousness. Had we been oriented towards Christ we would have been more understanding of our own continual need of salvation and thus been more forgiving of faults and differences.
Seeking perfection in the church brings division and self-centeredness.
Seeking perfection in Christ brings unity and healing to the imperfect church.
Many seek the perfect church at the expense of following Christ who spent his time with losers. They neglect to notice that the book of Acts and the letters of St. Paul are full of examples of failure. Even the leaders of the church, Peter himself, had to be “opposed to his face” (Galatians 2:11-13) and call him out for hypocrisy. So who are we that we think that we are somehow cut from a better cloth than the Apostle themselves and can create a better church better than the one that they left for us?
Sure, the history of the church is full of imperfection and failure. There were heresies that gained traction and even leaders that got out of line. But why are we seeking perfection in the church? Shouldn’t we be seeking after Christ, who loved us while we were still lost in sin, who forgives us as we forgive others?
This was what Jesus told the disciples:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
(John 13:34,35 NIV)
This idea of a pristine church, free of failures, abuses, or problems, flies in the face of our need for salvation and a Savior. It is pride, the biggest sin there is, and people trying to save themselves, that divides the church. It is an orientation that looks across the aisle rather than inward and upward, eyes that see every sin but our own. It is preferring that others conform to our own will and understanding over loving each other (as commanded) and valuing our Communion together.
I became Orthodox once I stopped chasing after the fantasy creature of a perfect church. I gave up on the sufficiency of my own reasoning and started putting unity in Christ over having things my own way in theology and practice. There never was a perfect church, at least not one perfect according to my own hopes, perspectives, or personal standards. But there was a church that was brought together in their following after the teaching of the Apostles and in their seeking after unity in the Spirit.
The measure of true faith is how much we love those who do not deserve it, as Christ first loved us, and this starts with loving our brothers and sisters in the imperfect church:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
(Luke 6:36-38 NIV)
To be perfect, as our Father is perfect, is to be merciful as our Father is merciful.
A few weeks ago a story swept across my Facebook feed about a young Mennonite man from Indiana who went missing after a visit with his girlfriend in Arkansas. I quickly determined, after a brief look on Google maps at the points mentioned, that there was very little that I could do to help. There are plenty of situations where my own inputs and interventions are truly needed and this was not one of them.
The need for my personal involvement didn’t change after he was found. Yes, as a normal human being, I was curious about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and hoped to eventually hear more about what happened. However, there was no reason for me to pry or persist in an effort to find information, I was content to wait until his family was ready to share and truthfully didn’t need to know anymore than I already did.
However, some were not satisfied to simply rejoice with those who rejoice. Some felt entitled to information, they felt that they deserved an explanation and more or less demanded immediate answers. Making matters worse, the online discussion (including a page created to help locate the young man) quickly became and a cesspool of gossip and den of busybodies who seemed to take great pleasure in sharing their scandalous revelations.
Anyhow, because this does effect my newsfeed, and having had malicious nonsense spread about me in the past, and knowing what Scripture says on the topic of gossip, I want to make three points:
1) The young man didn’t ask to be turned into a public figure.
Family and friends decided to take their search public and the network of Mennonites on social media responded in force. But that doesn’t mean that we should not respect the privacy of the young man. The public handling of this was not his choice. If their best interests (both his own and those of the people more intimately involved) are better served by not sharing more than has already been shared, then so be it.
2) You are not entitled to anything more than has already been revealed.
I’ve seen the spreading of rumors explained as need for closure and blame being put on those closest to the young man for their not revealing more information at this time. That, of course, is complete nonsense. Being asked to pray and assist in a search does not give anyone a right to know the juicy details and nor does morbid fascination. There is no need to know anything more than what needs to be known. He has been found, he is with those who love him, and that should be everything a reasonable person needs for closure.
3) Gossip is a sin and busybodies are severely condemned.
Curiosity is excusable. I understand the want to know more about a story than is already known. I can even see good reason to share, in the right time and place, about unflattering things discovered. However, what I cannot excuse is sharing dirt on another person and publicly trashing them for no good reason. True or not does not matter, what does matter is that we show the grace we wish to be shown and handle such matters in the way appropriate for a Christian.
There seems to be some confusion about what is appropriate and inappropriate sharing of information…
Fortunately there are Biblical passages that offer us strong clues. In fact, being a “meddler” (1 Peter 4:15) or “gossip” (Romans 1:29) is mentioned in the same context as theft and murder and slander. We are even told to disassociate ourselves from those who are “busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5) as a result of their idleness. And, if that condemnation is not enough, there is also this clear instruction:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 NIV)
Slander (etymologically a doublet of “scandal,” from OFr. esclandre, Latin scandalum, “stumblingblock”) is an accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge (compare Matthew 5:11); but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose…
It is important to note that this goes beyond the modern definition of slander. It is saying something, true or untrue, in a way that is unnecessarily harmful to another person. In other words, this means *not* revealing things in public about an individual that detract from their reputation. That in contrast with sharing only what is helpful to another individual and of benefit:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
There is a time and place for confronting sinful behavior. However, unless the sin is already public knowledge and obvious (as in 1 Corinthians 5) or something that must be reported immediately to civil authorities like sexual abuse, the process of confrontation should always start one-on-one with the offending individual in private:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
In light of this, spreading scandalous information about another person just because you can is never appropriate for a Christian. It goes completely against Biblical instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” and to “mind your own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and amounts to a sin as bad as any other.
As for closure…
There are certainly those who should be working with this young man to help and restore him. But there are many more (in the online crowd) who have no role in that and should be mindful of what Jesus told those who brought an adulterous woman out to be condemned: “Let anyone of you who is without sin cast the first stone…”
Christians should have no time for gossip and no place for busybodies in their ranks. There is no duty to tell the world about things than can (and should) remain private and absolutely no need for salacious appetites to be fed. So, if you desperately need closure, use the opportunity to reflect on your own attitudes and actions.
People divide up. Segregation occurs naturally in groups as individuals seek out others who have something in common with them. It students find those of common interests, social status, gender or race. It happens in communities—people choose to live with people more similar to them.
But where division should not happen is in the church. Not according to the Apostle Paul, at least:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2-6)
I believe the first sentence, “Be completely humble and gentle,” is key to the second part being true of us. With pride comes contention (Prov 13:10) and without humility there is divisivion.
Paul further elaborates:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloeʼs household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (1 Corinthians 1:10-15)
The message is clear in the words of Paul—the church should not be divided into competing denominations and, if Scripture is to be believed, we should be grieved by division in the church and preach against it.
We should stand united against this:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10)
Diotrephes evidently thought he was pretty special. He desired preeminence, made slanderous accusations and was excluding other Christians from fellowship. We aren’t told why he was banning people, but his attitude clearly is condemned as wrong in the passage.
A church divided against itself…
The church today is divided up into many denominations. There was the big schism between East and West that was caused by disagreement over Papal primacy, the Filioque added to the church creed, canonization of Scripture and multiple other issues. After various attempts to reconcile differences over many years the result was eventually mutual excommunications in 1054 that are regarded as the terminal event.
Then came the series of splits in the Western church, the so-called Protestant Reformation, set in motion by Martin Luther’s protests over the sale of indulgences in the 1500s, leading to the formation of a “Lutheran” church and culminating in the 33,000 denominations that we have today. My own Mennonite denomination was the eventual product of a radical and rebellious (sometimes violent) Anabaptist movement.
My church is part of many Mennonite “conferences” that recognize each other to a greater or lesser degree. Some groups considered “old order” (who reject modern technology) with a spectrum from “liberal” to “conservative” as broad as the overall church and spawning more variations (some who resist being called Mennonite) recognize each other to a greater or lesser degree… yet typically only allow their own members to take communion.
Mennonites today, unlike the schism in 1054 or other splits caused by larger more meaningful matters of theology and doctrine, tend to divide over the minutia of application. Things like the style of coat, size of a floral print on a dress, color of socks, facial hair, and any number of nitpicking details which nobody in the world outside Mennodom would care about, can precipitate a church split.
For example, in my church the two big controversies that led people to leave were over hair style. First, several families left for a more conservative conference because a little girl had bangs. Later, a liberal contingent left because of a feud over a bit of peach fuzz.
This is a reality in clear opposition to the teachings of Paul and the “unity of the Spirit” he describes.
What is the problem?
We have names from A to Z in front of our church buildings to proudly tell people what church tradition we follow. We announce “I am of Menno Simons” or of this “Lutheran” theological perspective or that “Methodist” doctrinal division and promote a form of tribalism. The result is a confusing mess that only a religious historian could untangle.
But, I can hear the protest: “Shouldn’t people know what denomination we are? I mean, they’ll find out eventually, better to let them know before they enter and disturb us, right?”
And thus we prove we value our denomination more than we do welcoming others of Christian faith. It is the spirit of Diotrephes, a prideful desire for preeminence and control; it is love of our own dogmatic ideas over other people. It is the kind of attitude Jesus condemns:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)
The “teachers of the law and Pharisees” thought they had every right to shut people out based on their biblical standards. But Jesus warns them that they will be shut out the way they shut out others. It seems the same message Jesus preached of forgive as you wish to be forgiven (Matt. 6:14) and judge as you wish to be judged (Matt. 7:2) and that should give pause to anyone humble enough to know their own imperfections.
The Mennonite church I grew up in will refuse to baptize a believer who doesn’t go through a class and agree to follow their own list of standards. They would go so far as deny communion to a person from another denomination. And this inhospitable attitude is not a problem to most of them.
Maybe God will be inhospitable to those who have denominational pride and shut out other believers different from themselves?
Some things to consider…
1) Reconsider having a denominational name in front of your church. Do you understand the admonition of the Apostle Paul against division? If so, why do you see it as allowable to emphasize a man’s name, a particular doctrinal slant or denominational tradition in front of your church? What if our true worship was supposed to be less about theological correctness and more about our truthfulness in love and forbearance?
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
2) Stop attacking, belittling, and making slanderous accusations against other denominations. I know I know, Catholics are idol worshippers, Joel Osteen isn’t negative enough (more about hell, please) and Calvinists are too fatalistic, predetermined or something like that. But Scripture tells us, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and warns:
If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:15)
Perhaps, before we get too sanctimonious, we should consider this:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)
3) Be less resistant to criticism and more receptive to correction regarding your own denomination. It is easy to circle the wagons when our own church tradition is scrutinized, and to react defensively rather then be open to rebuke. For example, nearly any time I blog about the defects of my own religious culture, there’s usually a chorus of those crying, “My Mennonite church isn’t like that!” Many are in denial—but that is their pride.
We should practice introspection and be open to the possibility that outsiders might see our flaws better than we do, because:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
There is no weakness in acknowledgement and confession of fault. There is no need for huffy recriminations (“Well, they do it too!”) if we are truly humble. Christianity is about forgiving and being forgiven, not about defending the image of our denomination.
4) Baptism should be uncoupled from denominational indoctrination and membership. There is nowhere in Scripture where baptism is seperated from profession of faith. Yes, we should disciple young believers, teach correct doctrine and encourage good application. However, that can come after baptism. There is no reason why a baptism should wait weeks or months. And, if you belong to a church that ties baptism to extrabiblical church standards, speak out against it. We should welcome the young in the faith rather than add our own prideful denominational requirements:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)
5) Do not refuse to allow other Christians to participate in your Communion service. Paul warns against eating and drinking unworthily (1 Cor. 11:27) and this is reason for introspection. However, what is neither said nor implied is the idea that a church leader should determine who is worthy or not worthy. Yes, we are told that an openly wicked and unrepentant person should be excluded (1 Cor. 5:13) and yet that doesn’t mean we should deny those of other denominational stripes from the table.
We must rebuke Diotrephes and welcome other believers even if they do not meet our own denominational standards. There is one church and one Spirit—we must take a stand against the spirit of division. We need to stand against sins of pride and denominationalism.
I have quite a number of friends who like or repost stories with shouting headlines and containing claims apparently designed to feed fears. What amounts to fear-mongering propaganda is wrapped in the trappings of legitimate “conservative” news sources. Unfortunately, most of it, while at some level based in a true story, is so badly blown out of proportion and hyperbolic that it is a dishonest representation.
Now, these purveyors of hysterics and half-truths may or may not be intentionally distorting the reality. But I suspect there could be a bit of an ‘ends justify the means’ mentality and an idea that their twisted versions of a story represent a greater truth or reality. I think every journalist does pick and choose what facts are relevant and how they present a story does reveal their personal bias. However, to me, there is a level of this that is unintentional or within reason and a level that is inexcusable.
Woman Has Opinion; Sparks Controversy
One of these specters repeatedly raised is that of Sharia law and the suggestion it will be imposed on Americans. A particular story about a sign advertising bacon in a Vermont town caught my eye today after a friend commented. Here is the screenshot of my news feed:
As one could imagine, the response in comments was one of the outrage of thousands of freedom (and bacon) loving Americans who don’t want religion imposed on them. I realize there is reason to be aware of religious extremism, but what is the reason for this particular furor and do the actual facts support such a dramatic response? According to the conservativetribune.com story this is the issue:
“Should a restaurant that serves bacon be allowed to display signs and/or advertisements that mention bacon? The U.S. Constitution says that it should, but Muslims in Vermont apparently disagree.”
From that opening paragraph one could assume there is a direct threat to freedom of speech posed by a group of people. The article goes on to discuss a solitary example of a business owner who took down a sign because “an outraged Muslim woman” complained about it. There are no further examples given and no evidence that this woman speaks for a plurality of Muslims.
The complaint of one woman does not seem to match the “Muslims in Vermont” description above it and that is quite an over-statement. What’s the problem? Well, if one woman can speak for “Muslims in Vermont,” then I suppose Westboro Baptist speaks for Christians in Kansas, right?
“Second, it clutters an already dangerous crosswalk. This signage for a business’ food distracts from the purpose of that area: for pedestrians to safely cross and for drivers to safely enter the circle. What is the additive safety factor of this sign being there? I fail to see what benefit it affords people in that intersection and why the city put it up. The only appropriate signage would be standardized official road signs pertaining to the crosswalk and circle.”
I would guess that is why the restaurant owner mentions safety in his response. However that apparently isn’t as obvious to everyone as it seems to me and leads to this speculation in the conservativetribune.com article about the owners response:
“Notice how he mentioned “safety” concerns. This made it sound as if he feared the Muslims in Winooski would have taken violent action had he not removed the sign”
I cannot fathom how one could make that leap based in the known facts. It doesn’t “make it sound” as if he feared violence from Muslims to me. No, it makes it sound as if the restaurant owner read the woman’s letter and was responding to the excerpt of her letter I posted above. The concern for safety she mentioned was having a business sign creating a distraction.
Right to Free Speech and Threats Thereof
So basically we have a woman with an opinion and a business owner willing to accommodate her preferences. It hardly seems like a crisis of Constitutional freedom when a woman exercises that her right to express a controversial opinion. But it does seem a case of journalistic malpractice to make one woman into a representative of Muslims or categorize her as an “acolyte of Shariah law” because she expressed a concern.
The real threat to liberty is those who abuse it. I am more concerned over reckless surmises and the feeding of irrational fears than I am of one woman exercising her freedom of speech. Her opinion, while I disagreed with it, was reasonably explained and it is her right to express it. The response was a distortion at best, slanderous at worse and one of many similar stories.
Unfortunately I cannot respond to every internet hoax or propaganda piece and even if I did the chances of my words reaching through the mess and changing minds already made up seems slim. Still I do try to make a difference.
There was a story circulating a few years ago claiming that a mountain lion was hit by a truck in Pennsylvania and urging people to spread the news. The claim was accompanied by a picture of a man with a big dead cat and also included mention of Game Commission denial.
This story was red meat for those of my friends who were already suspicious of the state officials (who maintained there was lack of credible evidence that mountain lions roamed the state forests) and was confirming proof to them. The story included a photographic evidence, did it not? How could it not be credible and proof of a cover-up, right?
As it turns out the same photo has been used in many stories to make different claims. It is a real photo. However, according to more credible sources, the photo was taken in Arizona and not in Pennsylvania or the many other places where internet stories claimed the animal was hit. The story that the mountain lion was hit in Pennsylvania is apparently a lie.
So, why would a person be so suspicious and skeptical of one source (like the PA Game Commission) and yet be so gullible as to fall for an internet hoax from a random source? Why trust a complete stranger who we have no way of knowing if the information they give is trustworthy or true while disbelieving sources that are at least somewhat accountable and knowable?
It comes back to confirmation bias or the idea that people will be more accepting of evidence that confirms their existing beliefs or biases. Those who accepted the story as true already believed the truth was being hidden by the government and thus didn’t feel need to check the credibility of the claim. They pick up and run with whatever tickled their existing partisan fancy.
I understand confirmation bias. But it is difficult for me to understand why people are so easily duped by internet hoaxes and conspiracy theories from spurious sources. It is especially difficult for me to understand how people can be so cynical of mainstream sources and then simultaneously accepting of a story posted by some random person on the internet. It should be opposite, we should be more skeptical of a little known source and less mistrusting of those more known.
Time and time again I see stories posted by friends on social media, I do my due diligence to research the claim and oftentimes find it is a myth or hoax. In an age of Photoshop pictures can be easily doctored. Credentials can be fabricated to make an appeal to authority and I am instantly skeptical when someone uses that type of appeal rather than concrete evidence and sound logic.
Good cases aren’t bolstered by bad arguments. True stories do not need fake photos or deceptive use of facts. By using (or linking) unreliable information as proof of an idea a person is actually hurting their chances of convincing intelligent people who disagree and are potentially making a mockery of themselves.
Lies and fraudulent claims used to promote a moral argument are especially inexcusable. I can understand why corrupt politicians and calculated propagandists distort evidence trying to gain power from the ignorance of their constituency. I can also understand why immoral people fabricate stories and try to deceive for entertainment or whatever reason. But what I cannot accept is false information used by those who are claiming the moral high ground. It is hypothetical at worse and dangerous ignorance as best.
“These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” (1 Timothy 6:2b-5)
A moral person should take responsibility for the stories they spread. An untrue claim can do real harm. Gossip, slander and evil surmises may help line the pockets of those trying to exploit the ignorance of others for their own gain. But these things do do not help the cause of truth. As people of faith and love we have no excuse to be casual with our sources. Agreement in principle is not a reason to trust a source or be negligent of due diligence.
“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)
Contrary to what some may think, being a person of faith does not automatically lead to better discernment. We must actual train ourselves to be godly and discerning. What this means practically is not just accepting internet stories as fact even if we like what they are saying. We have a moral responsibility to be critical thinkers who can see past our own potential prejudices, misconceptions or biases. It requires first being humble enough to admit what we want to think is true isn’t always true.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
If you do not know if a story is true or not, rather than risk promulgation of half-truth or lies, do not share it. There is plenty that is good or honorable that we can share without risking the credibility of ourselves or hurting that which we claim to love in the process.