Recently Tim Challies wrote a two-part blog series about the ninth commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”), what can be seen here and here. Part one of my response was posted yesterday. Today I’m continuing to respond to the questions he asks that he says are prompted by the ninth commandment.
Hear no evil, see no evil
Do you avoid reading bad news about people and situations that have no bearing on your life, your church, or your ministry?
Again, how do we know it has no bearing on our life, church, and ministry unless we read it and ponder it? Especially when we’re talking about the very leaders and gurus of the entire conservative evangelical movement? Would you really say this has no bearing on the lives of the people within those churches? What if the bad news is that a respected man’s counseling methods, practiced by thousands, is actually doing great harm? That’s bad news. But shouldn’t Christians learn about it so they won’t harm people in this way?
Do you protect your own reputation, and even defend it when necessary, so you remain above reproach in the eyes of others?
My own reputation has gone through the wringer a few times since I’ve started speaking and acting in regard to abuse in fundamental and conservative evangelical circles. But when a man or woman’s reputation suffers at the hands of those who want to destroy it for one reason or another, the solution is for the character of the individual to prove out. First Peter 2:12 says,
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
The only way Christians should want anyone’s reputation to remain “above reproach” is if that person’s character is above reproach. The reputation should be a representation of who the person really is. This really shouldn’t be that hard.
When Doug Wilson, for example, promoted the marriage of Steven Sitler, whom he knew to be a pedophile, to an unsuspecting woman in the church, he protected Sitler’s reputation and then vociferously defended his own. Was this the right thing to do?
Challies closes out Part One of his article with these words:
[The ninth commandment is not] the only word on our relationship to other people, and certainly there are times we must investigate what others have said or done, and certainly there are times we must even condemn others for their actions or convictions.
I’m surprised that he uses the word “condemn,” since condemning is God’s responsibility (and to a lesser extent, the justice system). Maybe he meant “expose,” which is what I would agree with. I wonder, though, how he’s able to “investigate” accusations about people he respects if he refuses to look at anything said that’s negative about them, and wants all of us to do the same?
When “Jane Doe” told her story of rape and coverup at The Master’s University, it seemed that most leaders were willing to simply accept the narrative of the president, John MacArthur, instead of investigating the rebuttal that was then offered by one of the bloggers, which I commented on here. So when does Challies decide his expansion of the ninth commandment doesn’t apply and it’s appropriate for us to investigate?
Ephesians 5:11-14 says,
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
Part Two goes on . . .
In Part Two, Challies continues his analysis of his readers’ actions, based on his reading of the Westminster Larger Catechism’s expansion of the ninth commandment.
Do you spread information (online or offline) about brothers or sisters in Christ that might cause others to look at them suspiciously?
Yes, if these leaders have been involved in suspicious activity, I have and do and will, because they should live and walk in truth rather than in shadows without accountability. For example, James MacDonald’s mishandling of funds at Harvest Bible Chapel has been exposed on the website www.theelephantsdebt.com. This has caused me to look at James MacDonald with suspicion, which, given the information on that website, seems very appropriate.
Do you ensure that every bit of information you share about another person is the whole truth?
If something I say or share isn’t true, I want to find out the truth and make it right.
Do you assume damaging information you learn about another person is true or do you demand evidence?
So far, when I’m being told by abuse survivors that they were abused, I am believing the survivors. I don’t demand evidence because that’s very rare in cases of abuse. When I post publicly, though, I haven’t spoken about these accusations, though I sometimes have allowed the abuse survivors a platform to speak.
Do you call evil good by consuming sites or feeds committed to sharing information that is untrue or unnecessary?
I don’t want to share anything that’s untrue, but who is to determine whether certain sites are “unnecessary”? I know Challies would say that any site exposing the abuses of Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches is “unnecessary,” because he essentially said so on his blog. But the survivors themselves would very much disagree. Who is right in this case? Is Challies right simply by virtue of being more esteemed by conservative Christian leaders than the survivors are?
Perhaps it is “calling evil good” to continue to follow Christian leaders who are hiding deeds of darkness. In fact, Tim Challies himself promoted Mark Driscoll, while Mark Driscoll was directly violating the ninth commandment, according to eye witnesses.
Matthew 7:15-16 says,
Keep yourselves also from the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.
How can we recognize the false prophets, in sheep’s clothing, if we aren’t made aware of their fruits?
Rewarding the “wicked” . . .
Do you reward wicked people with your time, attention, clicks, subscriptions, follows, shares, retweets, and ad impressions? Do you treat godly people wickedly by assuming all you have read about them is true?
As it turned out, Darrell Gilyard, whom Paige Patterson promoted, was a pastor who was a wicked person who raped women. As it turned out, Tullian Tchividjian was a pastor who was a wicked person who seduced several women. As it turned out, Jack Schaap was a pastor who was a wicked person who seduced a teenager, and I could go on and on and on. Before these people were exposed, they were “rewarded” with the time, attention, clicks, subscriptions, follows, shares, and retweets from many.
But as it turns out, that isn’t who Challies is referring to. He’s talking about the bloggers who expose these things. They, he indicates by context, are the “wicked people.” But is that really the way it is?
The Bible says, in I Corinthians 5:11,
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
These are the ones we are to avoid. If their sexual immorality or greed or idolatry or reviling or drunkenness or swindling has been hidden, but bloggers are bringing it to light, which ones are the “wicked” ones?
Challies himself posted about Tullian’s multiple adulteries, and in a reply to a commenter who accused him of gossip, said,
I consider it news, not gossip, because his greatest impact was within the very Christian community that tends to read my site. I, myself, have promoted his books in the past, so feel that I need to also share this.
Challies himself acknowledged that with the people in the very same segment of Christianity, news of a high-profile pastor’s downfall is important for others to hear about. But then he tells us not to listen to these accounts.
Are you unwilling to stand for the truth or defend a brother or sister in Christ when you have evidence that would vindicate them or promote their reputation?
This is a good question, and I agree that when we have solid reason to believe that someone has been falsely accused, we should do what we can to protect his reputation. I’ve participated in such activity too.
Do you share truth about others in a way that is actually meant to do them harm? Do you weaponize truth, perhaps sharing information that, though true, primarily seeks to damage another person’s reputation?
This really doesn’t apply in a discussion about the ninth commandment, which is about falsehoods, not truth.
But furthermore, if a man or woman has committed disqualifying sin or even broken the law, should this not be exposed? If Ravi Zacharias, for example, really has grossly inflated his supposed Oxford credentials, as several bloggers have substantiated, or really did write an email to a woman asking her for nude photos, shouldn’t his reputation match with these deeds?
Do you hold facts over another person with the threat of exposure?
This is called blackmail, and this seems like a good time to point out that the bloggers have discussed the fact that leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries/Churches did this very thing with Larry Tomczak, regarding his son’s problems. Tim Challies, though, seemed to think this was one of those things we shouldn’t talk about. And no, the ninth commandment has nothing to do with that. That’s not false witness. That’s blackmail.
Do you interpret intentions and convey them as fact? Do you assume you know the inner motives of other people? Do the sites you read and feeds you follow only convey facts or do they also assume knowledge of intentions and motivations?
I agree that this is important. In a blog post I mentioned yesterday about Ryan Fullerton’s sermon (“innocent until proven guilty”), the pastor who wrote to me rebuked me for assigning motive to Ryan—I think it was something about how I was saying it looked like he wanted to silence victims and survivors of abuse. I took that rebuke to heart and changed that blog post to indicate that his sermon conveyed this message, without drawing the conclusion that this was what he intended.
Evidence of “gifts and graces”
Do you thank God for every evidence of his gifts and graces, even in the lives of people of whom you are suspicious?
What does he mean by “evidence of [God’s] gifts and graces”? Does he mean the ability to draw a large crowd or affect people with speaking or writing? I’ve heard of satanists who can do that, so no, when there is at the same time testimony and/or evidence of evildoing, I’m not impressed with those things.
In the life of someone who has committed disqualifying sins, the evidence of God’s grace that would cause me to thank God would be repentance. Some of them might even fit the description of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7-8.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Challlies goes on to ask,
Do you read web sites committed primarily to exposing the sins, faults, and heresies of other people?
If the answer is yes, which it is in my case, this is not a violation of the ninth commandment, and there’s no way Challies can rightly construe it to be.
It’s important to me to balance my time, and I read the exposé websites only occasionally. (When I analyze sermons or writings, they’re almost always something someone has sent me.) But it’s not wrong to read these blogs. In fact, especially for those coming out of cults or other spiritually abusive environments, websites exposing heresies can be a lifesaver.
Do you fail to read and evaluate the defence of a person’s character with the same hopefulness and thoroughness as the attack?
I know that when Tim Challies writes here, he’s thinking of his friends and those he admires, the “men of reputation.” But when I read it, I think of the abuse survivors I know whose names and reputations have been accused of having evil intent, having “a ruinous heart,” wanting to “destroy godly men,” and on and on. I not only read, but I write in defense of the character and reputation of these people. After all, Proverbs 31:8-9 says,
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Tim continues his questions:
Do you read sites that cause you to grow in suspicion toward others? Do you spread information that causes other people to grow suspicious, particularly about fellow believers?
The answer is yes, I do, and my conscience is clear about this. I grew in suspicion of Doug Phillips before he was exposed as having connived to seduce the family nanny. I grew in suspicion of Mark Driscoll before he was exposed as a spiritually abusive leader who wanted to run over people with “the Mars Hill bus” if they didn’t fall into line. The reason I grew in suspicion of these people is because I read certain sites that proved to be accurate.
Do find pleasure in hearing bad news about another person?
Rather than pleasure, I feel horror and grief and anguish when I hear the bad news that a so-called Christian leader has been living a double life and has actually been harming others. But almost always my horror and grief and anguish are not for the leader, but are for the people who have been harmed.
Do you rejoice in their downfall?
Yes I do, actually. I’m very thankful when wolves who have been masquerading as sheep and shepherds are exposed and their victims who have been trying to get others to believe them are vindicated. When women gave their accounts of abuse at the hands of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek, for example, I believed those accounts should be heard.
Do you fail to give them credit where credit is due to them, especially for how the Lord has sovereignly seen fit to use them?
What? Deceivers and charlatans? I can be thankful if souls came to Christ through the work of a deceiver and charlatan (yes, I’ve heard of that happening), but I don’t give them any credit. I also don’t see that this has anything to do with the ninth commandment.
Just as an observation, Tim Challies doesn’t seem to follow his own advice. When he wrote about Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen, he didn’t give credit for how the Lord had sovereignly used Benny Hinn to rebuke Osteen.
So . . .
Do you neglect to seek out and rejoice in good reports of others?
I love the good reports of others, especially when one of these lost sheep—who has been harmed by one of these wolves in sheep’s clothing, who has turned away from God because of who has represented him—when he or she discovers who the true God really is, in the love of Jesus Christ.
I love the good reports of others who have been so harmed by someone who has claimed to be a man of God but has continued to seek God through His Word for years and years and years—when she heals and finds that the barriers that have kept her from knowing God are coming down.
Diminishing the reputations again . . .
Do you say or share things that would cause another person’s reputation to be diminished?
You keep using that word.
Yes, I do. I believe each person’s reputation should match his character, so when a person’s reputation has been shown to be exalted beyond what his character is, then yes, I would be willing to share and say things that would cause his reputation to be diminished. Michael Pearl, for example, who has been (and still is) lauded by many, preaches falsehoods that bring great harm to others. I have participated in seeking to diminish his reputation.
I’ll even say that I believe doing this is not bringing reproach on the cause of Christ, but is in fact advancing it.
And it has nothing to do with the ninth commandment.
Attorney Rachel Dennhollander (whom Tim Challies lauded for her statement at the Larry Nassar trial in the second half of this post), wrote a piece calling out to her fellow conservative evangelicals, to take action in the many, many cases of abuse in our midst.
“Do you care? Do you care enough to do something about it?”
How can we “do something about it” if we don’t even know what it is? And so I say to Tim Challies and his followers, though I have zero desire to violate the ninth commandment and want to be corrected when I do, I believe our Lord Jesus Christ Himself would cry out against the abuses of the innocents that are going on among us today.
And we are, after all, His hands and feet.
Let us learn about the epidemic of abuse going on in our midst, let us pray for deliverance for the oppressed, and let us cry out against it.
This blog contains many links, some giving further information about the abuses I refer to, and some giving commentary. The Here’s the Joy blog posts I link to in this article are these: