Please see my note at the bottom explaining some edits I made to this piece.
It’s happened again. They are beating on us poor Baptist bloggers again. Maybe it’s time to put on my housecoat and head back to the basement!
The lastest iteration of the blogger-bashing tactic comes from someone named Joni B Hannigan in something called the “Christian Examiner.” She wrote an article entitled, “Southern Baptist bloggers bullied leader to disinvite Ben Carson.” (Link removed.) Her article demonstrates a lack of understanding of Baptist life and polity and gives a sterling example of why blogging is necessary. It is because of the attitude evidenced in this article that we cannot go away and we cannot stop speaking out.
Yes, Baptist bloggers have been divisive. Baptist bloggers have been bullies, engaging in harassment through social media and, to be perfectly honest, have done some absolutely despicable things. If you read back through the archives of blogging, there are many moments that do not shine brightly. But we have also been a force for good in this denomination. This is a better convention today, I am convinced, because of the blogging phenomenon. If I did not believe that, I would not do it!
The title of Ms. Hannigan’s article is a false accusation. She has publicly accused Bart Barber and the writers at Baptist 21 (Jonathan Akin?) of bullying and several other sins. She should retract those accusations and apologize to these men for her false accusations.
Let me make it clear that I write on my own behalf. I’ve not spoken to either Bart or the people at B21 about this.
Observations on Hannigan’s article.
1. I am not a professional journalist, so I don’t have a clear sense of what is appropriate as a basica standard, but I found some things frustrating about the article, and have some serious questions about her practices. She never links to Bart’s article or to B21. She puts words in quotes but never sources those quotes. I would have liked to find the source of some of her information, but since she did not give it, I could not trace it.
2. She leveled the accusation of “bullying” without any proof or even explanation. She made no attempt to show how anyone bullied Willy Rice. Bart and B21 expressed opinions. How is expressing an opinion bullying? Nothing in the article even attempts to demonstrate that. If she is going to accuse honorable men of a sin such as this, then perhaps she ought to connect the dots and show how their actions constitute bullying. Her only “evidence” is the opinion of a pastor named Maxie Miller who blasts bloggers. But accusation is not evidence.
3. She labeled this blog (where Bart’s article appeared), B21, and others as “publicly disruptive” (an unsourced quote) and leveled the accusation that we “threatened to worsen” if Willy Rice did not pull the plug on Dr. Carson’s post. There is simply no truth to that accusation. None. She made no attempt to give evidence to buttress the accusation, of course.
That was pretty much her modus operandi in the article – level an accusation, offer no proof, move on. Insinuation and accusation trumped evidence.
So, let’s catalog the accusations:
- Bullying – a serious accusation of mistreatment.
- Publicly disruptive
- Making threats of further disruption
4. It is instructive that she did not link to either of the articles she criticized. Anyone who read the irenic and reasoned tone of Bart’s article and then saw the harsh tone of Ms. Hannigan’s accusations would wonder where she got those accusations. While the tone of the B21 article was stronger than Bart’s it did not justify any of these accusations. Had she linked to the original articles, readers might have seen the absurdity of her accusations. Any reasonable person who read SBC Voices or B21 would see that no bullying took place, that no one was publicly disruptive and that no one made threats. Her accusations lose all credibility when one reads the original article.
5. Can someone explain why she raised the Calvinism issue? Under the heading “Calvinist Criticism” she mentions both B21 and Bart’s posts. What on earth does Calvinism have to do with this? I don’t see it. It seems to say more about her than it does about Jonathan or Bart that she raises the specter of Calvinism so inappropriately.
6. For clarity, Bart Barber is not a Calvinist. The section header says, “Calvinist Criticism” and yet one of the two articles is written by a confirmed non-Calvinist. That fact calls even more clearly into question the validity of raising the Calvinism issue here.
7. One wonders if either Bart or B21 were given any chance to respond. I know that SBC Voices was not contacted. I’ve not talked to Bart, who just got back from Africa a few days ago. Fairness did not seem to be a priority in this article.
1. It is not bullying to express an opinion in opposition to that of the leaders of the SBC.
In fact, it is being a GOOD BAPTIST! We are not hierarchical. I love Frank Page but he has no authority over me. I think Thom Rainer has more ministry-wisdom in his pinkie finger than most do in their whole body, but I feel absolutely free to disagree with him. I can disagree with and criticize Ed Stetzer, Al Mohler, Kevin Ezell, David Platt, Jason Allen, Russell Moore, Ronnie Floyd or Willy Rice. It is my right to not only disagree but to publicly express that disagreement.
It is leaders (or journalists) who demand that we follow them without expressing opinions or convictions that are violating “the Baptist way.” Willy Rice had every right to invite Ben Carson, since he was elected by the PC last year. But we had every right to say that we disagreed with the choice to bring a presidential candidate to make a political speech at the Pastors Conference. He made his choice. We expressed our convictions. No one did anything wrong until suddenly Ms. Hannigan began to bandy accusations of bullying and threats.
2.The wrong here is the attempt to stifle the expression of dissent.
This article’s attempt to label dissent as bullying is not just wrong, it is dangerous. Bart was right to express his views. He did so reasonably and respectfully. B21, several weeks later, echoed Bart’s views with a little more force, but they were also respectful and reasonable. Neither article insulted anyone. Neither article issued threats (contrary to Ms. Hannigan’s assertion). The only thing they were guilty of was expressing an opinion that Ms. Hannigan and Pastor Rice did not like. Because of that, the accusation of bullying was raised.
To paint dissent as bullying is a dangerous game. Baptists have always championed the right of dissent and the attempt to stifle that dissent by leaders and by a journalist such as Ms. Hannigan evidence a lack of understanding of Baptist history, polity and nature.
My Baptist buddies, whenever you hear a leader or a journalist characterizing those who have simply expressed a conviction as somehow dangerous or sinful, a red light should go off in your mind. It is tricky. Many have abused social media to harass, gossip, lie, and otherwise engage in ungodly practiced. But it is no sin to disagree with a leader (pastor, seminary president or entity head) and it is not wrong to express that disagreement – as long as it is done respectfully and in kindness.
3. Calvinism hysteria is out of hand.
Those who are so fixated on Calvinism that everything focuses on it need to get perspective. Calvinism had nothing to do with this. Since the first artile written on the topic was written by a leading NON-Calvinist, shouldn’t that tell Ms. Hannigan that this is not a Calvinist issue? Yes, it is an issue and a big one. But it is not everything. Ms. Hannigan’s attempt to make this about Calvinism was confusing and just plain wrong.
4. Baptist journalists need to do better than Ms. Hannigan did.
We can disagree (as we do on many issues) without resorting to derogation and character assassination (as she did). There was no need to go on the attack. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and we do not need to treat one another as the enemy because we disagree over things like who should speak at the Pastors’ Conference. Certainly, character assassination such as Ms. Hannigan engaged in was simply unnecessary. Willy Rice made a choice. Bart disagreed. B21 disagreed. Willy changed course. Some are happy about that, others are not. We disagree on the issue. Does that make some of us good people and others not?
We can do better as Christian writers than Ms. Hannigan did in this article.
5. Baptist blogger bashing needs to end.
Yes, Baptist bloggers have behaved badly at times, but a lot of the anger and hostility directed at us comes because we express opinions contrary to our leaders and shine lights where they wish we would not. We are the true “Baptist Press” – exposing what needs to be exposed, discussing what needs to be discussed, and keeping people informed about what is really going on. We frustrate those who would like to control the dissemination of information and they often strike out at us for it.
And there is no question we do it badly. Often. But we do it. The official Baptist Press does its work as a public relations arm of the SBC, but we are there to discuss, to disseminate news and to provide a forum for people to share their views. No one else is doing that!
Willy Rice had a tough job this year and I don’t envy the Pastors Conference president for next year, who will be scrutinized even more after this year. But the fact is that the opposition to Ben Carson was not just a few Baptist bloggers blustering. It was a LOT of people who didn’t like Pastor Rice’s choice and blogs like SBC Voices and B21 were just mouthpieces that allowed people to speak their minds. It’s easy to strike out, to blame tired whipping boys like bloggers or Calvinism, but the fact is that a real groundswell of opposition rose up against this choice. This was not a few “publicly disruptive” blogs, but a genuine expression of public opinion. Majority? Who knows? But it is wrong of Joni Hannigan to paint those who disagreed with Carson’s appearance as bad people, as having ill will or evil motives, or as being “bullies.”
Please, stop it!
We are bloggers. We may be annoying, but we are here to stay. We aren’t going anywhere. Social media is here to stay. It will morph, but it will not disappear. Resorting to petty accusation will not advance the kingdom or the SBC. Work with us. We are not the enemy. We care about the SBC. That’s why we blog.
One thing is for sure. We all need to aspire to do better than Joni Hannigan did in her article at “Christian Examiner.”
Author’s Note: I want to apologize to Willy Rice for an assumption I made. I sent him an email last night to let him know this article would appear and to express my feelings about this article. I made the assumption that he worked with Ms. Hannigan to put this article out and that she was working on his behalf. He assured me that such was not the case. He gave her a couple of quotes, which she mashed into the mess that appears into the article. He was, evidently, contacted privately by those who pressured him and even were disruptive. But that accusation was not in relation to the blogposts at B21 or the one here by Bart Barber.
So, I apologize to Willy Rice for what I said in the original article, which assumed that he was behind the Hannigan article. He was not. The fault for that article lies squarely with Joni Hannigan and her suspect journalistic practices. One person described it to me as a “hatchet job.” I do not want to engage in such against Willy Rice.