In my family, we often relate by teasing each other. We actually get along pretty well, but if you saw a transcript of some of our conversations, you might not think so. It’s how we do. As we rag on one another, we often use the verbal equivalent of emoticons in our exchanges. “No offense,” says the one doing the teasing. “None taken,” says the one who is taking the shot.
There is a similar phrase I’ve come to enjoy and employ when giving my siblings or my children the business. “Of course, I say this only in the spirit of Christian love.” That’s my family – it’s how we roll. It might not work for you, but we get along pretty well through it all.
A Disturbing Trend
Why am I bringing this up? I’ve seen something recently in the Baptist social media world that bothers me. A social media army has arisen among us, self-appointed agents of God to reform the SBC and mold it in their pattern. Anyone who does not kowtow to their demands or assent to their ideas is branded as part of the problem. If you are part of the problem, then just about anything goes!
Of course, many of the leaders of this movement are out and proud – remarkably straightforward about their motives and methods. They use their own names, which is certainly more honorable than hiding as cowards behind anonymity to launch campaigns of harassment. But recently, a plethora of anonymous Twitter accounts and websites has arisen, devoted to spreading slander against other believers.
There are some funny and enjoyable anonymous accounts out there. Church Curmudgeon is genius and Fake JD Greear is awesome. These are fun sites. But there is a difference between a fake site that is meant to be funny and one that intends to denigrate.
This recent explosion of sites is designed to seek and to destroy. One man. Ergun Caner. And anyone who defends Ergun Caner. They believe it is their duty to bring down Caner and justify their actions in the light of this right and righteous goal.
This army of social media terrorists has thrown out the rulebook. They intentionally engage in cyber-stalking and harassment – they even brag about it. I’ve seen several tweets – they often bless me by including my twitter handle in their attacks so it shows up in my inbox – that indicate that this is intentional and organized. (Asking to be dis-included generally makes one a target of more harassment). Someone evidently sends out the “talking points” and a flurry of invective follows – name-calling, sarcastic and degrading words, and ironically, calls to repent. They describe themselves as “rabble-rousers” and have self-designated as an army.
Slander is the currency of this social media army. The Greek word slander (blasphemian) means to revile, to disrespect, disparage or denigrate – basically speech that abuses and tears down. It is a fair and apt description of the conversation produced by the loyal twitter soldiers of this army. They spread gossip and rumors (some of which may be true, some is not), but assume all their information and opinions to be above reproach. They engaged in a campaign seeking to cause a church to turn against its pastor by directly contacting members about something the pastor did (which was wrong and for which he has repented).
Essentially, they engage in many of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5 and show every sign of the sinful speech in Colossians 3:8.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new about that. We are all sinners and our sinful words spill from each of our tongues. But there is a disturbing trend here, which I have personally observed time and again.
Not only do they engage in verbal harassment and cyber-stalking, slander, gossip and the like, but they claim that all of their acts are motivated by CHRISTIAN LOVE and a desire to edify the Body of Christ.
“You are an unregenerate and I am going to harass you until you repent! Of course, I’m doing all of this in the spirit of Christian love to build up the church.” (paraphrase not direct quote)
You don’t have to hold a doctorate in NT studies to realize that what these brothers and sisters in Christ are engaged in does not match biblical descriptions of love.
Some Facts for Perspective
Anticipating some of the backlash this article will undoubtedly engender, let me make a few statements of fact.
1) I agree with these people about the focus of their obsession – Ergun Caner.
I believe the evidence that Jason Smathers has accumulated concerning Ergun Caner. I have had some limited interaction with Jason and have found him an honorable man. I believe him. I hope that Caner’s lawsuit against him will be thrown out as unfounded – which I think it will be.
Sorry to some of my friends who love Dr. Caner, but I believe he is unqualified for gospel ministry or leadership of a Christian organization because of the serious sins of deception he has committed.
Since I am not a Georgia Baptist, since my offerings don’t fund him, since he and I have absolutely no relationship of any sort, I do not believe I am God’s agent of rebuke and correction for the man. But that does not change the fact that I believe Jason and have no respect for Ergun Caner.
If someone says I am writing this out of a desire to buttress Caner’s position or to further some kind of cover-up of his sins, that person is simply not speaking truth, whether willfully or ignorantly.
2) I have had some pretty bitter blogging battles with the subjects of their verbal assaults.
Will anyone be surprised to learn that Peter Lumpkins and I did not exchange Christmas cards last year? In recent years we have reached a level of détente because I rarely read his blog and never engage there, and he almost never engages here (I have no idea whether or how much he reads Voices). If I ran into Peter somewhere, we’d say hi, perhaps exchange some brief conversation and go on our ways. I do not consider him an enemy, but it would stretch credulity to describe us as friends.
Tim Rogers is probably the guy I’ve had the harshest exchanges with through the years, both on blogs and in private. In recent months, Tim and I have forged what I think we would both describe as a respectful friendship – free of the rancor that once characterized our relationship. He still has not come to realize that I was always right and he was always wrong, but hope springs eternal! Seriously, there are few blogging topics on which Tim and I see eye to eye, and we may never agree on those things, but I consider him a friend.
CB Scott is someone I consider a dear friend. Like Tim he often fails to see that disagreeing with me is a sin, but when I go to an SBC Annual Meeting, he’s one of the first people I look up. I spent a lot of time last year hanging out with CB at the Brewton Parker booth, back when all the controversy was about a different Baptist college. CB and I (to my memory) have never discussed the issues related to Ergun Caner, who is now his boss. CB and I have had some knockdown, drag out fights on blogs through the years as well.
If someone says that I am simply a “defender of Peter Lumpkins,” they are either being deceptive or dense. Peter, if you read this, you probably find that as humorous as I do, right?
3) I have been the subject of this social media harassment.
Yes, there is a personal aspect to this.
I have not escaped the barbs of this social media army, though my experience has been much milder than what others have experienced. I wrote an article here calling into question whether the kind of rebuke that is being done is biblically qualified, making the point that NT rebuke takes place in a context of both authority and relationship. I have neither with Ergun Caner. I do not believe that I have the spiritual right or responsibility to attempt to make him accountable to me. (A lot of folks, even good friends, disagree with my position.)
I then probably made a mistake. I was trying to come up with a catchy title and settled on “It’s None of My Business.” I have paid for that choice. I faced a barrage (it’s intentional – they have made that clear) of sarcastic and insulting tweets and posts that I don’t care about sin, that I don’t believe Jason Smather’s evidence (which my post said I do) and that I am a flunky for the Caner contingent (which would come as a surprise to any Caner supporters) or that I am part of some sort of cover-up. My point was lost because of the title I chose.
I also realize that I am positioned to receive a barrage of “vigorous” social media responses to this post.
Just When I Thought I Was Out, You Pulled Me Back IN
I made a commitment years ago to leave battle-blogging behind. My life has been the better for it. I am entering that arena again because I see something that needs to be confronted, something which threatens the unity of the Body of Christ and the future of the SBC. What is happening is simply out of hand. It is wrong.
And so, this disdainer of battle-blogging is going to enter the fray once more. I am no man’s judge and each member of the anti-Caner social media army must judge their actions by the Word and listen to the Spirit’s conviction. But I have read enough of your tweets and observed enough of your actions to state my opinion.
And I would make this request. Those of you who champion rebuke and correction, who go around “calling people out” daily; why not take a little of what you dish out. If you are going to dole out rebuke, maybe you should listen when someone else delivers some to you.
- When you engage in social media harassment, you are not acting in accord with the Word of God.
- When you try to disrupt a church by attempting to inflame it against its pastor, you have gone beyond the boundaries of biblical behavior.
- When you act as judge and jury over the motives and hearts of others, you are putting yourself in the place of God. Vengeance is the Lord’s, not yours.
- When you harass, slander and denigrate fellow believers, you sin against the Savior who bled for them.
This has nothing to do with whether Caner is good or bad, or whether Peter Lumpkins is right or wrong. Let’s assume that Caner is what we believe he is and that Peter is 100% wrong in all his stands (which I’ve not examined in depth). The ends never justify the means. It is never godly to commit sin in the pursuit of a righteous cause.
Harassment and slander are not okay, even if Caner and Lumpkins are everything you believe they are.
If you will not receive my rebuke, then at least I would ask you to hear one request.
For the LOVE OF GOD, stop calling what you are doing love!
What you are doing is not love and you ought to stop deceiving yourself that it is. If Caner is as evil as you think, perhaps you can justify what you are doing. But you ought not call it love.
I’ve heard it a hundred times.
“Godly love does not excuse sin or allow sinners to continue in their sin.”
Of course it doesn’t. We proclaim a harsh gospel that calls sinners to repent. Love is not blind and it does not excuse or embrace sin. When my four-year-old and two-year-old sons got the keys to our car and took it out for a drive, I expressed by love to them in a rather forceful way. But that came in the context of a relationship of love and encouragement.
What you are doing with Dr. Caner, and with his supporters, is simply not love. It is not given within a context of loving relationship. There is no evidence of the things that 1 Corinthians 13 describes as love in your actions and words.
- Love is patient and kind. I’ve not really seen those qualities in evidence.
- Love is not arrogant or rude, irritable or resentful. Those things I HAVE seen.
- Love does not “keep a record of wrongs.” Several of you seem to keep a list of offenses (with screen shots) and bring them up repeatedly – even after someone has offered an apology.
- Love “always believes, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres.” I have not observed this in your words.
(NOTE: I am speaking to a specific group of people, not to all Caner critics. I am addressing the twitter army, many of whom hide as cowards behind anonymity).
This is one man’s opinion. I do not speak for any other SBC Voices contributors. In fact, some of them will likely be angry at me for writing this. But this is my observation and the conviction I have developed from that.
I do not support Ergun Caner. I would not recommend Brewton-Parker to any young man or woman as a college. I do not agree with those who support Dr. Caner, whether they are friends or rivals.
But I think that your pursuit of Caner has become shameful, sinful and contrary to God’s Word. It has become mean-spirited, absent of the Fruit of the Spirit and amply evidencing the works of the flesh.
And I am asking you, as a fellow-believer:
For the Love of God, STOP IT!