This afternoon (Friday, Dec 11, 2015), I made a mistake that I feel I ought to take a moment to reflect on. While engaging with a follower of pastor J.D. Hall of Pulpit and Pen, I made an error in how I represented pastor Hall.
I was reflecting on a series of comments Hall made to a woman in his comment feed regarding a post on his blog that she (a professional editor) felt was not properly cited. Hall took a belligerent tone and made a series of inflammatory and derogatory statements to both the woman and her husband (for more details, see here).
I chose to engage the comments made by offering counterpoint. That is, I quoted one of the abusive comments and attached my own work on Male Headship (link) to the post. As a result of this, I found myself in dialogue with Hall’s followers.
It was during this exchange I referenced tweets Hall made. In the tweets, Hall told the husband of the editor who tweeted him that he should “control his wife” and in another told him to “point her mouth elsewhere”. It was the latter that became a point of controversy.
Given that Hall has a history of sexually charged rhetoric (see here), I made the assumption he was using double entendre here. When someone asked what I meant, I explained in explicit form with medically appropriate language.
I was immediately met with a flurry of accusations that spanned the spectrum from “Liar and baiter” to “personally attacking Hall”. While this was not my intent, I recognize I was not as graceful in my interpretation as I could have been. I was confronted by alternate interpretations and realized that, while Hall’s comments were rude and abusive, my interpretation of his sexual motives were misguided.
I have deleted the tweet accordingly, offered a public apology to Hall on Twitter, as well as to his followers who took offense. However, given the high standards to which I have sought to hold myself and the arguments with which I interact, I felt it important to admit my own misstep here as well.
I have always sought to be humble and charitable. In this instance, I failed to give a brother in Christ the opportunity to explain his comment. For that reason, I apologize to J.D. Hall, to his followers, and to my readers.
I recently read a quote by Carolyn Custis James which seems appropriate at such a moment.
As Christians, we have important work to do that goes beyond deciding which camp we’ll join. There are deeper, global questions that need asking. How does Jesus’ gospel speak into the lives of every man and boy with indestructible identity, meaning, purpose, and belonging that is bestowed on him at birth by his Creator? How does Jesus’ gospel radically transform what it means to be male or female? And how are we supposed to be joining forces to advance his kingdom?
Carolyn’s quote struck me as a profound reminder that there is a need to be careful in our rhetoric – to avoid antagonism. There is a fine line between calling out abuses with sound, well-reasoned arguments and being confrontational and antagonistic. While the latter was never my intention, I was nevertheless perceived as crossing that line.
I have always firmly believed that, when an offense is perceived it must be respectfully considered. Even if intentions are different from perception, we must be willing to hear how our actions and words sometimes communicate in an unclear or ungracious way.
It is in reflecting on this I want to urge my readers to not follow in my mistake. As such, I offer the following thoughts:
First, avoid ideological commitments which compete with your identity as a member of the body of Christ. In this instance, I allowed a separate incident to cloud my judgment, and I unfairly stereotyped Hall’s statement.
As Christians, we are called to live lives above reproach. We are called to carry our crosses in humility, to consider others before ourselves in imitation of Christ (Phil 2:1-11). In this instance, I allowed a prejudice formed unintentionally to paint an exchange in an uncharitable fashion.
Which leads me to my next point, it is better to be Christ-like than to be right. Often, it can be tempting to twist Scripture and manipulate the words of others to fit a narrative we want to be true. In this case, I turned Hall’s actual comments into a Straw Man Argument. This undermined my points on the abusive nature of Hall’s diatribe and instead put the focus on my failure.
We must always be careful to present the arguments and words of others in a charitable and accurate fashion. Given my own writing on this in the past, I take no pride in the irony of my failure here. But I do feel it is an excellent reminder that we are all flawed and sinful individuals.
We cannot allow any ideology to become so central to our thoughts that it causes us to fail to practice grace to our neighbor. In reality, not only is Hall a neighbor in God’s image, he is a brother in Christ. I may profoundly disagree with him, but I none the less owe him the respect due a fellow human being made in the image of God and seeking to conform to the image of Christ.
This brings me to my last observation:
When we pursue the speck in another’s eye, we will inevitably discover a plank in our own (Matt 7:1-6)
In my haste to deliver a decisive blow to the thoughts of another person regarding Hall’s words, I chose to pursue the “killing blow” instead of dialogue and discussion. This not only alienated and offended fellow believers, it took the focus off of abuse and the victim and instead put the blame on me. Blame I well deserved none the less served as a distraction to a very important issue.
When standing up for victims, it is always important to be sure we are not being a distraction, intentionally or unintentionally colonizing and controlling their narrative and making ourselves the center of attention. I failed at this in this instance.
Again, for these reasons, I offer an apology to all involved.
In closing, I am reminded more than ever we cannot truly demonstrate our love for God unless we first act in love towards our neighbors (Matt 12:28-34).
**Cover image from http://www.clipartbest.com/cliparts/dc6/Myo/dc6Myogc9.jpeg**
Carolyn Custis James’ Interview is in regards to her book Malestrom.