On Friday, December 9, 2016, I had quite the troubling exchange with blogger Frank Turk, a regular contributor to Phil Johnson’s Pyromaniacs blog. In reflecting on this exchange, I felt it important to take a moment to write about the incident. I have debated back and forth with myself, weighing the benefits of engaging what are, by all accounts, incredibly fallacious and self-defeating arguments. However, while I would hope that most people would be able to see through Frank’s rhetoric without the need for in depth analysis, I also know that Frank is in many ways a symptom of a much larger problem in the church.
Specifically, Frank represents the rhetoric of abuse apology.
In the past, I have written two posts under the heading of “Rhetorical Questions.” In these two posts, I engaged in a careful rhetorical analysis of public figures Albert Mohler and Kevin DeYoung, demonstrating the ways in which specific arguments they made failed under their own weight. Today, I would like to do the same with Frank’s arguments, but under a slightly amended methodology from my previous posts.
That is, in the previous two posts, I set out to answer three questions:
- Is the argument rhetorically sound?
- Is the argument biblically tenable?
- Is the argument rooted in a Christ-like engagement of the topic at hand?
However, in my considered opinion, answering those first two questions will undoubtedly answer the last in this case. In fact, while I leave it to the reader to ultimately determine the efficacy of Frank’s words, I posit that the lack of Christ-likeness is glaring enough that the question need not be engaged explicitly.
As such, the third question will be left implicit in this post, and a new first question will be added:
Does the argument represent a careful engagement with, and understanding of, the facts of the discussion?
With that out of the way, let us begin.
In analyzing Frank’s grasp of the facts, it is necessary first to establish a bit of context for the conversation.
I initially chose to engage Frank over a public statement he made in regards to indictment of Thomas J. Chantry, pastor of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. Chantry has been charged with five counts of sexually molesting a child and two counts of aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury. Per SNAP, these charges stem from incidents with a total of five children, while Chantry served on the pastoral staff of Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott, Arizona, between 1995 and 2001.
According to a report appearing in the Daily Courier of Prescott, featured the following account from one of the victims:
One alleged victim, now an adult, came forward to Prescott Police and, per a police report, when Chantry became a pastor at Miller Valley Baptist Church, Chantry told his parents that he wanted to tutor the victim, then “approximately 9 or 10 years old,” privately in his church office.
The parents consented, and the victim claims that, during his twice-weekly hourly meetings, Chantry would spank him, “grope him, rub him, and make him sit on his lap,” the report said.
The victim said that during a Christmas break during which he stayed at Chantry’s house, Chantry “began fondling him,” the report said, touching his private areas, and saying “he was making them feel better.”
This went on for a period of six to seven months, the report said, and Chantry allegedly told the boy not to tell anyone “about his special lessons because he would not be able to teach everyone.”
The man, now 32 years old, said that, even during the abuse he claims was happening when he was a child, he knew it was wasn’t right.
“I definitely felt it was wrong, but it was one of those things—he was the pastor … and there was nothing I could do about it.”
The man knew of at least one other boy in the same alleged situation, the report said.
It was specifically to these very serious charges, brought against Chantry by the state of Arizona in response to the allegations of five separate victims, that Frank Turk was responding when he made the following statement.
Now, for the moment, I want to skip over the rather convoluted introduction, and move specifically into the arguments Frank makes regarding the nature of these allegations.
Before I begin to dismantle his argument, it is important to note that Frank does get one thing right: from a legal standpoint, Thomas J. Chantry must be proven guilty in a court of law. No one is disputing this. However, Frank’s argument falls apart after this.
As such, I want to consider two lines of argument made by Frank in his defense of Chantry – and make no mistake, this statement was an intentional and calculated defense of someone Frank makes clear is a close and personal friend.
- “It’s not that serious.”
From the very beginning of his statement, Frank Turk is intentionally working to undermine the severity of the charges that have been brought against Tom Chantry. He even goes so far as to paint Chantry as the victim, portraying these allegations as a “trial” God is using to make him stronger. And in case his attempts to minimize Chantry’s alleged violent crimes isn’t glaringly obvious to the reader from his above statement, the following tweets in defense of this statement leaves no question as to his intent – he wishes to undermine the notion that Chantry’s accusers qualify as victims.
Perhaps Frank should have taken the time to read up on Arizona state law on what, precisely, constitutes aggravated assault causing serious physical injury. If he had, he would have discovered the following:
Physical injury means the impairment of physical condition. Serious physical injury includes physical Injury that creates a reasonable risk of death, or that causes serious and permanent disfigurement, serious impairment of health or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb.
Serious physical injury requires more than a temporary impairment, even if it is substantial. For example, the fracture of a body part that heals normally may not constitute serious physical injury. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-105. ; source)
It ought to go without saying that the statute for what constitutes serious physical injury is rather narrow. For such a charge to be brought against Chantry, the prosecuting attorney would have to be convinced that there is sufficient evidence to overcome any reasonable doubt of Chantry’s guilt.
In fact, according to news reports, one victim has claimed:
Chantry spanked her and her brother “a lot harder than they had ever been spanked before.” The report also said, “she stated that there was not only physical abuse, but a lot of mental abuse. She stated that when Chantry would hit them he would tell them not to tell because God would be mad at them.”
Chantry isn’t simply accused of being “horrible and unChristlike,” he is accused of using physical force against children in such a way that they were left with either a prolonged or permanent impairment or disfigurement from his actions.
That is, by the very nature of the charge, the question is not whether any of these children sustained an injury consistent with the legal definition of “serious physical injury” in the state of Arizona. Instead, the question which the prosecutors will put before the jury is: Were these injuries caused by the predatory actions of Tom Chantry?
Further, it is absurd to insist that a man accused by five persons of abuses – including violent spankings which seem to have left them with some form of “protracted impairment” under the Arizona statute for aggravated assault with serious physical injury – is the victim of his accusers. These brave persons are not persecuting or hurting Chantry by their actions.
Any negative consequences of abuse on the abusers public reputation are the results of the abusive actions they have perpetrated, and thus rest squarely on the shoulders of the abuser.
Chantry is not going through some “trial” orchestrated by God, he defied the will of God that innocent children not be subjected to abuse by their pastors (Matt 18:1-10).
To portray Chantry as victim is to work to discredit the victims and minimize their stories.
Thus, it seems to me, there are only a handful of ways to understand Frank’s question regarding the seriousness of these injuries.
- Frank Turk has not done any research, and is defending a friend from a position of utter ignorance of any of the facts of the case.
- Frank Turk has researched the nature of the allegations against his friend, Tom Chantry, but for whatever reason still does not understand the severe nature of the allegations.
- Frank Turk is fully aware of the allegations, and their severity. His motive is to undermine the severity of the charges, while simultaneously casting doubt on his friend’s accusers by portraying their injuries as not being truly enough to count as “serious” per the statute in question.
Regardless of which of these categories Frank’s argument falls into, the options are ignorant, confused, or malicious. If he is ignorant of the charges or confused about them, then his discernment in making a statement on the matter at all is in question. He cannot hope to comment accurately on the facts before him if he does not know and/or understand them.
If his intent is to minimize the severity of the charges, while maligning the five persons bringing allegations against Chantry, then his intent would be to intentionally obscure the facts to protect his friend.
In each scenario, his credibility as a commentator on the indictment of his friend is brought into serious question.
- “What if the allegations are false?”
This is a rather common argument made by those seeking to defend their friends against allegations of abuse, revolving around the idea that there are “two sides to every story.” He even went so far as to say that speaking of Chantry’s victims is slander.
However, this argument does not hold water, because the occurrence of false accusation in situations of sexual assault (molestation is a form of sexual assault) is incredibly rare. In order to understand just how unlikely it is that five children would falsely accuse the same person of molesting them, it is pertinent to consider these important points.
- Frank’s citation
It is interesting to consider a link that Frank himself provided me in this tweet:
This article highlights the research of a website, ExonerationRegistry.org. The cofounders of the site released a report highlighting their study of 873 exoneration cases in the United States between January, 1989, and February, 2012. It further highlights that there are approximately 900 current exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations, in addition to 1100 not currently registered, which occurred between 1989 and May, 2012, when the article is written.
It is helpful to highlight several facts from this article.
While the National Registry of Exonerations does contain some persons exonerated of sexual assault charges, the news report is quite clear that 1100 of these 2000 exonerations were the result of police corruption and involved the planting of evidence – most commonly drugs or guns – on a suspect to make a false arrest.
Not only is this report clear that most these 2,000 cases were not arrests for sexual assault, it does not give a breakdown of the other 900 registered cases. Thus, it is entirely impossible from the data provided to establish precisely what percentage of these cases involved a false accusation of, and conviction for, sexual assault. Nor is possible to gather from this data what percentage of these exonerations involved convictions for child sexual assault.
The study of 873 cases by the creators of the ExonorationRegistry.org is only marginally more useful. According to the article in question, 35% of these cases involved false allegations of sexual assault (23% assault of adults, 12% of children).
However, this data does not tell us what percentage of all child sexual assault allegations are false, it only tells us what percent of these specific 873 cases involved a false allegation of child sex assault.
In both cases, it is entirely beyond the scope of the studies cited to use the data provided to make an educated guess as to the percentage of total allegations of sexual assault which are false.
As such, the use of this article by Frank demonstrates that he either does not understand that there is no relevant or conclusive data set provided for the discussion at hand, or he does understand but is in some way trying to obscure actual data by interjecting disinformation. Whatever the motive, the introduction of this article into the discussion demonstrates the degree to which Frank is unqualified to offer his opinion on this matter.
- Relevant Studies
It is also important to consider the data of actual studies on child sex assault. According to multiple studies, the occurrence of false reporting in a single case of child sexual assault is less than eight percent. For situations where the victim was an adult, it is roughly less than ten percent. Each time another victim comes forward with more allegations, the odds of the allegations being false grows smaller and smaller.
It is nearly incomprehensible that five separate persons would all accuse the same person of child sexual assault.
- The Elders
According to one news report, the police report regarding the allegations against Tom Chantry indicates that the elders of his church received personal confession from Chantry, specifically in regards to his “excessive spanking” of children. This detail strongly increases the likelihood that the accusations against Chantry are true.
Conversely, it is incredibly common for abusers to lie about their abuses.
While false accusations of abuser are incredibly rare, false narratives advanced by abusers to protect their own places of privilege and power are extremely common.
It is my considered opinion that no person who has researched the severity of the charges against Chantry, has read the statistical data on false reporting, and is aware of the details of the news reports would have any reason to doubt the stories of these victims.
As such, no informed reader should be fooled by Frank’s claims regarding false accusations.
In addition to Frank’s utter failure to accurately represent the accusations against his friend, he also resorts to a number of blatantly fallacious rhetorical devices. The presence of these devices does not, in and of itself, prove his argument to be entirely false. But the combination of these logical failures with both his misrepresentation of facts, and the forthcoming biblical analysis, is utterly damning to his argument.
Frank does not seem to have any grasp of what is and is not relevant to an argument. This becomes most apparent when he attempts to claim that, because he believes Chantry to have always been honest with him, he must then consider that he might be innocent.
However, what Frank has failed to establish is his own qualification to deem Chantry honest. Turk has demonstrated no grasp of the allegations. He has not shown himself well-versed in how to interpret data from scientific studies. And he most certainly has not shown any attempt to be neutral regarding these allegations, but has instead worked (intentionally or from ignorance) to undermine the testimony of the victims.
Further, even if Chantry never directly lied to Frank about any topic they discussed, that does not mean he never molested or assaulted children. There is simply no correlation between maintaining a public persona of honesty with one’s friends and innocence of sex assault charges. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Studies show that sex predators are often charming people of good standing in their community.
As such, the claim by Frank Turk that Tom Chantry has dealt with him, personally, in honest fashion is entirely irrelevant – a non-sequitur – to any argument regarding his guilt or innocence.
- Fallacy of Composition
A fallacy of composition occurs when someone assumes that something which is true in one case is true of all cases; as when Frank attempts to appeal to a set of alleged false accusations that he is a “horrible” and “unChristlike” person. However, it does not follow that, assuming these unspecified allegations to be false means that the allegations against Chantry are false as well.
In fact, as Frank explicitly notes, the allegations are not even similar. There is no statistical correlation whatsoever between being labeled generally “unChristlike” and being specifically accused of child sex assault. The fact that sexually assaulting children is anti-Christ does not mean that a false accusation of “unChristlikeness” against Frank Turk bears any actual relevance to whether Tom Chantry is innocent.
This line of argument is nothing more than a red herring to distract the audience from the actual severity of the charges against Tom Chantry.
- Ad Hominem
The most glaring fallacy Frank commits is his repeated use of ad hominem attacks. From the very beginning of his statement, he works to paint his ideological opponent as blowing things out of proportion. He wants his readers to see the as attention seeking “ambulance chasers” who do not care about the victims. He tries to portray them as an angry mob, then throws in a vague threat of retaliation towards anyone who questions him. He then works in reverse to paint himself as being godly, biblical, and Christ-like to ensure that his audience won’t question him. His attacks on the character of his audience – instead of making a detailed and rhetorically sound argument – do not end at vague accusations however.
While engaging with several of Frank’s tweets, I chose to specially address this question he asked:
In my response, I stated explicitly that I do not believe that accused abusers get to control the narratives of their victims. Also, since the average male child sex abuser has between 50 and 150 victims before they are ever caught. and since the incidence of false allegation is so low, it is my conviction that organizations (e.g. churches and schools) have an obligation to make public statements regarding accused sex abusers in their midst.
Further, because – according to news reports – Chantry left Arizona under accusations of abuse, only to end up working at a private Christian school in Illinois, and because he was a pastor in Wisconsin, it is not unreasonable to suspect that there may be more victims than have already come forward.
Public exposure of abuse creates safe space for victims to be heard and believed.
Frank, however, took exception to my use of well-known statistics to demonstrate the likelihood that Chantry is guilty of these alleged crimes. And thus, to prove to me that false accusations exist, and that they are damaging to a person’s reputation, he chose to publicly accuse me of necrophilia in the middle of our debate.
He then chose to several times over make tweets in which he explicitly stated that I had “victims” who would testify against me, before again implying I like to have sexual relations with dead bodies.
Not only are these accusations blatantly false, they demonstrate how far Frank Turk is willing to go in order to discredit a person. He is willing to publicly make a false allegation to prove that false allegations exist, and that they are damaging to a person’s reputation. Of course, it ought to be obvious that using blatant lies to fabricate evidence of innocence for someone accused of child sex assault is not only deeply dishonest, but incredibly evil.
It takes a great lack of moral conviction to falsely accuse someone to distract from the wealth of evidence against one’s friend. It takes an even greater lack of moral fiber for him to suggest he would do it to others as well.
In every way, Frank Turk has shown that he has no desire to engage in either a factual or a logical argument. He uses falsehood, fallacy, and misdirection to obfuscate the facts and promote confusion. On these bases alone, his argument is entirely disqualified.
However, because Frank appeals to Christian brotherhood and God’s justice, it is important to briefly address these things. And so, I present the following three points.
- The Bible forbids bearing false witness. It not only forbids doing so to convict someone, but also to exonerate them (Deut 19:15-19).
Has Frank been honest in his defense of Chantry?
- The Bible states that 3 witnesses are enough to convict a person of an accused crime (Deut 17:6).
Why does Frank then work to undermine Chantry’s five accusers?
- The Bible calls the people of God to do justice, love mercy, and walk in humility (Micah 6:8).
Can Frank claim to pursue justice while engaging in dishonesty and slander? Is it truly “merciful” for Frank to undermine the victims and protect their abuser? Is it humble for Frank to lie about other persons in order to portray himself as godly?
I could go on for the next 20 pages, but it is my considered opinion that the points I have outlined in the previous two sections largely speak for themselves. It certainly could not be considered “Christ-like” or Christian brotherhood to falsely accuse two fellow Christians of necrophilia.
Further, to silence victims of abuse with empty rhetoric, false allegations, and fake piety, while protecting and defending their abuser, is active participation in their abuse.
It is incomprehensible that anyone could attempt to defend the use of intentionally false accusations to cast doubt on actual allegations as the work of God. And thus, I find Frank’s claim to be doing God’s will to be utterly preposterous.
As is my way with these posts, I have presented my argument; an argument which I consider quite compelling. However, at the end of it all, I leave it to my reader to discern the truth and efficacy of my words.
Are you be persuaded by Frank Turk’s argument?
Do you believe his words represent either a solid grasp of the facts, or an ability to engage in sound reasoning?
Do you find his words to represent the standard of honesty, integrity, and grace you would expect from a Christian leader?
**Cover Image is from http://il5.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/1593877/thumb/1.jpg**
 Phil Johnson is the Executive Director of John MacArthur’s Grace to You Ministries and the Pyromaniacs have been ardent defenders of CJ Mahaney.
 For those unfamiliar with Tom Chantry, Todd Wilhelm offers a good rundown (here) of who Chantry is and the notable connections he has in influential Reformed Evangelical circles. Brent Detwiler has also done some excellent work (here) connecting him to defenses mounted for CJ Mahaney.