“There are six things the LORD hates – no, seven things he detests . . . a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
~ Proverbs 6:16, 19
Imagine that one of the bloggers you regularly read writes a post accusing Billy Graham of being a racist.
As you continue to read the post, the blogger buttresses her accusation saying, “It’s clear that Graham is a racist from his own book Nearing Home on page 77.
The blogger then uses guilt by association, saying, “Another evidence that Graham is a racist is that he was good friends with Harry Carney, who belonged to the KKK in 1965.”
Or . . .
“Graham quotes Thomas Jefferson who was a racist. So Graham is clearly a racist too.”
Now . . . believe it or not, a certain percentage of Christians reading those charges will believe that Billy Graham is a racist.
Why? Simply because a professing Christian accused him of being such.
And . . . they mentioned a book and a page number as well as an association.
Those who know Graham and/or his work will blow off the accusation, knowing that it’s not true.
And the blogger will instantly lose credibility with them.
But the naïve, the gullible, and those who are inclined to think the worst about others will swallow it hook, line, and sinker. Some will even be so irresponsible and reckless as to repeat it to others.
A few people who once loved Graham will disown him.
Disturbingly, most of the people who uncritically accepted the accusation will never think to check the book and the page number to see if Graham in fact said what he’s been accused of saying or if his words were being misinterpreted or taken out of context.
Nor will they see through the guilt-by-association tactic.
(Most people are aware that quoting someone doesn’t mean you align with all of their beliefs. And being someone’s friend doesn’t mean you imbibe their philosophy or way of life.)
On the contrary, some Christians will benightedly believe whatever a fellow “Christian” blogger alleges.
The result? Discord and dissension.
By the way, for those of you who may be confused right now, I have no reason to believe that Billy Graham is a racist. And all of the alleged “evidences” I put forth are entirely fictitious. I’m simply using this “story” as an illustration to make a point.
The sad fact is, this sort of thing happens in real life. And it’s yet another way of sowing seeds of discord in the body of Christ.
Not long ago I posted Alan Hirsch’s response to an online critique that utterly misrepresented him and his work.
Some of the comments to that post were enlightening:
I feel pretty bad right now. I read the critique Alan is referring to and I believed it because it was written by another believer. I’m sorry for swallowing the bait without going to the authors themselves, I follow Alan on Twitter and never thought to ask him for his response. Thanks for posting this Frank. Apologies to Alan and Tim.
I like to read comments and this is really good to see. I was reading a critique of N.T. Wright’s new book where the author was arguing that Wright believed such and such and denied such and such. I read the book myself so I knew that the guy’s critique was totally skewed.
Reading the other people’s comments on the critique was interesting. No one asked the guy, “Give me the exact quote in its full context where Wright says these things you’re accusing him of.” It’s a no brainer question. Challenge the critic to give you exact quotes and page numbers. Then go to the author themself to ask if they are being misunderstood or taken out of context.
Thanks Alan for doing such a good job with this.
I haven’t read any books by Hirsch but I could relate to everything he said in this response. I’ve written things myself and have had some people totally spin what I wrote. These were fellow Christians who I think were working from some ugly motive. I’d say that most people aren’t so gullible and can see through critiques that are unfair and slanted. Something they say or don’t say gives it away. I loved your interview with N.T. Wright. Hearing him answer objections was good to see.
It’s one thing to disagree with what someone actually believes and says. It’s quite another to mischaracterize them by using distortions and falsehoods.
The truth is, seeds of discord would never be sown if we all followed Jesus’ command. (Note that it wasn’t a suggestion. It was a command.)
How would you want to be treated if someone critiqued you or your work?
You’d want it to be fair and honest. In fact, you’d want the person critiquing your work to send you the critique for review before publication to ensure that it contains no misrepresentations or misunderstandings. (This guarantees intellectual honesty.)
How would you want to be treated if someone read a distorted critique about you?
You’d want them to suspend judgment and come to you directly to verify if it was true or not.
What I’ve said in this post applies to everyone. Not just to writers like Graham and Hirsch.
The verbal or written misrepresentation of an individual and her or his views is yet another way of sowing seeds of discord among brethren.
And we have not so learned Jesus Christ.
We’ll look at another way of sowing discord in Part III tomorrow.