On the three previous three days I have published blogs on the danger of gossip and slander. Had I not cited a particular name, and a present controversy, the content of what I wrote stands true. My mistake was to think out loud about a controversy that I clearly had not examined below the surface. My goal was clearly stated and seems to have been missed. I was warning about the dangers of gossip and slander and how the Internet encourages this to happen without accountability.  I openly admitted that I had no horse in this race (debate) and no deep, first-hand knowledge of the facts. My obvious problem is that my comments were perceived to be a defense of Ergun Caner (photo left). I clearly missed the mark here.

caner1 After I began to read the various comments I went back and read what I wrote. I noted how some took a few of my words out of their context. Some got this and said so very well. I was not saying that Ergun Caner had been vindicated or even totally exonerated. Would I say all of this differently if I had a do over? Yes. One writer summarized what appears to be a fair-minded approach:

Bennett Willis wrote the following (no editing on my part and his comment cited in full):

Please look at the information available and see if you still feel that the concern about EC's statements is unjustified. I would like to say that all the "attacks" have been on point but in the thousands of inches of posts and threads there are some that strayed. In the case of "defenders" though, almost no one has reported "that they have read the information and it is not true for the following reasons"–maybe even none. In the rare case of "good defense,” the "defender" almost always picks a very narrow issue and rebuts it with determination (and often with personal attacks on the “messenger”). You can see the normal type of “defense” that occurs if you read almost any of the threads. Some of the people who have commented to your posts clearly have "wandered into the discussion" without recognizing that it has been going on with determination since February, 2010, and from time to time since at least 2006. The Caner history has been regarded by some as bogus for many years. It seems to me that the incorrect "attack" on whether the Caners were Muslim at all focused enough attention on the history for the "embellishments" to become painfully clear to those who bothered to read or listen to them with concern for truth. The initial postings by some were largely in defense of the Caners—but this changed as more documentation became easily available and was compared with the EC statements.

Assuming Bennett is correct, and my present sense is that he likely is, then I should not have defended Caner. Again, if you read my comments in their context I think you can easily see that I was not angling to defend him as if I knew all the facts of this case. Sadly, the numerous comments revealed to me several more problems that I see more clearly now.

1. There is still way too much gossip here, at least from what I have seen. The tone in the comments to my three posts reveals a troubling approach. Honestly, who cares if I got this case wrong? I admitted as much in my first post. I was actually responding to Geisler’s letter, not so much to the Caner controversy. This was really not about Caner, right or wrong. It was about my concern regarding speech and writing. I remain concerned.

Here is my story again. I got a letter from a friend of Geisler’s who asked me to read it and respond. I did that in private and then wrote the first blog based upon this Geisler’s letter. I then developed two more blogs on the danger of the Internet, thus my posts about gossip (July 28) and slander (July 29). It does appear that what we are dealing with here is more about gossip than slander. Remember, you can gossip and be telling the whole truth. Please go back and read what I actually said (July 28). I am not concerned about every issue regarding Caner, pro or con. I am concerned that this debate has taken up so much time, space and passion. Just read the responses and you will see my reason for this concern. We live in a culture that is poisoned by 24/7 opinion and people seem to be getting angrier by the day.

2. Assuming Caner deceived the public I still do not know why or to what level. I do not know what his (private) response was when he was corrected by those who dealt with him face-to-face. I said in my first post that my only reading of the news of this case came from Christianity Today (CT). I know that CT applies the practices of real journalism, something not done on the Internet by private sources. CT is a responsible public source for real news. Following their lead on the Caner controversy I clearly understood that there were real problems below the surface. But why must an attack be leveled at the board of Liberty, or at Dr. Norman Geisler, regarding both their motives and personal reasons for defending Caner?

What further interests me is my reference (July 27) to a very important controversy over The Local Church. This issue is of far more personal concern to me. I have talked to godly leaders on both sides and have true friends who agree and disagree. I eventually studied this case for myself, listened carefully to a lot of opinions and arguments, and then made up my own mind. This issue really does warrant careful, loving attention yet not one reader picked up on this point. The key difference between this issue and the Caner debate is that we have loads of material that have been interpreted by a lot of people in various ways. This debate centers on the doctrine of God, Christ and the church and people should be interested for a number of reasons.

3. This leads to my final observation. One of the real problems here, and one that lies behind much that I read in these types of debates, is about reporting and making one’s opinions central to a story. I am not a reporter. Because of this my most common error on this site has been to read a story, assume the best and then comment on it in a way that irritates some people who disagree. In this instance I failed precisely because I reported without a grasp of the story. But I believe a different problem is revealed in the comments. This problem is a faulty interpretation and application of the Pastoral Epistles. I have in mind, without spelling this out completely, the continual assumption (which is rampant in much conservative Protestantism) that we are personally warranted as individuals to turn the work of apologetics and ministry into a democratic free-for-all when it comes to opposing errors and fallen teachers. It is assumed that if I am convinced someone is wrong then I have a responsibility to tell about this person and their failure.

Do not misunderstand me. There is a time and place to expose and report facts and decisions that the public has a right to know. The board at Liberty University has this responsibility and seems to have acted correctly. If they failed in their duty then do with that what you must but do not presume to tell why or how they failed if you are not privy to what they knew and considered in private. Unless you are directly associated with Liberty University I suggest you leave this alone. “Love covers . . .” Yes, love seeks the truth. And love does not cover up sin. But love does not go on and on about a matter when it is not our business.

I have s
erved on the board of a Chri
stian institution of higher education and I can tell you that matters of this type are generally dealt with in a context of deep concern. Generally, the answers given will not satisfy everyone. If a person is convinced against a professor then not much else will change their mind. I respect any Christian institution (school or church) that deals with discipline biblically. I do not respect endless chatter about these matters.

So, what do I take away from all of this? Almost exactly what I wrote minus the mistake I made by referencing a controversy that I had not researched. I resolve to do my best to not make this mistake again. It does create “buzz.” Probably nothing that I wrote in recent months got more attention than these three blogs. Some writer’s apparently think this is what blogs are all about. Not me. I have no interest in creating a “buzz” so as to drive up hits on this site. I am deeply interested in being a friend to those who want to listen to me because they have some reason to know me, personally or otherwise.

When all the buzz dies down I hope I will have learned from this  debate. Having admitted my error I believe that my central concern about gossip (not slander when it fits) was missed by many who responded.  It never ceases to amaze me that some bloggers pick up something a thread like this and turn my words into a whole new forum to stir up even more controversy. Even assuming that I got the story about Caner wrong these responses didn’t do much to edify people. (There were several notable exceptions which you can judge for yourself.) One wonderful exception should be seen in the careful words offered by Bennett Willis. I do not know Bennett but admire him for the measured tone and good argument that he employed in correcting me.

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  1. Debbie Kaufman July 30, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Thank you for this post.

  2. TurretinFan July 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    It is a pity that the particular example you selected distracted from the good points you were making. I hope that folks who had been distracted by those points will go back and read the posts for the good content that they have.
    On the other hand, I suspect that a bunch of additional folks who might not have thought about the topic of gossip and slander have now been provided with some valuable teaching.

  3. Ivan Lambert July 30, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the good read, calling us to not only consider the thoroughness of our arguments, but our tone as well.
    Indeed we are to “speak the truth in love”.
    Thanks John

  4. Bennett Willis July 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks for the kind words—and the long quote. I appreciate your study of the situation—and your toleration of the comments. I’ll leave your blog in my Favorites list long after this discussion dies away..

  5. Joe Heschmeyer July 30, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I think TurretinFan said what I was thinking perfectly (it’s a little strange for me to type that sentence, but I thought he was a gentleman in how he handled himself both here, and in the post he wrote in response on his own blog). Yours was a very good post: being well outside the spheres in which this controversy erupted, this was one of the first times I’d heard anything about it. After reading the post originally, I thought it was very good. I *still* think it very good, but agree that the particular example turned out to be imperfect.
    I’m sure that given the ferocity with which some quarters have responded, you’re probably feeling pretty attacked, and I’ll pray for your strength and edification in this time of trial. I think you’ve got a beautiful thing going on this blog, and I hope this particular controversy doesn’t stop what you’re doing. In Christ,

  6. Chris Criminger July 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Hi John,
    As one who has been neck deep in apologetics, I have often found it counter-productive to defend so passionately what too often for me at least has been my own views of God or truth as if God and truth need me so bad :–)
    I know I need more faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love.
    So thanks for your love John.

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