Bear with me, this is a bit longer than my usual. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now.
I’ve been reading up on the Federal Vision in a casual sort of way for years now. I haven’t read any books all the way through, although I’ve read significant bits of a good deal of them, and I sat through Douglas Wilson’s original Reformed Is Not Enough sermon series. I’m personally acquainted with virtually the entire pantheon of FV luminaries. All this is meant to dot me on the map, and to show where my loyalties lie. I don’t belong on any juries. I’d recuse myself if I were a judge on the matter.
One thing that keeps popping in the Federal Vision debate, and has been a point of discussion lately, is the issue of anonymous attack sites and their place in the debate. They mostly swirl around Douglas Wilson and Christ Church in Moscow, but not exclusively.
There’s a lot of them out there, for sure; I can think of about a dozen off the top of my head. There’s even more sites that are devoted solely to slander, but aren’t technically anonymous. I think part of the reason for the number of them is that they’re easy to set up, easy to leave up. And some people get a kick out of having thousands of visitors reading their dirt. (Tabloids, anyone?)
[I was originally going to mention a few of the sites that have started me thinking about this, which are not all anonymous attack sites but which traffic in their wares, but I thought better of mentioning names]
These sites are sinful, and their owners are sinning in the majority of their posts. Slander is a sin. I can’t think of any of these sites who have properly followed Matthew 18, at least as far as they have told their readers. These sites are slandering godly* leaders, and they are doing it for sinful motives. Bitterness and envy spring quickly to mind, but they’re not the only motives.
(*Godly because these are men who have not been proven guilty, they are members in good standing of their churches and denominations, etc.)
All this is well known, and it’s really just background. Here’s what I’ve noticed of late. Which direction are all these arrows pointing? On whose side are the anonymous attack sites? I find these extremely telling: they are all against the Federal Visionists. I have done a fair bit of surfing, and I can’t think of one attack site, anonymous or otherwise, dedicated to attacking and slandering FV opponents. There are plenty of sites critiquing FV opponents. But all the slander and attack websites are against the FV. I think we should consider why this is so.
A caveat: there are many harsh words being said on both sides. Some things have been said by folks on the FV side that were wrong, and some things have been said by folks against them that were wrong. I am not trying to say that either side is sinless, or that either side has been free from any slanders at all. I am saying that it is noteworthy that the FV does not run anonymous attack sites.
In my opinion, this points to the rightness of the FV. I realize this is a roundabout way of getting there, and it’s not a logical argument that would stand up in court. I wouldn’t even want to defend it as such. No QED here. But look at the debate as an outsider: who is conducting themselves more like a Christian? The FV doesn’t hit below the belt. If the devil is on the side of the FV, which is what those crying “Heresy!” are ultimately saying, why doesn’t Satan have all his weapons out? All the FV have is their writings. The other guys have their writings too, and all the nasty gossip.
Where there’s smoke, there’s a fire. But a pack of smoking anonymous blogs doesn’t indicate that the FV is burning with heresy. Smoke indicates that someone is on fire, but it doesn’t show who. It just indicates that someone isn’t right with God – and it could be the FV leaders themselves. But an anonymous attack blog isn’t proof of anything except that maybe its owner has too much time on his hands.
For those following Moscow controversies, the same is mostly true, though to a lesser degree. The local stuff offers an odd exception: there are anonymous Christ Church apologists (members? who knows?) who occasionally frequent the Vision2020 Bulletin Board, and their actions are sometimes sinful as well. But I can’t think of any Christ Church member who has set up a website to slander and attack the Intoleristas.*
(*Another caveat: http://www.hatesplotch.net, in its short time, is an exception. It was certainly an attack, and it was certainly acerbic in tone, from what I recall.)
In conclusion, I want to say how insulting attack sites really are. I heard Karl Rove speak at Duke University the other night. Mr. Rove discussed briefly the 2000 Campaign in South Carolina, when he was accused of slandering John McCain using whispered racial insults, saying that Mr. McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. Rove of course denied being the source of the whispers, and whether or not he did it is not my point. He pointed out how insulting it was to South Carolina voters that someone thought this story would damage Mr. McCain. Did they really think that South Carolinians were dumb enough to think that being the father of a black child was morally wrong?
Similarly, it really is insulting to the Reformed world at large that many believe that attacking a pastor’s character (like Steve Wilkins’) amounts to refuting their argument. Do the owners of these attack sites actually believe that this will change our minds about what we believe? Will we say, “Well, Steve Wilkins maybe plagiarized once … I guess the Federal Vision movement is wrong.”
I pray that we’re all better than that.