By now most of you are familiar with the presence of abortion abolitionists at the G3 Conference and some of the ugly rumors spread about it afterwards. What you may not know is that while so many interested parties were working to malign these guys, one prominent speaker actually took the time to speak with them, listen to them, and you can hear his change of tone as he has misperceptions corrected and learns the other side of the story. The most important part of this is that, in the process, some myths are busted that turn out to offer a tremendous case example for all of us when it comes to spreading falsehoods specifically, and integrity with print media in general.
The video below shows a discussion between Paul Washer and abortion abolitionists who were active outside G3. They called to him and offered him some of their literature. He obliged and engaged them in discussion. His first question was laced with suspicion based on things he had heard.
He asked, “Are you the group also that is attacking the local church?” The girl answers, “Sir, we’re not attacking the local church.”
He followed, “What about elders and all kinds of things like that?” Again, “If you guys are the guys that I think you are, you’re also . . . it’s like you’re attacking local churches everywhere instead of doing what you should be doing.”
The young man, Wayne Groover, explained that these claims, so often repeated by a few interested parties, are straw men and slander, and that he is a member of a local church and is submitted to elders—“I absolutely submit.”
What occurred next, and almost in passing, in this discussion made me raise an eyebrow. He mentioned going about things the wrong way, such as “if you’re attacking and destroying churches and things. . . .”
Wait a minute. “Destroying”? Where is that coming from?
Then it got even more interesting.
After complimenting how kind these activists were, and promising to read their literature and research it, he returned to the concern:
But I have heard, you know, like, somebody went into a church in San Antonio or something—I don’t know what it was—tore it to pieces, or something, I don’t—Like I said, I just need to get a sure word.
I was really confused by this. Are there actually reports of AHA activists breaking into churches and tearing them to pieces? Or has he confused some random news story of vandalism with some other memories to arrive this impression? Or what?
The answer lies in how the incendiary language and false accusations of critics spread around the web until someone’s hyperbole becomes an ugly reputation for violence pinned on someone else—totally unrighteously.
The impression comes from the careless writings of a pastor of a church that was visited by a couple abortion activists. Let me say clearly this was one of the clumsiest interactions from an abolitionist I have seen (about the only really clumsy one I’ve seen). Fortunately, the guy involved later posted an apology for not listening well enough and coming across as a legalist. He certainly also needs to learn how better to communicate what he’s trying to say before he does any more such interaction. But the insistence that the pastor’s church repent of apathy when it in fact does have abortion outreaches and ministries riled the pastor who then posted about his experience online. He was far from fair in how he represented the work of abolitionists:
They claim to want to work with other churches, and yet their approach is to break down the doors of your church, overturn the tables, and call the entire church to repent of not being involved in abortion ministry to their satisfaction.
This—this!—is the origin of Paul Washer’s misperception that AHA members broke into a church and tore it to pieces.
Now, this may have been hyperbole on the Pastor’s part, but that was certainly not clear from his post, which was filled with a tremendous number of other exaggerations as well. It certainly was not clear to anyone who didn’t know better, or who was hearing about AHA for the first time. Extreme language like this can lead to false impressions, and, sure enough, next thing we have even prominent ministers like Paul Washer walking around with the idea in their head that AHA activists have literally committed violence and destroyed churches!
One young lady responded to this Pastor’s indelicate charge properly:
I’d like to ask Pastor Ramos to be careful with his words. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). These careless words communicate something that is incongruous with how the two men who visited Heritage Grace that day acted. There was no irrational anger, no table flipping, and no self-righteous demands. Just two men seeking to ask for help at “a good man’s house”.
Her whole article addresses the intemperate, inaccurate, and angry response of the pastor, and answers several of the factually false charges he levels. It contains some interesting perspective and I recommend you read it.
Now let this sink in for a minute. One guy has one less-than stellar interaction, but then sits down and pens hyperbolic, incendiary falsehoods that came across so literally that a reader the likes of Paul Washer came away with a slanderous impression.
First, just imagine how many other such attacks may be just as hyperbolic and yet just as false.
Second, witness how easy it is for even the most discerning of believers to believe slanderous false impressions based on such things.
Third, imagine what could be the case, then, when rumors are blown into exaggerations are blown into lies and are repeated heavily by a handful of parties who may have some level of influence—some who have allowed themselves uncharacteristically to blow overgeneralizations into fallacies, and some who act with prejudice and malice in an attempt to destroy other people’s reputations.
Imagine, from what we just saw with how Brother Washer himself was misled by such a phenomenon, how so much more evil and wickedness will be spread and unfortunately believed by posts like this:
I’m not a prophet. Neither do I have any evidence that what I’m about to suggest will happen. However, I truly believe that someone flying the AHA banner will one-day bomb an abortuary or try to kill an abortionist. Again, I don’t know this will happen. But I fear it will.
This was posted by a prominent street preacher, respected and believed by many.
Or consider a very beloved Reformed Baptist apologist who generalized AHA on social media as a “jihad.”
Or consider the numerous times such folk have been called—often by well-known ministers or preachers who have much respect and influence—“church-haters,” “anti-church,” “rebels,” “cult,” “cultists,” “dangerous,” “outside the church,” “fighting the church,” all of which are broad, often undefined, fallacious generalizations and extreme exaggerations applied indiscriminately to over 50,000 people with very little to no proof of the claims made—certainly not in their extreme form.
Let me be the first to say that the moment I see actual proof of any such claims, I’ll be the first to agree to the evidence provided concerning the offending parties. Until then, we need to follow the example Washer exhibited in the limited moments of this brief exchange:
The Good News
Groover responded to Washer, “Yes sir. I can promise you that there are slanderous things that second-hand witnesses are spreading—it’s insanity.”
Washer responds, “I understand that. It’s like one guy told me, he goes, ‘Paul Washer. You are not a worker of the devil; you are the devil himself.’”
In other words, Washer knows what it feels like to be slandered himself.
Then he pointed out another piece of evidence he thought spoke against AHA. It turned out, however, that he had yet another misperception:
PW: “Well, you know, but, like there’s a guy protesting right there that . . . Hitler, Luther, whatever. Is that one of your guys? . . . I think that’s a bad argument, but. . . .”
DW (Deanna Waller): “‘Everything that Hitler did was legal?’”
PW: “No, what I’m saying is, identifying Martin Luther with Hitler. . . . There’s a guy over there talking about Martin Luther.”
WG: “Martin Luther King?”
PW: “No, I thought it was Martin Luther.”
WG: “No, sir, no sir. . . . It says, ‘Never forget, everything Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal. —Martin Luther King.’ You know what I’m saying?”
Once corrected, Washer realized he had made a mistake and saw no problem: “Oh, OK.”
Washer repeated what he said earlier: “Again, I will look into this more thoroughly because you’ve been kind. . . . Proverbs and Paul’s admonition to Timothy is never to judge anyone till you hear the second side of the story—the other side. . . . I will.”
He concluded: “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and I’ll look at this.”
The bad news is that I know who some of Paul Washer’s friends are, and they are some of the very people who posted the most extreme lies I listed above. I fear, therefore, that Paul Washer may yet be further misled and neglect to research the other side by actually contacting many of the leading abolitionists who labor under the mission of AHA, and then conclude for himself. I could be wrong. I don’t know Paul Washer and have never met him, but he comes across as a man of high integrity, compassion for truth and justice, and courage to state what the truth is no matter the cost. I hope he follows through properly and reports the results by an outstretched hand. But it’s hard to withstand the repeated entreaties of people you like and trust and to hold them in suspicion that they may be intensely wrong.
The good news, however, is exhibited in this video: when we listen, we may find that we have been misled by misperceptions and falsehoods that have been repeated as mantras, and we may find out that the vast majority of such people are not church-haters, and none are the violent terrorist and jihadists that has been unbelievably claimed. Just maybe. And that’s good news.
A warning against slander, from people you trust
There is absolutely no place in the Christian world for the type of loose speaking that maligns and demonizes other people’s reputations falsely. There is no place for fallacies of generalization. There is certainly no place in the church for doing such things purposefully with the design of discrediting.
Every one of us knows this, but we all need to submit to one another and hold each other accountable, because this particular sin, particularly in the age of social media, is absolute rampant fire in which we—if we have any passion for sound doctrines and applications at all—can all easily find ourselves consumed on occasion.
So, don’t even trust my word alone for it. Listen to men we all trust:
Verse 18. Let the lying lips be put to silence. A right good and Christian prayer; who but a bad man would give liars more license than need be? May God silence them either by leading them to repentance, by putting them to thorough shame, or by placing them in positions where what they may say will stand for nothing. Which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous. The sin of slanderers lies partly in the matter of their speech; “they speak grievous things;” things cutting deep into the feelings of good men, and wounding them sorely in that tender place—their reputations. The sin is further enhanced by the manner of their speech; they speak proudly and contemptuously; they talk as if they themselves were the cream of society, and the righteous the mere scum of vulgarity. Proud thoughts of self are generally attended by debasing estimates of others. —Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psa. 31:18.
The deadliest of all venom is the slander of the unscrupulous. Some men care not what they say so long as they can vex and injure. Our text, however, must not be confined in its reference to some few individuals, for in the inspired epistle to the Romans it is quoted by the apostle as being true of us all. So depraved are we by nature that the most venomous creatures are our fit types. The old serpent has not only inoculated us with his venom, but he has caused us to be ourselves producers of the like poison: it lies under our lips, ready for use, and, alas, it is all too freely used when we grow angry, and desire to take vengeance upon any who have caused us vexation. It is sadly wonderful what hard things even good men will say when provoked; . . . by nature we have as great a store of venomous words as a cobra has of poison. —Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Psa. 140:3.
[I]n order to constitute slander, it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false—half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods. It is not even necessary that a word should be distinctly uttered; a dropped lip, an arched eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a significant look, an incredulous expression of countenance, nay, even an emphatic silence, may do the work; and when the light and trifling thing which has done the mischief has fluttered off, the venom is left behind, to work and rankle, to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, and to poison human society at the fountain springs of life. Very emphatically was it said by one whose whole being had smarted under such affliction, Adders’ poison is under their lips.—Frederick William Robertson. —Quoted in Spurgeon, Treasury of David, notes to Psa. 140:3.
The purport of the commandment is, since God, who is truth, abhors falsehood, we must cultivate unfeigned truth towards each other. The sum, therefore, will be, that we must not by calumnies and false accusations injure our neighbour’s name, or by falsehood impair his fortunes; in fine, that we must not injure any one from petulance, or a love of evil-speaking. To this prohibition corresponds the command, that we must faithfully assist every one, as far as in us lies, in asserting the truth, for the maintenance of his good name and his estate. . . .
[T]here can be no doubt, that as in the previous commandment he prohibited cruelty unchastity, and avarice, so here he prohibits falsehood, which consists of the two parts to which we have adverted. By malignant or vicious detraction, we sin against our neighbour’s good name: by lying, sometimes even by casting a slur upon him, we injure him in his estate. It makes no difference whether you suppose that formal and judicial testimony is here intended, or the ordinary testimony which is given in private conversation. . . .
The equity of this is perfectly clear. For if a good name is more precious than riches, a man, in being robbed of his good name, is no less injured than if he were robbed of his goods; while, in the latter case, false testimony is sometimes not less injurious than rapine committed by the hand.
And yet it is strange, with what supine security men everywhere sin in this respect. Indeed, very few are found who do not notoriously labour under this disease: such is the envenomed delight we take both in prying into and exposing our neighbour’s faults. Let us not imagine it is a sufficient excuse to say that on many occasions our statements are not false. He who forbids us to defame our neighbour’s reputation by falsehood, desires us to keep it untarnished in so far as truth will permit. Though the commandment is only directed against falsehood, it intimates that the preservation of our neighbour’s good name is recommended. It ought to be a sufficient inducement to us to guard our neighbour’s good name, that God takes an interest in it. —John Calvin, Institutes, 2.8.47–48.
And it was helpful for Paul Washer to put his response in the context of the Proverb, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prove. 18:17).
We need far fewer first cases and far more examination.