High drama has broken out in one of the neighborhoods of the blogosphere where I often hang out. Even the New York Times has taken notice.
It started with the controversy over "The End of the Spear."
For those who may have slept through the past month, that's a movie about the five missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador in the 1950s. The film is based on a book by Steve Saint, whose father, Nate, was one of the martyrs. An avowedly evangelical production company named Every Tribe Entertainment (ETE), made the movie. But the lead role in the film was given to an outspoken homosexual-rights advocate.
I had very little to say about it when the controversy was raging, mainly because everything I would have said was already being said pretty well by others, anyway. (Not perfectly, as it turns out, but still far better than I could have said it).
Last week, Randy Alcorn stepped in to try "to find some common ground and reconciliation" between ETE and Jason Janz, who (because of the well-deserved popularity of his blog, SharperIron.org) has been targeted by the national news media as the leading critic of ETE.
Alcorn wrote an article attempting to dissect the controversy in an evenhanded but honest way. Still, his most severe indictment seemed to be aimed at Jason Janz, who (according to Alcorn) "believed and repeated, in his online publication, charges against these men without going to them personally. They were given no opportunity to respond to the accusations before they were published and widely circulated."
There's a valid point, no doubt, on the face of that statementespecially given the fact that apparently, some of the details circulated in published media reports and repeated at SharperIron.org turned out to be inaccurate. However:
- It should also be pointed out that the erroneous details were peripheral ones, and did not materially alter the vital points Mr. Janz was making about the inappropriateness of the casting decision and the inadequacy of the producers' response to their lead actor's gay-rights activism.
- It would be a serious mistake to imagine that a private meeting is always a mandatory prerequisite before any Christian can legitimately express public criticism of another believer's published work or public behavior. On the contrary, sometimesespecially when we're dealing with a public and scandalous transgressionopen rebuke may be warranted as a first response (cf. Galatians 2:11-14). Matthew 18:15-17 outlines instructions for dealing with private sins and personal offenses. These are not guidelines for dealing with false teaching or public behavior that might cloud the truth of the gospel or besmirch the reputation of the whole church.
- Jason Janz's actual duty in this instance was to make sure the facts he reported were accurate. He might have done this through a private meeting with Saint and the ETE execs. On the other hand, he might conceivably have verified the facts in other ways.
- In any case, in these circumstances, a public response was ultimately necessary anyway.
Did SharperIron.org go too far, or not far enough?
Shortly after Janz's original article was posted, and before Alcorn published his debrief on the "reconciliation" effort, Dr. Kevin Bauder, president of Central Baptist Seminary, wrote a post at his blog, suggesting that perhaps Janz actually should have said more than he did. Janz had asked his readers to write letters of protest to the producers, meekly but firmly conveying a sense of "deep disappointment." Bauder (a conscientious separatist) said Janz's critique was great"really great"but his proposed remedy wasn't enough.
Dr. Bauder's whole post is thoughtful and well worth reading, and several points that he made resonated with me and elicited a hearty amen when I first read the post. He agreed, for example, that these circumstances made some kind of public censure absolutely unavoidable.
"This is not a private peccadillo. It is a very public scandal," Bauder said. "If this were a Matthew 18 situation, private pleading would be appropriate. It is not. If this were a Galatians 2:11 situation, we would withstand these debasers of the faith to their faces because they are to be blamed."
Bauder went on to say he is inclined to think casting an openly practicing homosexual and gay-rights activist in the role of a Christian hero causes the kind of confusion that utterly obscures or materially alters the content of the gospel itself. (For the record, I think he's absolutely right.) He also suggested that this was done "with malice aforethought." (In the sense I think he meant it, I believe he is right about that, too.) And then he added, "If so, then we know what is required of us."
Bauder's fundamentalist readers will understand instantly that he is arguing for formal separationa purposeful withdrawal from any kind of fellowship or ministry participation with the film's producers. (He underscores this by wryly adding, "Where is Bob Jones, Jr., when you really need him?")
Now, here's where the drama gets really interesting.
While suggesting that Jason Janz hadn't called for a strong enough response, Bauder injected this droll hyperbole: "Granted, we must not overreact. And it would probably be an overreaction to firebomb these men’s houses. But what they have done is no mistake. It is a calculated strategy."
No one who bothered to read any three random blog entries by Kevin Bauder could possibly imagine that his remark about firebombing houses was anything but humor and hyperbole. Ironically, Bauder's remark was probably meant to lampoon the tendency of some folks who thoughtlessly and habitually overreact to issues like this with fleshly displays of anger.
Incidentally, Bauder is probably the smartest fundamentalist on the planetcertainly in the blogosphereand you don't have to read more than a page or two of his work to realize that he is nothing like the stereotype usually associated with "fundamentalism."
But a reporter at the New York Times apparently didn't want to bother doing that much research. In an article published yesterday, the Times quoted the remark about firebombing houses as if it were a serious threat.
What's most bizarre about this latest turn of events, however, is this statement in the Times article: "Greg Clifford, chief operating officer of Every Tribe, said the company, based in Oklahoma, had alerted the F.B.I. there about the Web log."
Wait. Isn't this the same company that cried foul when Jason Janz blogged about them without contacting them privately first? I wonder if they got in touch with Kevin Bauder privately before filing a complaint against him with the FBI.
In the words of Rockford, IL pastor and blogger Bob Bixby, "Where is Randy Alcorn now?"
(By the way, Bixby himself has a couple of insightful posts on the New York Times article. And Bixby's remark quoted in the preceding paragraph comes in the comments section of a delightfully pithy post by Larry Rogier, in which Rogier shows the utter irrationality of those who have tried to portray Bauder's comment as a serious threat.)