Slander

Certain things must be said about the charges of slander leveled against Doug Wilson on various internet blogs and bulletin boards that inexplicably aren't being said elsewhere. If for no other reason, they must be said to reassure the people of Christ Church, Moscow, that their pastor is innocent of such charges.

I assume the people of Christ Church understand the ins and outs of most of the old accusations involving Christ Church and its associated ministries. But the more recent charges of slander may be harder to get a handle on. Is Doug Wilson slandering the PCA by his criticism of the PCA's judicial process against Louisiana Presbytery and Pastor Steve Wilkins?

So his opponents claim, but unless the PCA has grown a soul and body the answer is, in a word, no. Slander is a knowingly false and defamatory statement against an individual. From every perspective, biblically, lexically and legally, institutions are incapable of being slandered. This is an important point.... Those who attack Doug Wilson by rehearsing internet garbage are in danger of committing the sin of slander. It's a present danger whenever we speak negatively against an individual. But an institution can't be slandered. Biblical law protects the reputations of individuals, not institutions. There is no blasphemy against the Church, nor slander, nor gossip. All these are sins against persons.

Doug can attack process, he can criticize institutions, even whole churches, but it's only when such charges descend to the level of the individual that slander becomes a real danger. Even then, slander requires that the charge be knowingly false and defamatory. Gossip need not be knowingly false. Slander must be. Both must attach to individuals to come into existence.

The irony, from the point of view of this PCA pastor, is that Doug has been careful to avoid slander in his recent writings on the PCA's judicial process against Louisiana Presbytery even as those who charge Doug with slander have in a number of cases slandered him by repeating unconscionable and ungodly attacks against him.

Frankly, those who charge Doug with slander should know better. I won't comment on whether I think he's helping Steve Wilkins by writing on the PCA process because I don't know. I do know what constitutes slander, and it's not what I've seen thus far from Doug. He's a victim here, not the perpetrator.

Comments

Is it possible, David (or Tim), that Wilson's attacks agains the PCA for following the processes that the BCO spells out is indeed slander against the individual who is the embodiment of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ? After all, the Church is just his body, and as such, the PCA, being one branch of it, is part of Christ. So, if it is slander to spread false attacks and willful defamatory remarks knowingly about a man's arm or foot (part of his body), so wouldn't it be slanderous to defame part of Christ's body, the Church? Of course, the person of Christ is greater than any other man, so wouldn't, if that's the case, his sin of defaming the PCA make him *MORE* liable to charges of slander and not less, simply because of the worth of the person (Christ) whom he slanders?

Of course, even making comments that a person in good faith believes are true is still gossip (even if not slander), because he has no business spreading accusations to others.

Just thinking out loud here. How would you respond to such an argument?

I don't know about myself Trey, but I'm glad such scruples didn't confuse the Reformers who viewed Rome as corrupt, though containing the Church in its parts.

John Calvin:

“But what arrogance, you will say, to boast that the Church is with you alone, and to deny it to all the world besides! We indeed, Sadoleto, deny not that those over which you preside are Churches of Christ, but we maintain that the Roman Pontiff, with his whole herd of pseudo-bishops, who have seized upon the pastor’s office, are ravening wolves.”

Luther:

"Just throw a surplice over your head and you are holy with the Roman church's holiness, and can be saved without Christian holiness. But we will not concern ourselves about these filthy people; what we do for them is done in vain... We shall speak to one another about the Church."

When shepherds play defense lawyer for wolves they cease to be shepherds.

Wilson mentioned me by name in his most recent post as one of the 'rats' because I posted a comment over on Lane keister's 'Green Baggins' blog saying that I had come to appreciate more and more 'Mark T's' blog on the Federal vision. Now how does that constitue 'slander'? If you haven't seen the kind of documentation that Mark T. provides, I would suggest you take time to do so.

Who is Robert "K."? Who is Mark "T."? Decent men want to know...

David, i understand your argument, but i'm looking at this thing from the perspective of those who see Doug Wilson's actions as wrong and hurtful. In that regard, your answer does no good, because people who disagree with him would not regard the Roman Church part of the body of Christ in any sense--and, anyway, the best defense against slander of a miscreant is the truth of who he (or she) is! Since the Roman Church is a whore and a false church, and hence not part of Christ, decrying her is not wrong. But that's not the case with the PCA, since she is still part of the true Church. So slandering the PCA with unfounded accusations would be slandering Christ himself, but decrying the Roman Church would be nothing more than telling the truth.

Is this not precisely how Doug Wilson's opponents could/would argue this? Are you saying that Rome is still a true Church and hence part of Christ, in spite of her corruptions? Are you saying that It's just fine to slander the parts of the body of Christ, just so long as you don't slander an individual? You certainly could be accused of such if one were of a mind to think and make such accusations.

>Since the Roman Church is a whore and a false church, and hence not part of Christ, decrying her is not wrong.

Even if Rome is not a false church (the way Charles Hodge thought) decrying Rome would not be slander unless the decrying was untrue.

Tim & David

Wilson's post , the one I alluded to earlier in which he felt compelled to 'slander' me for saying I appreciated a blog that was highly critical of him ,also contained a very unflattering reference to R.C. Sproul and how Wilson felt so 'embarrassed' for him because of the speech Sproul gave on the floor of this year's GA. May I ask, were either of you 'embarrassed' for R.C.? I wasn't nor did it appear that any the overwhelming majority of the delegates- the ones that voted in favor of the report- shared Wilson's discomfiture. Wilson accuses Sproul of 'confusing' the issue. Do either of you share that opinion? Would you consider Wilson's remarks about R.C. demeaning? Do you think that since Wilson is now 'persona non grata' at TABLETALK a factor in Wilson's backhanded remarks about Sproul? Personally, I am embarassed for Doug, who continues to constantly display his noticeable lack of any theological training.

Gary,

Just one small point: I am amazed that so many people keep coming back to Doug Wilson's "lack of theological training". As someone who has attended multiple seminaries and has a Th.D., I certainly appreciate the value of formal education - but this seems like such a petty criticism of Wilson.

Right or wrong, Wilson evidences a level of theological competency that is meaningfully above that of the typical seminary graduate. Wouldn't it be better to stick to what he is actually teaching rather than brining up his lack of formal theological education or the fact that many of his books are published by "private presses"?

Respectfully,

David A Booth

David,

While saying things about the PCA could not, on your definition (which I think can be defended), be called "slander", or even "gossip", surely it is sin to, for example, seriously claim that "the PCA is Mormon" or something patently absurd like that. What would you call that sin?

Pastor Johnson,

To my knowledge you've never slandered Doug Wilson with the possible exception of your quasi-endorsement of Mark T.'s anonymous testimony against Doug. You've publicly lent credence to those reports twice now, and unless you are prepared to personally confirm Mark T.'s reports I don't see how that is anything other than treating anonymous testimony as credible. Has anyone in this whole fracas taken issue with Pastor Wilson's understanding that Deuteronomy 19 forbids receiving anonymous testimony as credible? Specifically:

Deuteronomy 19:18-19 "The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you."

How can that be done if the accuser cannot be held accountable?

Do you think that part of Old Testament law is no longer binding? Do you think it doesn't apply for some other reason?

Thanks,

Keith

David B.

I disagree, and here is why. DW has taken shots at the likes of Scott Clark, Mike Horton, Lig Duncan, R.C. Sproul, Richard Gaffin and Guy Waters accusing all of them of theological error and of either lacking the ability to grasp the issues surrounding the FV or deliberately distorting it for sinister reasons. I know all of these men and all of them have undergone extensive theoloigcal training. Wilson has not and yet he has no qualms whatsoever in making these kind of insinulations.And so I choose to remind him of this glaring omission when the opportunity presents itself.

Keth

Have you taken time to read Mark T. Blog? I said that I had come to more and more appreciate the things that Mark had documented on his blog. Futhermore, I see Wilson's ongoing tactics against not only the PCA but his castigating the OPC, the Faculties of M.A.R.S and Westminster seminary, Calif. as decidedly wrong. Wilson displays what appears to be paranoia when it comes to anyone critizing the FV- he takes personal umbrage with people who disagree with him.All of this I find downright loathsome.

Gary,

I have read some of Mark T.'s blog, but not very much. If he's willing to identify himself and make himself accountable for his words, I'll read all of it. So long as he remains an anonymous witness, I would feel like I was sinning to seek out his testimony against a brother in Christ.

As for Wilson's criticism of the PCA, OPC, MARS, and Westminster West (all of which he has most certainly criticized), I have sometimes wondered if he was staying on the right sides of all the "lines" he has identified in the many sermons of his that I've listened to. Particularly the MARS matter. But only in one recent case have I been convinced (based on limited knowledge) to think he had clearly stepped over the line, and that was the "Parable of the two airmen" matter with RE Mattes. While I agreed with Doug's point in that case (that a similar treatment of LAP would be bad), and Doug did clarify (later) that he didn't think Bob was pressing the airman to lie, I think he and Pastor Lawyer did unwarranted damage to Bob's reputation and should apologize. Further evidence may change my mind, and my opinion scarcely matters, but that's where I am on that.

But personal umbrage on the sole reason of disagreement? No. Paranoia? No. This is war, war among the brethren, and it is a tragedy, but I think Doug's still playing with a full deck (and pretty successfully, from my perspective).

In either event, I'm not going to receive anonymous testimony blasting a man of God and a shepherd of Christ's flock. If you want me to consider it, then take accountability for it yourself and stand as a witness.

Or is that accountability not necessary? If you can show that Deuteronomy 19 does not forbid the acceptance of anonymous testimony, then you will have defeated one of Doug's most frequent (and convincing, from my perspective) arguments against many of the things said against him.

Grace, and peace,

Keith

Gary,

Thanks.

I'm just suggesting that there is more than one way to gain a theological education. Where did Calvin earn his Ph.D. in Theology?

I do agree with you that many people minimize the achievements and abilities of men like those you've mentioned (BTW - I was Lig Duncan's first teaching assistant when he began teaching at RTS and am happy to defend both his theological ability and Christian character). It is just that I have spoken to more than a dozen seminary graduates whose critiques of Wilson run something like this:

Them: Wilson is a complete heretic!

Me: That is rather strong language. What has he said that makes him a complete heretic?

Them: Wilson totally denies the gospel. If you can't see that, you have no business being a pastor.

Me: Where does Wilson totally deny the gospel? What have your read by him?

Them: I don't have time to read the junk he writes.

... and so on.

As I mentioned, I have had variants of this conversation more than a dozen times with seminary graduates. Discussions like this lead me to question the connection between formal education and theological sophistication (as well as Christian ethics!). So when I hear people pointing to Wilson's lack of formal theological training, I feel more like they are defending the establishment than the gospel - and that this isn't helpful.

Your point about not minimizing the demonstrated theological competence of men like those you mentioned is also quite appropriate.

Best wishes,

David

I should have read Pastor Lawyer's most recent post, where he did apologize (here) for the letter to RE Mattes's pastor being public. I don't know why he posted it to begin with, but I'm kinda dense, I 'spose.

David B.

Well, I guess you could call that an 'apology'... kinda of ...maybe..., like " I am sorry for calling you a skunk,but I only did because you really do stink."

>I should have read Pastor Lawyer's most recent post, where he did apologize

Well that gives him the edge on quite a few folk then.

Gary,

I'm not sure if your reply about the apology was to David or me. In any event I don't think the "apology" is actually what I was looking for. This may be due to Pastor Lawyer's wanting to keep the matter private (and yea, it's a little late, but it's possible).

What I would really like to see is for Pastors Wilson and Lawyer to work the matter out with RE Mattes, and actually come to an agreement with the appropriate repentence (whatever that might be).

The fact that such reconciliations are next-to-impossible in this climate is perhaps what grieves me most. But our Lord is stronger than us.

Keith

Keith

Yes, I should have addressed my comment to you. I appreciate your comments and the spirit in which you engage people here and at Green Baggins.

David A. Booth, regarding Wilson and the reaction of the seminary people you mention, just entertain the possibility that what they are saying is based on their real experience in reading and observing Wilson and frustration at Wilson's double-talk that seems to so easily throw magic dust in the eyes of people who perhaps should know better. Wilson plays games. He plays games with language, and he plays games with critics. If you can't see at least that much you have a discernment problem. Wilson also refuses to separate himself from even the most ridiculously heterodox statements made by people he has thrown his theological lot in with, such as James Jordan. This also rather convicts him as having ulterior motives in the least.

Robert K.

Do you personally know Mr. Wilson? When I first asked this question it was merely from curiosity. You refusal to answer my question on two different occasions makes me think you have something vested in keeping it to yourself. Have you noticed that you are the only one in this thread that chooses to hide his last name?

NOTE FROM TIM BAYLY: I've edited the comment from Robert K. above so that clicking on his name now will take his E-mail address into the header of your browser. Thus you may choose to send him a personal E-mail, assuming the E-mail he uses here is legitimate. And from that E-mail, it appears his last name is Kagan.

From Lawyer's new post (speaking of me): "I just didn’t think any of that was relevant to his disgraceful behavior. The fact that he was an elder in a church and was misrepresenting Christ was my point."

If someone can explain how that's an apology, I'd appreciate it. Best I can tell, he's just sorry that he publicly embarrassed himself.

I also wouldn't mind hearing from the Baylys on why they don't think Lawyer's post and Wilson's initial posts on this weren't slander. Seems to meet your definition. Wilson may have tone it down a tiny bit on that post, but Lawyer hasn't.

BTW, Mike Lawyer never contacted me personally IAW Matt 18:15 before making formal charges to my Session. Any comment on that? Or is the standard just lower in Moscow?

Dear Pastor Johnson,

I voted for the Federal Vision report at GA and I didn't find RC Sproul's comments objectionable. Nor, however, do I find Doug Wilson's criticisms of those comments objectionable.

We've reached a point on this issue--and perhaps in the Reformed world as a whole--where debate is all about the tenor of the debate rather than the principles under consideration. We're acting like junior high schoolgirls rather than men--a triumph of postmodern, feminist affect among men who in principle reject those forms of thought.

It's striking to me that those who spread slander against Doug are also the ones who complain vociferously about his tone--and I'm not necessarily speaking of you. I don't recall reading anything from you that looked like slander, either repeated or straight from the well.

Keith,

False reports are lies. That's a clearly-defined Biblical sin. Saying the PCA is Mormon could be a lie. However, if the person really thinks the PCA is Mormon it's not a lie, it's something else--and my brain isn't fit to think quite what it is at this point on a Monday.

In Christ,

David

Robert K.,

Please note that I described people who have explicitly told me that they have NEVER read anything by Wilson.

I have absolutely no problem with people criticizing Pastor Wilson or anyone else. As someone who comes from the Warfield wing of the Reformed world - I am quite willing to be critical of the FV. My point is a rather small one. Gary Johnson and I are probably very close to each other in terms of systematic theology. I only want to suggest that criticizing Wilson for his lack of formal Theological education strikes me as counterproductive at best. Gary and I disagree about this - which is certainly not a big deal

What I do object to, and insist is a big deal, is when people hear someone else say that "Wilson is a complete heretic who denies the gospel" so they also say that "Wilson is a complete heretic who denies the gospel" WHEN they have no first hand information on Pastor Wilson at all. So that we don't run down rabbit trails: I was using this as an illustration of the fact that formal seminary education is no guarantee of theological sophistication.

David

As far as I can tell, what we have here is partially just semantics, but also in great part a failure on the part of many of Wilson's detractors to distinguish between being wrong, lying, and slander, no?

And it grieves me to see such strife in the Body of Christ. As a "dunker" myself, I really am praying that this spectacle of too many Presbyterians acting like stereotypical Baptists will soon end. (things like "a church split is a typical Baptist church plant," and so on)

Play hardball over Westminster if you feel it crucial. Don't play beanball, brothers.

David Bayly,

I concur with you on the issue of anonymous testimony, etc, but I don't think you understand the technical (i.e. computer-related) implications of editing Robert K.'s link to reflect his email address. It is now available in plain text to any of the potentially-thousands of spam-bots crawling the net looking for email addresses.

There's also the issue that the "Email Address" field on the "Post a comment" form says that it will is "Not displayed with comment".

Again, I think we agree on the underlying doctrine, but there are some technicalities...

Blessings,

Keith

Dear Keith,

I removed it while leaving Tim's note and Robert's potential last name.

David

>There's also the issue that the "Email Address" field on the "Post a comment" form says that it will is "Not displayed with comment".

Keith is absolutely correct. Spam bots love clickable email addresses. I wrote a post on this over at greenbagginses to try to keep people from posting linkable addresses.

If you want to "out" Robert by giving his last name, I guess that's between you and Robert. There are better ways to handle that, though. I assume that you cleared that with him?

However, opening him up to spam bots is clearly inappropriate. The fact that the comment block clearly says that the email will not be displayed makes it more egregious. Anyone can now get his email address contrary to the clear statement in the comment instructions.

Gary,

I don't think Wilson actually called you a rat. He was comparing what he views as the problematic judicial situation (which appears at points to assume Wilkins is in error when that has never been demonstrated in an ecclesiastical court) to the dead rat. So, while his rhetoric may not be particularly warm and fuzzy, I don't think that bit was actual slander.

As for the question of theological training and DW's heterodoxy, word games, etc., I just don't see it. I guess I must just lack discernment by definition--never mind any facts or consideration of my own education, training, or church membership. I'm sure Robert K., along with Sean Gerety, knows me much better than my professors, students, elders, and pastor.

And David Booth, I have had exactly the same sorts of conversations with seminary students--although it was before 2002, so they mostly just viewed him as a wacko of some kind (although only a professor actually used that term), and it turned out they may have read, at most, an issue or so of Credenda.

I've been violated! technically, I agree, but...in my case I don't mind. That email address is defunct. I use it for blogs for just the reason ReformedMusings states, but it does give my name, so it has some informative worth.

On whether I've met Doug Wilson... I've never met the Pope either. And let's say I do meet the Pope, and I find him to be an engaging fellow, as a human being, do I change my approach to his false teaching?

And remember: the Pope isn't pretending to be Westminsterian even...

Hey guys, our policy has always been that those who comment identify themselves clearly by name and E-mail address. We've admitted it's largely unenforced, but it's been a rule nevertheless. Here's how I've put it on this blog before:

"Brothers, I tire of asking this but would you each, please, identify yourself accurately? Particularly in discussions where the potential for conflict is high, we need to make it as simple as possible for others to approach us privately. Using fake names and E-mail addresses is an insurmountable obstacle to that end. That's why David and I have an unenforceable rule that each person identify himself and give an E-mail address. This is never meant to be punitive, but only to promote godliness in our communication."

It's possible that "Robert K." is a more recent contributor who didn't know this rule, but having been asked several times to identify himself and declining to do so, I enforced our longstanding rule. And now I've reiterated that rule.

Some of you think this unfair and talk about bots collecting E-mail addresses. Come on, guys: I sign every single comment and I get absolutely no spam. None. As in zero. As for what the TypePad template says, if one of you can figure out how to change it, please let us know. House rules trump the template, though.

If you're a part of the conversation, you need to identify yourself and make it possible for other contributors to correspond with you privately. This is a necessary safeguard for biblical conduct in the midst of conflict. As in avoiding, "If your brother has something against you and you know his E-mail address, then go to him in private..."

So, Robert K., if you're going to comment, you are required to identify yourself and use an E-mail address that works. And if you fear this will expose you to a lot of spam, either figure out a way to sign your E-mails in a way you don't mind, or switch to Gmail. But either way, give us a path to a functional E-mail address.

Meanwhile, since you've told us the E-mail address you've used isn't real, I've banned that particular E-mail address from being able to validate any comments posted on this blog. I'm sure you understand.

Gmail's spam filter is excellent, BTW. Beats the heck out of Yahoo's, that's for sure.

"Some of you think this unfair and talk about bots collecting E-mail addresses. Come on, guys: I sign every single comment and I get absolutely no spam."

Tim, again, I agree with you on the principles you're trying to apply (I don't think it's "unfair"), but I don't think you understand the machines we're communicating with. What do you mean "sign" in "sign every single comment"? Does it put your email address on the publicly-accessible web? Or just your name? The bots don't care about your name (much). I give you my word as a professional web developer and (more importantly) as a Christian that they care about your email address, and will very likely make use of it in ways you don't like.

I think it is better to indicate one's email address in a way that the bots won't pick up on and is easy for a human to understand. For example, I use a very straightforward email address; I use gmail and my username is keith.lamothe .

As for modifying the TypePad template, I'd suggest talking to TypePad about how to do that. If you want my help please let me know.

Grace, and peace,

Keith

Dear Keith,

Thanks, brother, for the offer of help.

I think Tim is unaware of some of the changes that occurred when we changed blog servers last spring. Our old World Magazine blog design had our email addresses as links on the left side. This one doesn't. The old one also placed the commenter's email address as a link behind their name on comments. So it was a surprise to me to learn yesterday that this blog doesn't. I suspect we assumed that because both servers use Six Apart software they would work the same way. But, in fact, this is Six Apart's Typepad blog hosting service whereas World used Six Apart's Movable Type software on its own server.

But, Tim's point--which I tend to agree with--is that having my email address on the web never led to a discernible increase in spam. I've come to believe that spam is undefeatable and I no longer try changing email addresses to escape it. I simply use VQME to filter my email. But that decision comes after years of online life, so I can understand others being more wary.

Your brother in Christ,

David

Brother David,

I agree on the undefeatable-ness of spam. As individuals, all we can do is try to keep it reasonable without filtering out legit email. With a good filter and some patience one can post one's email address and laugh in the face of the spammers. But I also agree that the decision to take such a stance shouldn't be made for someone else (not lightly, at least).

Thank you for your efforts to provide an environment where Biblical confrontation is possible, I hope I haven't seemed to disagree on that. In fact, I see your "Real name and email address" and raise you "Name of your church and contact info for the pastor/session to which you are accountable". I think this should be submitted to the blog owner (to be available at request) rather than posted with each comment, but we need to be accountable for every word we say, even when the technology allows us to escape that.

Blessings,

Keith

David's right that I didn't catch the difference in the handling of E-mail addresses when we switched from Movable Type to TypePad--until yesterday. As for blog and E-mail spam, I have the expertise of anyone who has spent years deleting them.

From the front lines, I'm happy to report I no longer have to spend time on them now that we use TypePad for the blog and I've switched to a Gmail address.

Dear Revs. Bayly,

I'm not sure which of you posted this post originally, but thank you for speaking against slander. Great post.

Add new comment