Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Let's Not Get Personal

Over the past few days there has been a noticeable shift in the discussion of the issues surrounding the recent actions of the IMB Board of Trustees. While there have always been some issues at the center of the discussion regarding certain individuals (this is inevitable when you have an effort to remove an individual from a position), for the most part the discussion has remained focused on the policies and the reasoning behind the policies. Such a discussion is necessary and healthy, but if we allow the discussion to degenerate into a series of insinuations and accusations against other people then it will become counterproductive and even destructive.

Let me make it clear that I see a difference between using blunt or polemical language to refute someone's arguments and making statements that malign someone's character or cast aspersions upon their motives. I call attention to this distinction because I have been vocal in my support of Benjamin Cole's critical remarks about the rationale offered for the IMB policies, which some have said were inappropriate and even un-Christian. After reading Cole's remarks again, the only thing I believe he should have done differently was to refer to the position papers in a generic manner instead of continually referring to them as Tom Hatley's statement. For example, instead of saying, "Chairman Hatley’s logic goes something like this," Cole probably should have said, "The paper's logic goes something like this." That way, people would have been less likely to identify Cole's attack on the position as an attack on Hatley himself. I do not see Cole's remarks as being an attack against Hatley's character or motives; if Cole is attacking anything about Hatley, it is Hatley's logic and use of Scripture.

While I don't consider Cole's remarks to be any sort of personal attack, on various blogs I have read some recent comments that subtly, and sometimes openly, cast aspersions on various individuals' motives and character. Such comments have been made by and about people on both sides of the issues. I have chosen not to give any examples of or links to these comments, but if you have read enough blogs you have probably seen these comments already.

I strongly encourage everyone engaged in this discussion, on all sides, to strive to avoid making statements that question or attack anyone's character or motives. You can offer support for your own views and point out weaknesses in other views without questioning the character or motives of those who disagree with you. Let's try to keep the discussion focused on the issues rather than on individuals.


Kevin Bussey said...

Amen Tim!

Benjamin S. Cole said...

Tim, thanks for your perspective, and for being able to see the difference between an attack on someone's character, i.e., the trustee action against Wade Burleson, and my full-frontal assault on Tom Hatley's position papers.

The reason I didn't refer to the position papers more generally is because they are, in fact, Tom Hatley's papers. He did the final edits, and no other trustee has affixed their name. His picture was posted with with their release on the IMB's website. His cover letters contain only his signature. And unless the board adopts these position papers as their own rationale, Tom Hatley speaks for nobody but himself.

This is why I have referred to "Tom Hatley's" position, etc., because it was the only way I knew to both critique the rationale for the policies and expose the kind of scriptural carelessness and theological nearsightedness that is leading the trustee board.

Kevin Bussey said...

Ben's letter did not seem to me to be a personal attack. He had a problem with the "position " of Hatley-not the man. There is a big difference. We should be able to disagree without all of the name calling towards Ben. I thought it was out of line. I agreed with what Ben said.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Tim,

I agree that we are generally to take issue with people's ideas and deeds, not with their hearts or their motives. A difference of opinion with me does not mean a flaw in charcter.

In this case, however, I DO take issue with Dr. Hatley's character. Dr. Hatley has not simpply taken a wrong position in a theological treatise. Instead, he has revealed his character by a consistent pattern of words and actions, and the position papers are just the most recent confirmation of the trend.

A person who can lead the BOT in the careless way he has led it (allowing Dr. B's hurried dismissal), speak in the careless way he has spoken to the press (making false accusations and changing his tune several times), and handle the scriptures and our Baptist history in the careless way he has (in the position papers) deserves to have his character maligned.

His words and actions prove that he is habitually careless, or more accurately, wreckless. He lacks self-control and a sober mind. Such a person should NOT be in a position of trust in the SBC, certainly not such an important position as Chairman of the IMB BOT.

So, I agree that we should not conduct debates by means of personal attack, and we should not make innuendo about ulterior motives when there is little proof of such. But when a person in a position of trust in the church acts in such a consistently un-Christian manner, it is completely valid for observers to conclude that the person's character is deficient.

Love in Christ,


P.S. Yes, this mini-sermon is also directed at myself! Hopefully the people of my church will be hearing sermons in the future that are more carefully-worded than what they may have heard from me in the past!