Friday, December 06, 2013

Team colors

i) I'm going to do a wrap-up on the Driscoll/Mefferd kerfuffle. I'm less concerned with the details of this particular controversy than how it's been handled. Unfortunately, this controversy exposes an identity-politics mentality in evangelicalism. By that I mean two things:

a) Do you judge each issue on the merits? On a case-by-case basis? Or do you apply guilt-by-association? Are you predisposed to take sides based on baggage that has no logical bearing on the specific issue at hand? 

b) Do you pick your in-group based on your positions, or does your in-group pick your positions for you? In other words, do you first make an independent judgment on what's the right position to take, then affiliate with a group that shares your outlook, or do you begin with your in-group, which, in turn, predetermines what positions you will take? 

In the Driscoll/Mefferd Kerfuffle, I'm struck by the degree to which many participants automatically line up on one side or the other based on their prior affiliations rather than the issue at hand. They seem to be oblivious to how their position is dictated by their group-identity. 

Try a little thought experiment. Suppose a reporter went to the campus of The Master's College and conducted one of those man-on-the-street interviews. Suppose he quotes some statements by John MacArthur which he attributes to Joel Osteen. And suppose he quotes some statements by Joel Osteen which he attributes to John MacArthur. The tendency is for people to agree with statements based on who they think said it, rather than the content of the statement itself. If you're a fan of MacArthur, your reflexive impulse is to agree with a statement by Osteen attributed to MacArthur and disagree with a statement by MacArthur attributed to Osteen. And if you're a fan of Osteen, the same is true in reverse. 

That's the kind of dynamic I often see in play in this particular controversy. 

ii) Mefferd has issued a retraction. Among other things she says:

I now realize the interview should not have occurred at all. I should have contacted Tyndale House directly to alert them to the plagiarism issue. And I never should have brought it to the attention of listeners publicly. So I would like to apologize to all of you and to Mark Driscoll for how I behaved. I am sorry.

I don't know what to make of this. Speaking for myself, it isn't clear to me that she has anything to apologize for. 

Peter Lumpkins reacted by saying:

For my part, her obviously sincere apology should strengthen our respect for her as a credible journalist, radio host, and committed believer. Thank you, Janet, for following both godly Christian counsel and your mature Christian conscience.

That's classic double-talk. Whatever she does, she can do no wrong. She was right when she was crusading against Driscoll, yet she was right when she backed down. People like Lumpkins were rooting for her when she went after Driscoll, and they are still rooting for her when she suddenly folds. But if she was right to do it in the first place, she was wrong to break it off and reverse course. And if she was right to back down, then she was wrong at the outset. 

iii) Apropos (ii), I saw a "lead pastor" touting an article coyly entitled "Journalist Accused of Committing Sin of Journalism". And I saw other supporters invoke her journalistic credentials. But that, by itself, proves nothing. She got into a dustup with Joe Carter, but he teaches journalism–so that cancels out the journalism card. Both can play that card. 

There are good journalists and bad journalists. Geraldo Rivera is a journalist. Dan Rather is a journalist. Martin Bashir is a journalist. Rachel Maddow is a journalist. 

iv) Ironically, Mefferd may be guilty of the very thing she accused Driscoll of doing. Mefferd furnished evidence that Driscoll failed to credit his sources. But that raises the same question in reference to Mefferd. Was the incriminating evidence she adduced the result of her personal investigation, or did an uncredited staffer do the actual research? Did Mefferd really comb through all that Mars Hill material by herself to find a smoking gun? Or did an anonymous staffer do the spadework, while Mefferd gets all the credit? 

v) Mind you, I think TGC should have pulled the trigger on Driscoll some time ago. To judge by reviews, Real Marriage was sufficient grounds to cut ties. And before that, his "pornographic divination" (in Phil Johnson's apt phrase) was sufficient grounds. 

vi) For his part, Justin Taylor weighed in:

Among other things, he said:

I thought that Ms. Mefferd acted unprofessionally and that authors should know something about her modus operandi here. First, she has every right to raise the issue, but it should have been done first to Mark or his publisher offline. It’s a violation of the Golden Rule. 
I find that odd because he seems to be alluding to the Mt 18 criterion. Yet I believe Justin agrees with D. A. Carson on how often that's misused:
Since Mefferd was publicly commenting on something that was already in the public domain, I don't see the relevance of Mt 18. And even if it wasn't in the public domain, some things ought to be brought to light. 
Justin continues:
Third, she told an untruth (conspiracy theorists notwithstanding) that he hung up on her. Her producer even emailed a breathless report to bloggers trying to make a story out of this. Maybe she has apologized for this but I haven’t seen it.
That's a technical issue which I'm in no position to confirm, but it raises a valid issue. 
Justin goes on to say:
This is not the first time I’ve observed this behavior from her. I think it is very problematic that she has given a platform to a known slanderer regarding the SGM situation. She also tried to try the case in the court of public opinion and proceeded in an unbiblical way. In other words, this didn’t seem like a one-off situation.
I don't have an informed opinion to offer on the SGM allegations. I do think it was imprudent as well as premature for Carson, Taylor, and DeYoung to go out on a limb in defense of Mahaney.
In fairness to Justin, whom I like and respect, it's a fact of human psychology that if you're constantly subjected to unreasonable criticism, you are apt to discount even reasonable criticism from the same malicious source. 
vii) I've already alluded a twitter war between Mefferd and Joe Carter on the Driscoll affair. This was preceded by an earlier shootout between Mefferd and Carter, which generated yet another comment thread:
So that supplies some of the background leading up to the current hostilities. 

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