Thursday, February 10, 2011

The dog that didn't bark

Darryl Hart is a leading proponent of 2k. Here’s a statement of his that he republished last year:

The Philonomian Temptation
January 21st, 2010 by Darryl G. Hart
Since some readers consider me clueless about the law to the point of being antinomian, the following essay, originally printed in the October 2002 issue of the NTJ, may be useful for clarifying the concerns of Oldlife.
The difference between Rome and Protestantism these days on good works actually works toward Roman Catholicism’s favor. The church that once accused Luther’s teaching of antinomianism has consistently made room for repeat offenders, the kind of sinners whom Protestants are quick to remove from church rolls. Roman Catholic history is filled with examples of believers who fall off the wagon, repent, confess their sin and find forgiveness in the church’s ministry. From whiskey priests to mafia dons, the Roman Catholic church has been a communion, despite its teaching on the relationship of faith and works, where the believer’s ongoing battle with sin is frankly acknowledged and accommodated. This makes it one of the great ironies in Western Christianity that the ones who originally accused Luther of sanctioning immorality have been the communion to provide what appears a roomier basis for fellowship than Protestants can muster.
The recent scandal surrounding Roman Catholic priests and pedophilia suggests that this may be changing, that, in fact, becoming an American church has involved becoming infected with Protestant philonomianism. This is certainly the impression that Richard John Neuhaus gives in his comments on the meeting of the United States bishops in Dallas to address the sexual misconduct of priests. The editor of First Things quoted one reporter who claimed that the American bishops “behaved more like Senators or CEO’s engaged in damage control than as moral teachers engaged in the gospel.” Neuhaus fears that the adopted policy of “one strike” and “zero tolerance” will prevent repentant priests from coming forward and seeking help and forgiveness. Even worse, he writes, is what the policy of retribution does to the church’s witness. “The bishops have succeeded in scandalizing the faithful anew by adopting a thoroughly unbiblical, untraditional, and un-Catholic approach to sin and grace.” They wound up with “a policy that is sans repentance, sans conversion, sans forbearance, sans prudential judgment, sans forgiveness, sans almost everything one might have hoped for from bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ.” Of course, Reformed Christians have a different understanding of the basis for a sinner’s forgiveness. But Neuhaus’ complaint, the bishops’ policies notwithstanding, implies that the language of mercy may be more the possession of Catholics than Protestants.

I agree with him that it helps to clarify his concerns. Let’s examine that clarification:

i) Hart apparently agrees with the prior position of the Vatican, before the scandal broke. Up until that time, the Vatican treated clerical abuse as a sin rather than a crime. The abusive priest should be given a second chance. Recidivist abusers should be subject to confession and absolution rather than excommunication and prosecution. 

That policy “actually works towards Roman Catholicism’s favor.” “Mercy is more the possession of Catholics than Protestants.” And that’s preferable to the “infection” of “Protestant philonomianism.”

But aren’t there some rather glaring problems with Hart’s sympathies?

ii) It blurs the distinction between sins and crimes. Not all crimes are sins. Not all sins are crimes.

iii) What about mercy? There are two parties to pedophilia: the victim and the victimizer. If you have a policy that’s merciful to the abuser, than policy will be both merciless and unjust to the actual or would-be victims of the abuse. So, given that dilemma, shouldn’t the interests of the innocent minor take precedence over the interests of the sexual predator?

iv) How many times does Hart think an abusive church officer should be allowed to “fall off the wagon” before he’s defrocked, excommunicated, and his conduct is reported to the authorities? Isn’t Hart’s prescription exactly what got the Roman Church mired in this scandal to begin with?

v) Forgiveness doesn’t ipso facto change a compulsive behavior. It doesn’t make the offender trustworthy. Why should we put minors at risk?

I once had a friend who was a really nice guy. Well, I need to modify that statement. He was a really nice guy when he wasn’t on drugs.

But when he went back on drugs, he couldn’t be trusted. He would do anything to support his habit.

I’m sure he hated himself for what he did. I’m sure he was remorseful when he stole money from his wife to support his habit.

And it’s tragic. It’s tragic to see someone trapped in a self-destructive lifestyle. Tragic to see someone commit slow motion suicide.

Still, when you’re dealing with someone like that, you have to take precautions. You have to maintain a safe distance. You wouldn’t give him your house keys or car keys or meet him in a dark, deserted alley. For when the urge is overwhelming, he can’t be trusted.

Maybe you can buy him lunch if you meet him on the street. You can pray for him.

But there’s only some much you can do. You’d like to do more, but it isn’t prudent to stick your neck out. You expose yourself to harm, and others to harm in the process.

vi) Hart fancies himself an ethicist. A 2k ethicist. Well, how much moral discernment does it take to see what’s wrong with his position?

vi) And he’s not the only one, sorry to say.  Reed DePace left a comment. Reed is another 2k proponent. Unfortunately, Reed is the proverbial dog who didn’t bark. He simply left a favorable comment the Heidelberg Catechism and the WCF.

Yet Reed is a pastor. A shepherd of the flock. Why didn’t he find Hart’s position at all troublesome? Is that anyway to protect the sheep? To protect the lambs?

Or is there something about the 2k mindset that induces moral laryngitis? What would Darryl have to say to before the mute little dog found its voice?  


  1. "Reed is another 2k proponent. Unfortunately, Reed is the proverbial dog who didn’t bark. ... Yet Reed is a pastor. ... Or is there something about the 2k mindset that induces moral laryngitis?"

    That is the problem with the R2K mindset: It induces moral laryngitis. In fact, I think you have a previous post titled "Muzzling the Word of God".

    And wouldn't muzzling the Word of God induce, at least partially, moral laryngitis?

  2. "becoming infected with Protestant philonomianism"

    "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:" Rom 7:22

    "And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you." 1 Co 5:2

    D'oh! Maybe Paul was a "philonomian".

    Neuhaus fears that the adopted policy of “one strike” and “zero tolerance” will prevent repentant priests from coming forward and seeking help and forgiveness.

    As Steve pointed out, there is more at stake than just speculating as to whether a "repentant" priest will come forward if there is a zero tolerance policy; there is also the safety of children.

    In addition, if the priest in question is truly repentant, why does he need a lenient policy in order to cease his wrongdoing? Also if he is truly repentant, why does he not accept the consequences of his sin? If he is only willing to "repent" and cease his behavior if there are no consequences, then is he truly repentant? Proponents of this really need to get into the details of it if they expect to persuade.

  3. Darryl is confused, which is why he is arbitrary and inconsistent. For Darryl, a Christian may not be a citizen without first checking his Christian presuppositions and ultimate authority at the door, and a citizen may not desire what is Christian, lest he is to become a bad citizen (but in whose eyes?). It seems to me that a good citizen by Darryl’s standards may desire *any* laws *except* OT laws; or if he may desire OT laws he may not justify them with God’s word.

    Things are obviously getting a bit desperate when one sides with Rome’s sense of grace, truth and justice.