Braying Contests

In these days of web slander, what should a ministry’s rule of thumb be in responding to such things? There are two basic principles to remember.

First, if a charge has any surface plausibility (or possible “traction”) at all, do not let it go unanswered. The Scriptures are full of vigorous replies to various saucy coppersmiths. But it is not necessary to spend the rest of your life doing this, answering every detail, because the kind of heart that does this sort of thing is good at spinning out details, frequently ex nihilo, and then you have hopped on the little squirrel cage run. But if you answer the central charges forcefully, cogently, and scripturally, then this gives any fair-minded individuals who hear about it all that they need. “Okay, this is clearly a Proverbs 18:17 situation.” This is what Doug Phillips’ church recently did — and a well done to them, incidentally — and the result is that strife has now broken out between the Sunni and Shia factions of the web insurgency. To change the metaphor, when cannibals run out of missionaries, they sometimes start looking at one another sideways through squinty eyes. And this is not, incidentally, a sign of disinterested objectivity. A cannibal should not expect to be praised for his impartiality in this.

The second principle is the flip side of this. Don’t be so hasty or eager to answer critics that you create opportunities or venues for them that they would not otherwise have. There is a way of answering an opponent that establishes him as an opponent.

These sorts of questions are fluid, and constantly changing. Someone might need to be answered at one point, but three years later, he needs to be completely ignored. Or vice versa.

So don’t answer when it gives irrational critics access to your microphone. Don’t refuse to answer when they have some sort of microphone of their own. And when you answer, give an answer that is sufficient for any honest reader, and don’t trouble yourself over the dishonest readers. Never get into a braying contest with donkeys.

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