I do not quite know what motivated Rod Dreher to do what he did in The American Conservative yesterday. But he did it, and so some sort of response is needed. He gave his readers quite a gunk bath, helpfully providing links to some of the bigger chunks.
Some of what he linked to has already been answered in detail, and other parts likely will be. So I don’t propose to do that here. What I need to do is interact with a very small portion of his article, the words at the beginning of his fourth paragraph:
“This morning, though, a reader brings to my attention . . .”
This morning. Prior to that time, as in, say, the afternoon of the day before, Moscow was one of the places he was considering recommending as a Reformed variation on his Benedict option. And then a reader drops all this in his lap, and within hours he just passes it on to the gawking world. No due diligence. No fact checking. No constraints. He is new to this controversy himself, but would like to help spread the word regardless. But writers in Dreher’s position should never write things that have the rhetorical effect of “I could be wrong about this, but bombs away anyhow.”
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (Ex. 23:1–2, ESV).
A few years ago, New St. Andrews was profiled in a piece that was published by The New York Times. Molly Worthen wrote the article, and afterward someone from the Times called us to fact check every detail. The American Conservative does this hit piece, and clicks publish within a few hours of even hearing about the slander. No fact checking, no inquiries to find out if there were more to the story, no reasonable caution at all. If every word of these slanders were true — as they are manifestly not — this would simply be a case of Rod Dreher getting lucky. Whether they are true or not, he has no earthly idea. “This morning, though, a reader brings to my attention . . .”
In case anyone asks, I did write an editor at The American Conservative yesterday to ask about space to respond. I haven’t heard back. I also wrote Rod to see if he were interested in any private communication. I haven’t heard back there either. For someone in his position, I believe that he should be heartily ashamed of himself. This was really bad.
Someone might say that Rod did this because he is passionate about sex abuse cases and ecclesiastical cover-ups. Without defending such cover-ups — for they are both cowardly and wicked — what might we consider that could help us understand cover-ups? Why do some ecclesiastical officials do whatever they can, even if dishonorable and cowardly, to “make it all go away”? One of the reasons, I would suggest, is that the crimes are so appalling that anybody associated with them, to any extent and in any way, can be destroyed by the association. Whether you respond rightly or wrongly is an irrelevance to some people. You could do everything in textbook fashion, as we did in these cases, have the offender arrested, no cover-up at all, and still get “the treatment” from a writer like Rod Dreher.
Like I said, badly done.