Anthony Bradley writes in World magazine that Libel is not love, and therefore that bloggers like Rachel Held Evans and myself were wrong to call Mark Driscoll a bully. Here is part of Bradley’s article:
There is nothing loving about calling a pastor a “bully“—that is, “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” That is a serious charge. In her post, Evans describes why she believes Driscoll to be a bully, implying that he, his teachings, and the elders at his church are not functioning in ways consistent with Scripture. While it is more than reasonable to understand why someone would take issue with Driscoll’s post, Evans’ way of responding cannot and should not be encouraged. What was even more disturbing was the way in which many other believers jumped on the slander bandwagon to feed on the carnage once it went viral.
But why exactly is it wrong to make this kind of charge? The evidence is there, in public. At least, it was on Facebook which is not technically public but, as Pete Broadbent discovered last year, might as well be where public figures are concerned. And Bradley is not disputing the facts. But he is disputing whether it is right for Christians to comment negatively on such facts.
Bradley tries to present a biblical argument that what Rachel and I wrote counts as slander and so is wrong. In law a statement is neither slander nor libel if it is true, and no one is disputing the truth of what she and I have written. A true statement can be an accusation, but Bradley’s argument depends on it being wrong for a Christian to bring any kind of accusation against anyone else, whereas in 1 Timothy 5:19 such accusations are specifically permitted – where there is adequate evidence, as there is in this case. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul writes of how he publicly accused Peter of wrongdoing. Bradley cannot support his argument that all accusations, or all public ones, are wrong, on the basis of a Greek word, diaballo, used only once in the New Testament.
Now that doesn’t make it right to make public accusations in this case. It would be better, although perhaps difficult in practice, to bring the matter to Driscoll in private first. No doubt some of the at least 610 comments made on Driscoll’s Facebook post, and which presumably went back to Driscoll, did point out to him how wrong what he wrote was. But although Driscoll deleted the post no one has claimed that he showed any regret for it.
Bradley makes a stronger argument in a tweet:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. (Prov 26:4) should govern how we disagree w/people.
Here Bradley implicitly calls Driscoll a fool, surely just as serious as calling him a bully. But indeed arguing with such a person can drag one into a vicious circle of folly. Nevertheless, as the very next verse teaches,
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 26:5 (NIV)
Sometimes fools need to be shown their folly so that they do not continue in it. And that surely applies especially when the fool is in a position of leadership, whether in the church, in business, or in a nation.
But all of this needs to be done in love. And I would agree that it is does not show love to write negatively about another person’s character rather than their actions. So, while I would consider it quite justified to accuse Driscoll of bullying in his behaviour, it is not right to call him a bully, thereby impugning his character. So I was wrong.
Thanks to Brian Leport for the link to Bradley’s article, and for retweeting his tweet.