Sharper Iron Moderator Condemns “Scandal-Mongering” In New Article

Update: The article’s author has responded in the comments here. We encourage our readers to look over his post and decide for themselves.

Aaron Blumer of Sharper Iron today published a lengthy article asking readers to “walk (or maybe run) away” from reports of scandal within the IFB community. Although Blumer acknowledges that “there’s a time to expose wrong-doing and confront it”, the thrust of the article is a warning to Christians of the spiritual “danger” of learning about, reporting on, or discussing scandal in the church.

“Christians should regard scandal as a kind of femme fatale, as dangerous as it is attractive…We ought to approach every scandal suspiciously, expecting that some kind of trap is hidden there waiting to ensnare us.”

The article comes at an interesting time, as First Baptist of Hammond pastor Jack Schaap yesterday accepted a plea bargain after his arrest on charges of transporting a minor across state lines for sex. Bob Jones III briefly mentioned the Schaap scandal last week. But the last few years have brought a number of similar stories to the national consciousness, whether it’s the now-infamous actions of BJU-endorsed pastor Chuck Phelps or a recent BJU graduate assistant guilty of pedophelia.

“When a ‘somebody has stumbled’ story breaks, a mysterious sense of urgency seems to possess most of those involved in discussing it. Some of us find it extremely puzzling.”

Given that the previous scandals (and many more) were mostly reported and spread on the internet, including at this site, it seems likely that Blumer’s warnings are directed toward the Facebook groups and blogs that did so. What Blumer might be forgetting is that without some of these outlets the criminals in question might never have been caught.

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32 thoughts on “Sharper Iron Moderator Condemns “Scandal-Mongering” In New Article

  1. Aaron Blumer

    Thanks for reading my article. However, you missed it’s import. The piece is about unhealthy preoccupation with others’ missteps. An important distinction I make in the piece is between people who have responsibility and people who do not. In my experience, people who do not–and also lack access to good information–tend to provide most of the heat in these scandal discussions. I have never questioned the value of “outlets” who have actually brought criminal activity to the attention of authorities.
    I encourage readers to read the article in full and see if its message might be more clear to them.
    Aaron Blumer

  2. Dan Keller

    I want to know why “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is appropriate for Jack Schaap and not for Bill Clinton? I have no problems with people being human – idiosyncratic, inconsistent, and flawed, but I have huge problems with people pretending they aren’t human. Jack Schaap is getting deserved justice. Now, let’s focus on the real victim here and help her.

  3. haparker321

    I understand the reasons behind the article, but I’m going to back up BJU’s response on this. You can’t go on to self-correct a mistake if and only if the leadership won’t set the example. Sorry, Mr. Blumer, the leadership in the IFB churches needs to be approachable, and willing to listen and respect their congregants. This needs to change.

    Parker

  4. Steel Magnolia

    I don’t believe I missed your article’s import at all, Aaron. Nor did I miss your feminization of the idea of “scandal” as a “femme fatale”. “The eyes are batting and the perfume is wafting.” Ah, but you admit that the femme fatale metaphor is not found in the scriptures, then go on to name Scandal as the “strange woman”. But no surprise. Sadly, the women and even children are usually blamed for the actions of perverts.

    You begin and end your article on false premises – that everyone loves a scandal, and that such scandals are fascinating to those of us whose responibilities indeed require us to be in “Scandal’s proximity”. Were we all to run, as you suggest, the abuse would remain, ongoing and uncovered, while power-hungry men like Schaap continue to destroy lives. How telling that you fail to note the pain and suffering of the victims. Heaven forbid that we sully our hands while wading in the stench of Scandal to protect them.

  5. Bagman

    I read it too. I have the same observation I made previously about his views. Those who carry leadership responsibility are the only ones who are “in the real know.” Therefore, those who are the followers should be content to accept what their leaders tell them, without further question or discussion. What Schaap and other abusers/molesters have done is sin–that’s right–OPEN, BLATANT, SIN!! Add to that the further qualifier of “CRIMINAL.” This is not a misstep. Because it involves a leader and the betrayal of ALL the followers who ever listened to him and trusted his spiritual counsel . . . it is worse. Yes, we are all sinners, but the leaders are ones who have accepted God’s calling to care for HIS sheep. Like it or not, Mr. Blumer, that places all you leaders under a higher standard proportionate to the level of authority you claim those entrusted by God to your care.

  6. Tina's Marine

    Under #5 is says, “The false urgency usually centers on figuring out exactly what happened, who’s telling the truth and who isn’t, and even worse, who acted with what intentions. Sadly, it seems the people least responsible and able to make those determinations are the ones most energetic about spinning their wheels in pursuit. And spinning wheels is about all they do (complete with sinking deeper and making mud fly). Passion increases as information decreases.”

    I thought this ironic because Sharper Iron was one of the worst places to read (right behind the FFF) when Tina’s story broke. The shameful, hurtful, hateful, despicable things that were said on SI about my wife, Tina, was exactly this. One of their “men” didn’t look so good and so the mud slinging began against the victim.

    They assumed intentions that were never there. They assumed lying on Tina’s part because they couldn’t accept that the idea the maybe Chuck was lying. Well, in court, Tina proved to be the honest one and others, not so much.

    People who have been abused need to speak out, if they can. It’s not an easy thing but it gives courage to those who have not found their voice yet to realize that they are not alone. That’s what they feel like. Survivors jump on these stories for numerous reasons but deep down they want to tell victims that there is hope. Don’t be afraid. We’ve been where you are and we want to help.

    I believe another reason to draw attention to these stories is to make leaders stand up and take notice that victims are not going to be quiet any more. They’re going to speak out until something is done. Our leaders are not speaking out against it and so we must. We have an obligation to stand up and say “enough is enough.”

    We said “enough is enough” with our feet and we left the IFB and we’ll never go back. It’s one of the best decision we ever made.

  7. Aaron Blumer

    Thanks for the responses. There’s more thoughtfulness there than I expected and I should apologize for my low expectations!

    But the truth is that my “primary targets” for the piece intentionally included many folks who post at SI. I had three groups mainly in mind: (1) passionately fundamentalist folks who are obsessed with fault-finding in non-fundamentalist people (or those they think are “pseudo fundamentalist” etc), (2) fundamentalists of the anti-Hammond type making hasty judgments about those folks, (3) all of the many who don’t fit into tidy little categories.

    This is important because the danger of scandal-obsession is one that doesn’t care if you claim “IFB” or “survivor” or something else. It’s universal to human nature.
    In the piece I refer to two specific recent examples that provoked me to write: one involving Jack and the other involving Matt Olsen. In the latter case, we’re talking about “IFB” types leaping to judgment (espec. of motives, etc.) of MO.

    So please understand: I’m against scandal-obsession and rushing to judgment no matter who the target is.

    It’s true that some very unflattering things were said about Tina at SI back in that hullabloo. Mostly questions were raised. Many, many hurtful things were also said about Phelps. My position through the entire thing has been consistent I think: I have neither the ability nor the responsibility to determine who is telling the truth on what points (humans being what they are I’m sure there are factual errors on both sides), but until I know otherwise *I assume everyone involved is telling the truth as they see it.*
    But a huge problem in that scandal–as well as in more recent ones–has been the phenomenon of people far away and unconnected taking it upon themselves to act as judge and jury.
    What I hoped to convey in the piece is that this is unhealthy for them. It is not a defense of Jack or anybody else. It’s a heads-up to folks who are hurting themselves.
    (As for Schaap specifically, there seems to be little ambiguity about his case but again, the people best equipped to deal with that are dealing with it. It is not my business.)

    About casting stones, I think Jesus’ point there is similar to His point about the beam in the eye vs. the sliver in the other guy’s eye. It’s a warning against the danger of distraction from “issues” of our own that we need to deal with… as well as a danger of hypocrisy. He is not telling those with the responsibility of judgment to default on their responsibilities. Mostly, He is telling people who are not qualified to judge that they should see to their own problems.
    Hope that helps some.
    It would be a mistake to paint me as a fan of Hammond (!). But wherever the scandal is located, there is danger in getting preoccupied with it.

    1. Lou Martuneac

      Aaron:

      You wrote, “It’s true that some very unflattering things were said about Tina at SI back in that hullabloo. Mostly questions were raised. Many, many hurtful things were also said about Phelps. My position through the entire thing has been consistent I think…

      The facts as they are at SI is that you allowed for a vast amount of what can aptly be described as an Internet lynching a character assisination of Dr. Chuck Phelps within numerous discussion threads at SI. Some of your SI team eagerly piled on. To your credit you asked posters to refrain from speculation and worse, but you never did rein it in or close those discussion threads down as you are well within your rights as SI site publisher to do.

      The bias of and double-standards at SI under your directon, and of Jason Janz before you, is indisputible.

      LM

  8. Terry

    Dancing quite a jig now aren’t we Aaron? It doesn’t help express your point, which seems to vary depending circumstances and reactions.

  9. Starrstruck

    Aaron needs to get a soul. Then maybe his writing will reflect reality more accurately.

    If Aaron wants people to walk away from scandal, then he can start by shutting down SI.

    Phelps and Olsen abused Tina. Period. End of discussion. And neither one has apologized to Tina or owned up to their sin.

    Olsen remains president at NIU.
    Phelps remains a pastor and conference speaker.
    Aaron remains the owner of SI.

    What a bunch of souless mercenaries. They would rather be “right” than repent. To save face they would rather continue the abuse of innocent victims. Aaron, by your own explanation, SI is part of the problem. So why don’t you take your own advice and walk away.

  10. haparker321

    ” My position through the entire thing has been consistent I think: I have neither the ability nor the responsibility to determine who is telling the truth on what points (humans being what they are I’m sure there are factual errors on both sides), but until I know otherwise *I assume everyone involved is telling the truth as they see it.*”

    -Ever heard of ‘comparing and contrasting’ factual data? Usually, if someone says one thing and does another, I tend to think it’s quite simple to find out who’s being dishonest here. Phelps said he did the best that he could (at the time); you mean to tell me that calling three times is enough? How about the sheer fact that media reports said the cops attempted to find Tina? How does Tina’s relocation make Phelps look better?

    Parker

  11. Bagman

    Stop picking on Mr. Blumer. He is just thinking and acting within the parameters of what he has been taught and what he has chosen to become . . . IFB. This is how they rock and how they roll. Always have and always will.

  12. haparker321

    Oh Come now, Mr. Bagman. Are you honestly expecting everyone to buy into the idea that ‘you cannot really know for sure’ who tells the truth? Do we need to have the ‘spirit of Solomon’ to make a discernment?

    Parker

  13. C.B.

    Listen to Bob Jones III’s talk where he mentions the Schaap incident: he says how it played in the media, disillusioned church members, was grounds for non-Christians to mock and call Christians hypocrites, etc.

    That is a great example of why these scandals deserve public comment: He never mentioned the 16 year old girl!!! He never mentioned her life, her family, her future, her hurt, her pain, her shame. She is invisible to him — he doesn’t see her. He only sees his own reflection and how it is impacted.

    To this day, for the leadership of the IFB and BJU, these are primarily PR disasters. They are habitually seen through the lens of image and reputation and loss of face — it isn’t that they don’t care for the young involved, it is that they never even notice them.

    Here is a man (BJIII)of position talking to a group of young people and he never mentions the young person involved. He mentions the way non-Christians will use this; “you can imagine how this played in the press.”

    His very first comment — indeed, his first thought — is imagining how the press “plays” the incident, not the incident itself and the life of an abused 16-year-old! The secular reaction, not the girl’s reaction. For this reason, these scandals aren’t just commented on in public — they are *revealed* in public for what they are. The public commentary is the only commentary that notices the victims; amazingly, the leadership is so insulated, so narcissistic, that what they notice in these incidents is themselves, their reputation, their image, and the way the general public talks about them. They are numbingly unfit for moral leadership.

  14. C.B.

    One further comment: while BJIII says the Schaap incident leads to a bad image for “Bible-believing churches,” Aaron says it is “none of my business.”

    I know Aaron doesn’t go to church there, but if the Christian community doesn’t talk about these things and take alarm, then I fear there will be no public discipline either because it plays badly in the press or there will be no public discipline because it’s none of our business.

    Gossip is what Aaron is criticizing, and I agree. But discussion is necessary among the sheep and websites are the discussion groups. The leadership will not discuss these things — I’m sorry and I wish it were different, but the leadership does not lead in rooting out this corruption. They are too preoccupied with themselves, their community of followers, the declining numbers, image.

    We can all be like Ed Nelson: the insight of this leader was that the only reason the Phelps incident made the news was because it was negative news about Christians. Again, it’s not about Tina, it’s about us — how we are perceived. So don’t further the publicity; ignore the event.

    Aaron is of course right to warn that there is danger in gossiping; it was good he wrote the piece. But there is also danger in the flock doing the same thing as the shepherds and worrying that the possibility of gossip trumps open discussion of a tolerance for corruption that is killing these communities by driving people with sensitive consciences away.

  15. Aaron Blumer

    “Aaron needs to get a soul. Then maybe his writing will reflect reality more accurately.”… etc.
    This is kind of funny in a sad sort of way. Nobody at SI has accused anybody on any side of any scandal of not having a soul. …but we’re *so* evil.

    C.B., I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your comments. It’s clear quite a few are not in a mood to do any thinking at all on these matters.
    Gossip vs. responsibility…
    It’s famously tricky to tell the difference between gossip and “taking appropriate action.” One biggy is that taking action is usually not “discussing” or “talking” at all. It’s usually actual action.

    The reasons I see the Schaap scandal as “none of my business” include these:
    1. When I learned of it, it was already being handled by people who have both good access to information (which I do not) and real power to do something about it (which I also do not). Looks pretty likely that he will go to jail.

    2. I have no relationship with Hammond at all. I couldn’t even name anybody I know who does. Maybe there is someone, but I honestly am not aware of it. So I don’t even have a secondary connection.

    3. I’m not a member of any organization that Schaap was or is a member of…. I don’t live in his state; he’s not a relative; and we don’t shoot at the same gun range. Never even heard more than 3 minutes of a sermon by him… and that was on the Web.

    4.In short I don’t have any influence in any organization that has any influence on him or on Hammond. My judgment of matters in Hammond has zero real value to anyone. (Those who want to attach value to it are misinformed. It does not have that value.)

    (All of the same things are true of the old Phelps case, except that it might be fair to say I had some “secondary connections” by time it was over.)

    My default setting is to mind my own business. Since I feel like I have quite enough of that to mind, I’m just not eager to don the powdered wig, take up the gavel and try to pronounce judgment on matters far away… especially when the people who own that task are already on it. I can only get in the way.
    Of course, with all of us, there can be murkiness at the boundaries of what’s our business and what isn’t. But the tendency built into scandals is to broaden our sense of what is our business well beyond the reality. Hence, the need for caution.

  16. Aaron Blumer

    BY the way… about BJIII and “the press.” What he is concerned about is that the Lord’s name not be blasphemed. “The press” means the reputation a critical press is likely to generate for people trying to serve the Lord and, indirectly, the Lord’s reputation as well.
    Folks need to try harder to attribute ordinary motives to leaders. I’m not saying assume the guy in charge has noble motives. Just ordinary ones.
    It’s pretty human to care what the press says about you and what people think of you.

    I know it’s hard for the IFB haters to even remotely imagine this: but the IFB leaders might just be human beings. There’s a chance. (I don’t know any of them personally, so I can’t be emphatic. It just seems like a genuine possibility.)

    I think you’ll also find little evidence that the press was his “first” thought. …. Mind reading is a tricky thing. Admittedly, I’ve only tried it once or twice, but I didn’t come away with much that was useful. I’m pretty skeptical that anybody else is really any better at it.

    1. bobwh

      “It’s pretty human to care what the press says about you and what people think of you.”

      Sure, and it’s another thing to protect the guilty because they’re your friend. To create an environment where those who have been wronged are shamed into silence. To accuse people of collusion with the devil because they dare to expose what has so quietly swept under the rug.

      “What he is concerned about is that the Lord’s name not be blasphemed.”

      No, it smacks of self-interest clothed in false righteousness.

      I think god could care less about what non-believers say about him. He’s probably far more concerned about what his followers do (or tacitly allow) in his name.

      Like protecting the powerful and shaming the weak. Sounds a bit backwards to me.

  17. Starrstruck

    Aaron needs to get a soul means that Aaron needs to pull his head out of his IFB mindset and connect emotionally with the pain and sorrow of rape victims like Tina. Instead, Aaron used his web site to wonder about whether or not a teen girl can give consent to sexual activity.

    Aaron is just clueless and gives every indication of lacking a soul – the emotional ability to connect. Instead, he detaches from the situation and uses the pain of a real live person’s experience as an opportunity to question whether or not she could or did consent.

    Get a soul, man.

  18. Aaron Blumer

    Much as some might like it to be, “get a soul” is not an argument. It’s a complete avoidance of dealing with evidence and reasoning. I’m not going to apologize for stepping back, looking at the big picture and seeking enduring principles in highly emotional situations.
    If that’s the definition of soulless, I’m pleased to be accused of it.

  19. Starrstruck

    Aaron, your response is a typical IFB response. Detached from reality, you are incapable of feeling the pain of others and showing empathy. Instead you use the pain of someone else as a platform to look at the big picture and seek enduring principles. It was sickening and soulless.

    When challenged repeatedly by others on your web page you continued to defend yourself, so it is not surprising that you defend yourself here as well.

    Aaron, SharperIron contributed to the problem you cited in your article. So if you had any integrity or credibility, you would apologize for the role SharperIron played, point the finger at yourself, and say, “I’m sorry.” You could even apologize to Tina for showing a complete lack of sensitivity to her.

  20. Aaron Blumer

    I’m certainly not going to try to prove I have a soul! 😀

    “Complete lack of sensitivity”… If refusing to join a jeering mob in its rush to uninformed judgment is a complete lack of sensitivity, count me in the CLoS Club. Where do I sign up?

    “Using” someone’s pain for a platform… The accusation involves reading my intentions. Of course, there’s no way to prove that my intentions were (are, and always have been) otherwise.

    It’s always fascinating to me how some folks manage to make accusations that consistently reference only the invisible–soul, feelings, empathy, intentions, and ironically, being out of touch with reality.
    No discussion about reality is possible as long as we’re in a “I can see what’s in your heart” fantasy land.
    I make no claim to being able to see what’s in anybody’s heart other than my own (and I’m a bit foggy on even *that* sometimes!). If you can join me in the reality where people don’t know what’s in other people’s hearts, we might have more to talk about.

  21. Starrstruck

    Fine, Aaron.
    Let’s talk about what you did and not what was in your heart.

    A sad case of alleged rape was being prosecuted by the courts against a then 39 year old man against a then 15 year old girl who was impregnated in the process. The man was allowed to remain in a church pastored by Phelps who admits that the man confessed to marital infidelity and the girl confessed to getting pregnant outside of marriage.

    Instead of discussing the actions of the pastor you chose to discuss whether or not a 15 year old girl could consent to sex.

    That’s what you did. I will leave it up to others to judge why.

  22. Aaron Blumer

    I’d encourage folks to read the threads. They are still published at SI.
    What I “chose to discuss” (after my initial skepticism toward the whole topic when I first heard about it) was in response to assertions others were making. Some rigid and broad generalizations were being made about all cases under all circumstances everywhere. Some of those generalizations needed to be questioned.
    What became clear eventually is that it was naive to think we could hold onto neutrality and have a calm conversation about principles–without being misunderstood. The whole matter was just too emotionally charged for that. When emotions are running high, the middle spaces are the first things to disappear. So, to many, failure to clearly and vocally support one party was automatically an attack on the other. And to just as many, questioning an attack on one party was automatically full support of the other.
    Maybe it’s almost possible now to see that this is not rational and that there is a middle between “withholding support” and “attacking” and also between “questioning an attack” and “supporting”?

    If I had it do to over, we would have comments closed from day one. At the time we were too sensitive to the accusation that this would constitute complicity in some kind of coverup. It’s obvious to me now that discussion is not the same thing as disclosure (*quality* information does not necessarily emerge from *quantity*… often the opposite) and that limiting posted information to what comes from recognized news outlets is not “covering up.” It’s also obvious to me now that there’s a percentage of the population that has a whole lot of paranoia going on–and you’re never going to convince them that you aren’t secretly up to something. No sense in trying.
    It would have been wiser to have no discussion at all until a year or two later–perhaps with article as a starting point.

  23. Aaron Blumer

    One more thing, sorry…
    I actually partly know what you mean about not having a soul. I do tend to take on an analytical distance kind of compulsively. (Due to personal matters I can’t go into, it’s a survival skill I’ve had to learn!) … But sometimes I have “gone analytical” in situations where–in retrospect–I could not have reasonably expected many (if any) to join me–and not due to any flaw on their part. On those occasions I can look/sound pretty cold and calculating… and even insensitive, though I mean no offense.

  24. Starrstruck

    Thank you, Aaron. Your last post was very transparent and kind. I wish you God’s best.

    Blessings.

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