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Volume 17, Issue 3: Presbyterion

Anonymous Critics

Douglas Wilson

Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy. Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity: Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not. They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them? They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep. But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded. So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away. And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing. The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory. (Ps. 64:1_10, emphases mine)

Given what Scripture teaches us to expect, it should not be astonishing that secret attacks are launched against godly ministers, and that enemies of the gospel air their accusations in their smear-reviewed journals. The astonishing thing is that many Christians who ought to know better are swayed and influenced by such attacks. As long as the writer of an anonymous assault has the good sense to sign himself as "a concerned brother," quite a few Christians will be taken in.
I once received a lengthy anonymous attack on my character, and the writer of the letter was self-conscious enough about the anonymous nature of his letter that he at least attempted to justify it: "The anonymous nature of this piece is intended to keep the focus on the Scriptures, and not on the weak points of their collector. I don't want the Scriptures to be set aside by my identity, so whether I am a concerned evangelical, an embrassed member from your own church or the CREC, or a Presbyterian who just wants to edify the Reformed world, it should not matter. . . ."
Keep the focus on the Scriptures? I am reminded of St. Paul's initial response in front of the Sanhedrin, before he knew the identity of the high priest. "Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" (Acts 23:3). How can we keep the focus on the Scriptures through anonymous accusations when the Scriptures do not permit anonymous accusations? Scripture does not permit an accusation against an elder except on the testimony of two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19), witnesses who are held accountable and on the record for their words.
In addition to the requirement of independent verification, Deuteronomy 19 also establishes the foundational principle of justice that holds the accuser accountable for false accusations. This is because we live in a world where false witnesses actually exist. This ought not to be breaking news to anyone, but people do lie. The ninth commandment is dedicated to the problem of dealing with false witnesses: "And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you" (Deut. 19:18_19).
My anonymous accuser was quite right that we did not know who he was. But notice that among all the options he listed for his possible identity, there were none that would disqualify him as a false witness. Why did he not suggest those possible options? Why was that not considered as a possibility? He was right that we don't know who he is. But he limited the options far too drastically, and we need to expand them a little. We don't know if he is a concerned evangelical or a lesbian upset over my stand on homosexual marriage. Thirty seconds of mature reflection should identify all the salient reasons why all anonymous accusations should be immediately round-filed.
The accuser wanted to remain anonymous to avoid discussion of the "weak points of the collector." This is a person who reserved the right to discuss at length the "weak points" of others, but his weak points must be off the table. They would only be a distraction from the real point at issue, which apparently consists of ignoring the beams in his own eyes. But let us consider for a minute. Is it possible that his weak points might be such as to disqualify him as a witness entirely? Do witnesses have to be qualified? Might his weak point be that he was disciplined by our church for chronic unfaithfulness to his wife, and he is still bitter about it? Well, we don't know, because an anonymous accuser is the one who insists that everyone else be accountable to Scripture as he understands it, but refuses to be accountable himself.
Those who understand Scripture know what to do with anonymous accusations—if they have a shredder. But people still make anonymous accusations because, at some level, it still works with some people. In the case mentioned above, I had to deal with at least one national Christian leader who did not know that light does not belong under the bushel, and that one of the main consequences of walking in the light is that people can see you, and they know what you are doing.

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