The other day a formerly semi-local pastor posted a public statement that addressed me, the church I serve, and the movement I am a part of. Quite a few things happened since his post went public. First of all, many more people took a look at the article in question. For that I am very thankful. Second, a number of people have privately messaged me and asked what I was going to do. After all, the public statements not only slandered me but it, and many of the following comments, slandered people in our church as well as the Vineyard movement. In fact, as I type this, I’m getting messages about that.
As I’ve taken a step back and tried my best to evaluate the situation and whether it would be worth it to actually address this pastor and his comments, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is both “yes” and “no.” On one hand, people of his type often do not know how to have conversations because they simply like to hear the sound of their own voice as they defend what they assume, often falsely. That is why they misrepresent people’s views and intentions and then ignore any of the responses that you might have. It’s the emptiness of fundamentalism and the corresponding methodology. However, there are other people who are listening and watching these types of exchanges and perhaps they will be more thoughtful in how they carry on these conversations. So for those people and in the off chance that a fundamentalist pastor and his followers are willing to listen and engage, here we go…
On Telling the Truth and Effective Communication
Linking to the article of my view concerning drinking alcoholic beverages (which has a picture of me taking a sip of beer from a pitcher), this pastor wrote, in part, the following:
“I am sure they must be proud of their Pastor for this picture (It is their pastor) of him gulping a pitcher of beer, and his article defending it. I challenged him on the stumbling block principle in scripture, and this picture, and his stance on alcohol with a public endorsement of promoting social drinking. He did not want to hear it. I was not even going after the drinking issue, rather what type of an example are we? Would Jesus embrace the actions and example of a person in this forum?”
While it needs to be addressed that there is a world of a difference between taking a sip of beer and “gulping a pitcher of beer,” I’ll overlook this slight of hand misrepresentation. Make no mistake, this is a slight of hand misrepresentation in that the pastor is attempting to connect me with practicing the abuse of alcohol. In his world, having a gulp of beer equates to being a drunkard. But since I reject his premise and the faulty logic behind that statement, I won’t go through the pains of demonstrating it more than in passing.
What I really want to focus on is the fact that this person says that they “challenged” me on the “stumbling block principle” in Scripture. Then he writes that I “did not want to hear it.” This is a complete lie. Yes, you read that correctly. What this person is doing is confusing my disagreement with his interpretation and application of Scripture with not wanting to hear it. Do I need to say that again? Slight of hand misdirection. I like to call it what it really is: a lie.
Now in the comment section of the post in question, this person made the false assumption that my post was in response to him. This, of course, was completely false and revealed a little bit of insecurity on his part, but nevertheless, he went on to post a private conversation that I had with him via Facebook private message in the comment section. That’s a big “no, no” in the world because it is ethically highly questionable. But since he has felt the freedom to share private conversations, albeit it only one side of that conversation, I’m going to take the liberty of producing all of it to help you determine whether saying that I would have nothing of his “challenge.” On 11/2/13, he wrote:
“Luke, I have to say I am disappointed with your picture of you drinking beer, and then your cartoon. I think it diminishes your testimony. Just my opinion.”
I responded with the following:
“Thanks _______. I appreciate your opinion.
I am not one who holds to probably the same view on drinking alcohol as you but I respect your point of view and opinion. Sorry to disappoint you!”
He then responded with this:
“Just a challenge from God’s Word. I believe my opinion does not really matter, but His Word does. I do not hold the view that drinking is always a sin, but for many it is, or leads people to sin, so I try to hold to His Word that deals with causing someone to stumble.
Cor 8:12-13 “But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
Rom 14:20-22 “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”
I am not preaching at you, just saying that if you believe you need to have a drink, their may be a venue to do that without offending others or causing a weaker person to stumble. Just a thought. Have a good day!”
To which I wrote,
“______, thank you for your thoughts. I too value as my final authority Scripture and do my best to apply that which is less clear in the most Christ glorifying way. Blessings!”
Now I would like you, the reader, to tell me if it would be an accurate statement that I would not have any of his “challenge.” To me, and knowing the spirit in which I responded, that was is not at all what I said or indicated. In fact, had this person responded to my last statement (which he didn’t), I’d have continued the conversation. I’ve done that many times with other people about this very issue. In fact, one of those people used to attend the church that this person used to pastor at.
So I have a serious problem with this misrepresentation because, quite frankly, it is a lie. Doesn’t Scripture have something to say about misrepresenting and lying about people? Yes. Yes it does.
I wonder why this person is ignoring the questions and comments that I have been raising. For example, he says that I support “social drinking.” Hmmm. I just did a search on the article that I wrote and the only comment I made about social drinking wasn’t in the actual article but was in a comment where I asked for a definition of what social drink was! In other words, this person is interpreting what I believe to support a position that they condemn without actually knowing whether I hold that view! Absolutely amazing!
I would go on record as calling that lying too. And a misrepresentation. And a poor way to communicate. Lots of problems here, folks. Lots of problems.
And that’s really what concerns me about this “model” of public “rebuke.” Not only is it based off of a disagreement on the interpretation and application of Scripture, it is based off of a very questionable model of dialogue. Turning someone’s polite disagreement into “having nothing to do with my challenge” is certainly polemical, but it’s the wrong kind of polemics! It is a malicious and ungracious model. Furthermore, posting something like this on one’s public Facebook wall is certainly within the rights that accompany the freedom we have in our country. But it is highly unwise and clearly does more damage than I certainly see as being a help. To this concern, the author has stated that they are just trying to “expose” information so that people can do what they may with that information. That makes sense, right? No, it doesn’t.
When the information is misleading, a misrepresentation, and falls into the category of slander, I think your responsibility isn’t to continue spreading that but to correct it and apologize for such activity!
You should also notice that in the comment section of my blog, I kept my responses entirely irenic towards this person. In fact, I even invited them to write a post that I would post on this site so that people could hear his position. Anyone with eyes will see the vast difference between what he is alleging and what actually happened. Once again, big difference.
Furthermore, this person states that the people who are a part of the church I serve must be really proud of me and my “gulping a pitcher of beer” and my “article defending it.” I’m not sure what to say to this because I’m not sure of the intentions behind such a statement. Not only is it full of misleading ideas, it seems a bit judgmental about some very serious and godly people. But apparently they aren’t up to his standards of conduct if they do agree with my view on alcohol. Of course, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t be up to the standards that this person has for leadership because all of them drank alcohol. I wonder what it must be like pastoring a church that Jesus and the apostles couldn’t attend.
Not only is Jesus, the apostles, and myself unworthy of a leadership role or of being members at a lot of fundamentalist churches, but God himself needs to be corrected by these self-appointed alcohol watchmen. Oh, you didn’t know that God gave the appearance of being a drunk man? You might want to check out Psalm 78:65.
As anyone can see, these criticism are highly suspect, the methods entirely questionable, and the spirit behind it completely void of the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, it seems quite quarrelsome, which incidentally is not a quality that is to be modeled by pastors (1 Tim. 3:3).
On Vilifying a Movement and Warning People Without Due Diligence
Just when you thought an argument couldn’t get any worse, along comes the rest of this persons public Facebook status:
“This is part of the Vineyard Church Movement and the one of many things they embrace and support. There are many cultic and worldly teachings they support and embrace. Do not be deceived, God will not be mocked! This soft teaching and endorsements are all around us in the church today. It is good to know what you are joining in with!”
As many of you know, I have spent some time responding to the criticisms that people have made about the Vineyard movement. I would very much like for this pastor to provide some examples of the “many cultic and worldly teachings” that the Vineyard movement has supported and embraced. If by “cultic and worldly” he means “some Vineyard pastors say it’s okay to drink a beer,” I’d like to go on record that this pastor should be removed immediately from his role as a pastor because he doesn’t know the first thing about basic issues related to apologetics.
I’d venture to guess that this person has done some googling and has now become
an expert a self-appointed expert on the Vineyard movement. Well I certainly hope that this person will move from making vague statements on his Facebook wall to actually providing some documentation. After all, in the comment section of his status he states,
“The Vineyard Church organization as a whole embraces this. I have personal emails from their head office personnel to myself stating this.”
Please share these “personal” emails from the “head office” that demonstrates that the Vineyard movement has “cultic and worldly teachings,” sir, or retract your comment with an apology. You are welcome to share those “emails” here in the comment section. I know many of the leaders within the Vineyard movement and I’m sure I could even get them to respond to those alleged emails proving your allegations. Yet given your lack of honesty up until this point, I question whether you have these emails that actually prove what you are suggesting. What you likely have is emails suggesting that churches in the Vineyard have a diversity of views on alcohol and that some of them hold to my view and the national offices are okay with that! That, of course, is a big difference in comparison to what you actually said.
But I’m not a blind supporter of the Vineyard. If there are doctrines that are suspect, I’d gladly value that exposure and would do my best to address any serious doctrinal deviations that exist. However, if it comes down to whether or not the Holy Spirit empowers people with certain spiritual gifts that someone has interpreted to no longer exist in the church, I’m going to kindly take my leave. That’s not the kind of doctrinal concern that would warrant the type of language being used here.
In addition, this person, who pastors at a Baptist church, must not realize that there are a lot of Baptist churches with questionable doctrines and practices. In fact, maybe I should apply the same logic that this person has applied and suggest that he must be the type of person who stands at funerals with signs that says that God hates homosexuals since Westboro Baptist Church does that. Or I should assume that he has a very low view of the authority of Scripture because there are Baptists that exist who deny both inerrancy and infallibility. Or assume that he must support the ordination of homosexuals because there are Mennonites that exist who practice that.
Lots of assumptions, of course, but the same logic. Therefore, when a person attempts to vilify an entire movement because they falsely assume that everyone under the banner of a movement’s name must believe the exact same thing, I have questions. Yet I’m told that this person has documented evidence to support their “warning.”
Finally, this person wrote,
“They think they will be heard by their many words!”
No, we thought we’d be heard but this person demonstrated that apparently our words can be ignored, twisted, and misrepresented to further their own agenda.
Instead of caring about being heard by our “many words,” we’d simply like to be heard for what we’re actually trying to say and to have our questions honestly engaged with and not have to worry about someone posting “warnings” on the Internet about us simply because we have a different interpretation or application of Scripture.
Of course, I was also told by this person that they don’t want to get in a debate because I’m “eloquent” and use “persuasive words.” Hmmm. So in other words, this person can make a personal attack on me, our church, and the Vineyard movement but won’t interact with my response just because I can formulate an opinion? Surely there’s a better way to go about having a conversation like this.
On My Choice of a Picture
Apparently the big issue is that I have a picture where I’m taking a sip (not gulping) of beer from a pitcher. One of the comments under our star ranter said,
“… this photo shows someone becoming drunk and the message it gives makes me sad.”
I beg your pardon? No. This photo shows me taking a sip of beer that you falsely assume leads to me becoming drunk. Big difference there. So why did I choose that picture when I knew that it would cause some people to jump to some major conclusions about me?
Simple. It actually raises the issue I’m trying to make. Many of the people who jump to conclusions about that picture expose the weakness of their assumption by their conclusion. Who is to say that one can’t drink a sip of beer from a pitcher? Why must some Christians, especially the fundamentalist variety, always interpret the actions of Christians through a lens that assumes the worst? I think those are serious questions that people need to wrestle with. Hence, the picture. It’s hyperbole, folks. And clearly it has worked.
In fact, what stands out in my mind is this picture reveals how judgmental and illogical some people can be. Plus, you see the idolatry of legalism fast at work. Anytime someone says something like, “Yes, Jesus and the apostles also did that but Christian leaders can’t because…” you should know you are about to likely hear or read a nice example of going beyond the text of Scripture and twisting it to fit your personal agenda. Idolatry is almost always like that. It controls the way that you read and understand things.
And I should add, once again, that I did not get drunk, or get tipsy, off of this deliciously tasty New Glarus Spotted Cow. But that also brings us back to the issues that I raise in the article… as in people can drink different amounts of alcohol before they even come close to getting drunk… kind of like how some people can eat different amounts of food before it’s considered gluttony. So even if I did gulp, it’s a moot point. Because truth be told, I’ve gulped a beer before. I’ve also gulped sodas and water and, when cool enough, coffee.
But of course, gluttony is still off limits.
On a Conclusion
Okay, so I’ve written a lot. In fact, I’ve written over half of the words that I needed in the last essay I was required to write! Argh! Of course, this doesn’t have all of the footnotes, so you can say “thanks.”
What really concerns me about this whole entire thing has nothing to do with drinking or not drinking. I could care less about whether someone enjoys a beer in moderation or not. And it’s certainly not about whether pastors should use social media to warn people about serious concerns.
What concerns me is the way in which this person, a pastor no less, goes about engaging in these types of issues. This is a classic example of a church leader shooting his own. And not only shooting his brother in Christ (unless I’m now unworthy of being considered a follower of Jesus), but shooting that person in the back!
So as I’m reading through the comments on this person’s status, I’m reading comments by people who don’t know me at all making judgments about me, my church family, and worse. I’m likened to a false prophet and false teacher and full of compromise. Absolutely incredible accusations to entertain on a pastor’s Facebook status, especially given that this person doesn’t come out and correct a single person’s slanderous judgement. Wanna know why? Because his initial post was full of the same slanderous judgement. We reap what we sow, apparently.
Perhaps I should post a picture of this person, who is slightly overweight (as I am) and then raise the question about whether gluttony is a problem in our churches and suggest that his church must love gluttonous people and the gluttony they stand for and that churches that affiliate together with gluttony occuring have seriously theological problems. After all, this wasn’t a “personal attack” but just raising an issue.
Perhaps not. I think you get my point and know why that’s simply stupid.
My hope (and prayer) is that you, the readers, will avoid this type of interaction when you find things you disagree with. In the future, remember that these are people involved, not simply ideas. Ideas matter and ideas have consequences but people also matter and our decisions have consequences towards people.
So when you are going to make a public statement, consider the following:
- Am I representing a person’s views correctly her?
- Are my words going to give grace to the hearer? (had this person read Eph. 4:29-30 prior to posting, perhaps they would have made some significant alterations)
- Am I confusing the authority of God’s Word with my interpretation/application of God’s Word?
- Is there a way to go about discussing this issue without looking like an ungracious and unloving person?
If you engage with those questions, you’ll easily refrain from making the same error that this person has made.
Soli Deo gloria,
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.