Disclaimers and the Christian Outrage Mob
The Need for Equity and Charity
I recognize the importance of giving disclaimers. All my life, I’ve seen them in the books found in church libraries and Bible College bookstores, “The views represented by the author do not necessarily represent the views of this church/college/ministry”.
More than that, I hear them all the time. I myself do this frequently. In conversation among brethren I often hear a book or website recommendation, or I give one myself. The usual followup is “Well, the author isn’t quite of our stripe, but…” or “The Bible version the author uses is not KJV, but…” or “The writer doesn’t exactly stand where we stand but…”
Now, I want to be clear. Hear me out. Disclaimers like the above are important. I’m in no way suggesting we should never give such disclaimers to some people. I just sometimes wonder why we give them to certain other people.
I see two basic reasons why we give disclaimers. I’m willing to entertain more, but these two seem the most obvious.
Two basic reasons we give disclaimers
1). We have a genuine concern for the well-being of the person/people we are giving the recommendation to.
Perhaps we perceive a certain impressionability in them that if we gave no disclaimer they would not only gain benefits from the recommendation but they would also pick up the writers’ problematic things too. You’re basically offering a warning for their safety. You’ll almost never find a singular author with which you agree one-hundred percent. You will always find what you see as problematic things.
As a side note, some sources with helpful information are so overwhelmingly full of problematic things that asking “is this even worth reading?” may be a fair question to ask one’s self. There is a point where rejecting the book is better than giving in to the sunk cost fallacy and finishing it anyway.
Perhaps with some friends, it’s better to not mention the recommendation or source at all because they’re so “tossed about with every wind of doctrine”. As a good Christian friend, or perhaps you’re even their pastor, there is a good reason sometimes to just not recommend a source to them because they’re still kind of “wobbly-legged” in their particular stage of development.
I’d say that if there is genuine cause for concern about their ability to cull out bad ideas away from good ones in things they read, then disclaimers are fair to use if one chooses to mention the source at all.
It’s the second reason we give disclaimers that I’m not so sure about.
2). We are tacitly acknowledging the propensity of the other person to cast unfair aspersions, and/or be otherwise inequitable to us.
To give a disclaimer for this reason is to acknowledge the propensity of prejudice, inequity, and a lack of charity generally among some believers. I call this the virtue-signaling disclaimer.
By prejudice, I mean the tendency of some Christians to size you up based on what you read or recommend. I’m not saying that’s never fair, but I’m afraid that many times it isn’t fair. Prejudice means to “pre-judge” or basically to make a judgement call about a person before you know all the facts.
Sadly, this seems almost more common among pastors than in church members at times. Pastors often do this to each other. Again, sometimes it may be fair, sometimes not. And I’m not sure if the line between those can be found easily.
By inequity, I mean the tendency we have of being “black and white” when it comes to sizing up the people we know. The word “Equity” carries the idea of balance and fairness. The Lord is said to have this quality (Psalm 98; 99:4; Isaiah 11:4). Solomon made this quality indispensable for a wise leader (Proverbs 1:3; 2:9).
I wish it were always simple, but the truth is that if I’m to be biblically equitable, I must admit that there are writers in the world who I would not like to be around because of a particular doctrine they hold or practice they have, or fellowship they maintain. Yet they have some helpful things to say on other things. That’s hard to admit, but I think it’s intellectually honest.
Yet, when we talk about these writers to each other, we inject a disclaimer because we fear the other person will judge us by what we admit we read and not by what we say. We fear they will “put us in a box” without making any efforts to know what we actually think. Perhaps we fear this because we do this to others. Perhaps we’re inequitable at heart and we just presume everyone else is just like us.
By lack of charity, I’m referring to 1 Corinthians 13:5 that charity… “thinketh no evil.” This means that real love gives the benefit of the doubt to a brother. You tell me you read and liked the book of an author who believes something weird, and my first thought should not be “Oh no! He’s a heretic now!”. Rather my first thought should be, “My friend has given no indiction of actually being a heretic. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t believe all the author believes just because he read the man’s book.”
I have lost pastor friends before because they prejudged me, were inequitable, and violated the principles of 1 Corinthians 13 charity. I gave no indiction of being a heretic or in league with heretics or compromising in any way, but they chose to believe that I had. Why? Because I mentioned a man without immediately launching into an angry, virtue-signaling sermonette declaring all the things I hate about the man’s ministry.
The question is, did I fail because I didn’t signal my virtue? Or, did they fail because they violated the Biblical principles of equity and charity? Of course, I’m biased, but the latter I believe is the case. The act of giving the disclaimer becomes a pointless exercise if God’s people were equitable and charitable to each other.
What this looks like in action
While giving a disclaimer to a brother who may get easily confused or misled is a good thing, the second kind of disclaimer, the virtue-signaling kind, I’m not so sure is. I don’t think that between brethren who are established in the faith that there needs to be all these impassioned, virtue-signaling disclaimers all the time. Truthfully, if equity and charity were more prevalent among such men, disclaimers wouldn’t even be necessary.
Such a conversation might go like this:
You: “I read this book by ______ and it was very helpful”
Other guy: “Good! I’d heard though that he believes _______. Does he seem to”?
You: “He does seem to in the book.”
Other guy: “Do you believe that?”
You: “Not at all.”
Other guy: “Good!”
How about that, a real, equitable conversation among stable Christian men! Too often though, it goes like this:
You: “I read this book by ______ and it was very helpful”
Other guy: (Inwardly) “Oh no, he’s gone to the ‘dark side’”.
Other guy: (To his preacher friends) “He mentioned a name to me and didn’t immediately list all the things he finds wrong with the guy in an impassioned speech. I’m afraid he is now a compromiser”.
Then it just spirals out of control from there as it passes from one inequitable and uncharitable brother to another. In doing this, these men consider themselves contenders for the faith, but really, because of their lack of equity and charity, they’re just contentious (I gave an illustration of this here).
They proclaim their similitude to the Apostle Paul, which may simultaneously be the most misappropriated and self-aggrandizing comparison ever.
This behavior and attitude makes them brawlers (See 1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 3:2 “brawler” - ἄμαχος ámachos - disposed to fight, contentious or quarrelsome). Such men are disqualified from Pastoral ministry until they mature past that attitude and behavior and get lasting victory over it.
The equitable and charitable men however, remain unaffected by the rumors because, well, they’re equitable and charitable. They give the benefit of the doubt to others until compelling evidences, not feelings or unexplainable senses, make that no longer possible. It really is that simple.
So, how do we fix this awful cycle? Well, I’m not so sure we can totally fix it since there will always be inequitable and uncharitable Christians out there.
A possible solution is just to stop giving disclaimers for the second reason, and try to only give them for the first reason. Perhaps stop giving virtue-signaling disclaimers to mature, established brethren and only give protective disclaimers to those who might be easily moved.
That’s not easy, though. That means we have to be discerning and wise - two things that tends to rub the inequitable and uncharitable among us the wrong way. They tend to like everything in black and white because that requires less thinking (See my article on this effect here).
That way, they never need to have an actual conversation with someone and risk being wrong, unless it’s with someone they perceive as weaker, more passive, or less articulate than themselves. Instead, they can just decide what they think about you based on who you haven’t decried.
I shared an early draft of this post with someone and they told me of a podcast where one host gave a disclaimer to the other. The other host just cut him off and said something like, “Oh, stop it! We’re all adults here. We all read and study a lot. We understand how this works. Of course you don’t agree with everything the guy says!”
All I can say is, Bravo! Bellissimo! Bravo!
Repercussions and going forward
If we stop giving virtue-signaling disclaimers, you might find you’ll loose a small number of certain relationships. Sometimes it happens organically and quietly. Other times, not so much. It’s easier for those men to presume you’ve compromised and then separate, than to actually, civilly talk it out with you and possibly end up eating crow.
So, they separate from you, not because you changed what you stand for, but simply because you stopped offering virtue-signaling disclaimers to them. They likely feel guilty that your unwillingness to play the game makes them look juvenile and foolish. Then they get mad at you. Then you become the brunt of their griping with whatever inequitable and uncharitable brethren they can find next.
In actuality, in weeding out these relationships, you have just weeded out the people who are akin to the “angry man” of Proverbs 22:24 and 29:22. These are brethren we should sometimes keep our distance from, not because they’re heretics, often they’re not, but because they routinely violate the Biblical principles of equity and charity, and don’t have the wisdom or discernment to actually know they lack those virtues. It’s their habit of life. Being around them too much sometimes makes it rub off on you (“Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul”). That’s a bad thing. You’ll likely even get some new friends. There are equitable brethren out there!
These brethren have something in common with the virtue-signaling, social justice outrage mob on the American political left in that so long as you signal your virtue to them they love you. It’s like their very own “Shibboleth” test. They see your failure to virtue-signal like a full on approval of every bad thing ever. What’s next? Will they start saying that your refusal to play the game is a “micro-aggression”?
Just fail to give a virtue-signaling disclaimer once, and they’ll try to ruin your life and livelihood. I mean that literally. I once was uninvited from a preaching engagement because one of these contentious brothers threatened the host pastor that if he didn’t un-invite me, he and his church would boycott the event.
Oddly enough, that brother, and even many of these types of brethren have good things to say about many things. They do diligent research, are doctrinally sound, and they stand for the same things I stand for. So, I’m willing to read what they say and learn from them. However, because of their attitudes, I keep my distance. After all, I wouldn’t want it to rub off.