Coarse Joking, Doxing, and Forgiveness
By now many of you have heard of the Genevan Commons Facebook group. The Genevan Commons (GC) group was apparently formed several years ago to provide a forum for discussion of Reformed theology. All well and good. But more recently some of the group members began attacking Aimee Byrd, Rachel Miller, and us (Carl and Todd). At times the banter degenerated into sinful mocking and slander. Unbecoming to say the least.
For two years or more we have been trashed in blogs, social media, and on the GC site. We have been cast as crypto-feminists out to undermine the church with our liberal dogma. Of course anyone who knows us understands just how ridiculous such a charge is. However, in just one day last week, numerous people who are not privy to internal Alliance discussions and have not bothered to ask us what we know of what has happened at the podcast, have felt able to opine online about us. Strange to tell, we have now apparently abandoned our radical feminism and become knuckle dragging misogynists. But this is the sort of nuance and careful analysis one gets on social media. We have never responded to the earlier or the later accusations, deeming their value to be obvious to any thoughtful reader, and mindful of the need for Christians to turn the other cheek and of the importance of not dignifying some speech by even acknowledging its existence.
Ed Stetzer, writing for Christianity Today, refers to a blog post by Aimee Byrd which linked to multiple screenshots of ungodly banter and coarse joking on the GC site. To make matters worse, much of the behavior captured in those screenshots is the words of pastors and elders. There is no good excuse for the behavior evident there. Those who contributed to the cruel mockery ought to repent and be encouraged to do so by their brothers.
But there is a further problem with this whole situation, and that is that someone has posted a list of all those who have ever been associated with the Geneva Commons group. This is a prime example of what is known as “doxing.” One online dictionary defines doxing as “to search for and publish private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.” These posts have doxed many men who are not guilty of the sinful banter of the few. That the list has since been removed does not mean that the damage done thereby can be repaired. The evil genie is well and truly out of that particular bottle.
It is important that one understands how Facebook discussion groups work. Specifically, the GC site originally began as a group discussion of Reformed theology. There were over 1,000 members. Out of that body of members a comparatively small number of men participated in the coarse joking and mockery. The great majority of members are innocent of that behavior. Many members have left the group in recent years because of the obsession that some of the membership have had with Aimee Byrd, Carl and Todd. Some of the members never or rarely even visited the site. For instance, I (Todd) can think of at least three Facebook discussion groups of which I am a member but have never once visited. Some GC members were added to the group without even knowing. And yet all of them without discrimination have been publicly doxed and implicated in the sin of a few.
Over the last 48 hours we have heard from many pastors who never took part in the ungodly chatter on the GC site. Some of them left over a year ago. However, they are now being harassed and their employers being pressured to fire them. In some cases their spouses are facing possible termination of their employment. It is unconscionable that this would be done to hundreds of innocent men and women all in the name of the peace and purity of the church.
As we have mentioned, many of those screenshots capture ungodly behavior. Full stop. But there are also screenshots which, having been taken out of context, are being used to accuse men of sin when in fact no such thing was happening. For example, one man I (Todd) heard from yesterday was deeply distressed because one of his comments on the GC site was posted out of context which to the unlearned would seem scandalous. His message read “My mother is a whore but she is still my mother.” This was held forth as a scandalous example of the coarse joking. The problem is that those words are an old Dutch saying (probably borrowed from Augustine) which refers to the church. To update it in our own terms: “The church is a mess but she is still my mother.” This young husband and father is now being harassed by people he does not know who, having no idea what the quote even means, have assumed him to be some sort of profane misogynist. This is but one example.
I (Todd) saw one grievance monger on Facebook defending the indiscriminate doxing as a necessary price of purifying the church. What a grievous moral calculus. That is the task of church courts and due process, however painfully slow they might sometimes be. One should beware of justifying an anarchic precedent for others which might well one day be applied to oneself.
Most of us have hands that are dirty with online sins somewhere. We have at some point gone too far on social media; our criticisms of others descending into personal attacks. The combination of a keyboard and distance make righteous warriors of us. So we need to be careful to reject the sense of self-righteousness so easily adopted in times of competing recriminations. The internet mob is an unforgiving lot. There is no atonement which will satisfy it. The guilty must be purged from our sight. No forgiveness will ever be offered. But the problem is that we are all guilty.
The good news is that there is forgiveness for every sinner who repents. Often times when we are unjustly attacked we get the sense that there is a free pass to sin against the one or ones who have hurt us. But this is not the way of Jesus. May this sad moment give us each the opportunity to examine our own hearts and words. May we be more offended by our own sin than we are by the sins of others. And if we have sinned against brothers and sisters (especially in a public way) may the Lord grant us repentance.
June 25, 2020
In an earlier version of this post we referred to the articles by Aimee Byrd and Ed Stetzer as being slanderous. We now see that this was incorrect and that, in doing so, we had ourselves spoken wrongly. We sincerely apologize for this and have corrected the article accordingly. We should have reserved the term ‘slander’ for actions of the person or persons who had engaged in the dox and/or subsequently used the information therein for smearing the characters of those who played no role in the sinful conversations on the Geneva Commons website.