How a Reformed Facebook Group’s Private Comments Turned Into a Public Dispute

"The anonymous website GCScreenshots featured not only the Facebook group’s remarks against Byrd and other Reformed women, but also a list of the hundreds of Facebook users who belonged to the group, including the church affiliations of the pastors and elders who were members." - CToday

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Whether the Facebook group's remarks were right or wrong, they were private. The most obvious ethics breach here is the activity of GCScreenshots. Nobody wants their private exchanges with friends or colleagues to become public, and Luke 6:31 and Matt 7:12 require that we not do that to other people, even if we become (inappropriately) aware of their private conversations through someone else who was there.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Andrew K's picture

After a little pause [Aslan] spoke again.

"Child," he said, "I think you have been eavesdropping."

"Eavesdropping?" [Lucy said]

"You listened to what your two schoolfellows were saying about you."

"Oh that? I never thought that was eavesdropping, Aslan. Wasn't it magic?"

"Spying on people by magic is the same as spying on them in any other way. And you have misjudged your friend. She is weak, but she loves you. She was afraid of the older girl and said what she does not mean."

"I don't think I'd ever be able to forget what I heard her say."

"No, you won't."
 

-from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis

Bert Perry's picture

Given that whoever revealed this was invited to the group, it's not really eavesdropping.  Rather, the person (s) who revealed this had a difficult choice of whether to keep private things private and downplay some significant sins on the part of men in ministry, or expose the sins by those church and violate presumed privacy.

Personally, I think they made the right choice.  If church leaders use presumed privacy to slander their rivals and opponents, their flocks ought to know that.  We might not think that the particular sins are "that big", but what they are is a pattern of using personal attacks to respond to theological challenges, and as a pattern, that's horrendous.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Given that whoever revealed this was invited to the group, it's not really eavesdropping.  Rather, the person (s) who revealed this had a difficult choice of whether to keep private things private and downplay some significant sins on the part of men in ministry, or expose the sins by those church and violate presumed privacy.

Personally, I think they made the right choice.  If church leaders use presumed privacy to slander their rivals and opponents, their flocks ought to know that.  We might not think that the particular sins are "that big", but what they are is a pattern of using personal attacks to respond to theological challenges, and as a pattern, that's horrendous.

Yes, I know it wasn't precisely eavesdropping, but I thought the excerpt appropriate, to a degree. And it's from my favorite Narnia book

At any rate, a few things keep me from agreeing that this massive screenshot dump was "the right choice": first, they inclusion of all the names of the group (as the CT article mentions), even those who may not have even been aware that they were in the group (apparently the admin simply added certain people without their knowledge, as you could do in the early days of FB groups). This made posting the entire membership list damaging to the reputations of innocent people.

Secondly, the manipulation and out-of-context usage of some of the quotations, and the way they were sensationalized to make some--though certainly not all--worse than they actually were, from what I've seen.

Finally, the information-sharer has themselves chosen to remain anonymous. Not the biggest concern, admittedly, but does seem a trifle hypocritical.

As such, though I share concerns over the slanderous ministers within this group, I do not believe this has been handled in the right way. At all.

(Disclaimer: I don't know anybody who is actually a member of this group. I run in different circles.)

T Howard's picture

Some basic lessons I've learned and rules I try to follow:

  • Assume anything you write on a blog / forum or in an email will become public knowledge. I was doxed about 15 years ago, not because of comments I made on a forum but because of just being a member of the forum. I now assume anything I write here on SI will get back to not only my employer but also to my elder team.
  • Don't attempt to communicate emotionally-loaded topics or have sensitive conversations via email or your blog. Early in my marriage, I damaged the relationship with my wife's family because of some truthful yet improperly-shared observations I made on my personal blog.
  • Ad hominem argumentation is not only fallacious but also often sinful.
  • Be quick to repent, confess, and seek forgiveness when you cross the line.
  • Be willing to "go dark" from social media if that helps you to refrain from sinning in how you communicate with others.
Bert Perry's picture

Keep in mind that those who revealed the names probably had no idea that others were quietly being added to the list without knowing by Geneva Commons' administrators.  Hence, they would have been thinking "these are people who are reading this who are not objecting to this treatment."  Want to point at someone who did wrong?  That would be the admin of Geneva Commons, I dare say.

Regarding the claim that some quotations are taken out of context....well, yes, when you're "tweeting", you are going to run into that possibility.  I would dare suggest that this is not as much a problem with those revealing the comments as it is an ordinary hazard of the medium.  I've seen John Piper run into this a lot.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

There is a contemporary desire to assign guilt by association. This problem is across the board.

Sharing an opinion, which often is based on partial information, is not slander or sinful.

We need to stop accusing people who say things we disagree with as being "sinful" for the shock value of guilting then into stopping their behavior, or if not, causing then to be hurt.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Mark, I'd call it more a sin of omission, along the lines of if a man know to do right but does it not, to him it is sin. Guilt by association would be "some Baptist said something idiotic, Bert is a Baptist, hence Bert is an idiot." This is more along the lines of "Some Baptists said idiotic things in Bert's (digital) presence, Bert saw that these statements were sinful, but Bert didn't condemn those statements, and may have even endorsed them."

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Don't ever be a part of a Facebook theology discussion group ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.