“Don’t participate in the fruitless works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

Ephesians 5:11
Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

There are a few posts and comments rising against my sharing the recent website of Genevan Commons screenshots because, along with the screenshots, standards, definitions, and a help and hope page, it provided the membership lists. And the membership list of the group also gives the information these members provided on their Facebook profile, such as their employers. I’ve been accused of both doxxing and slandering for sharing this website.

Since then the lists have been taken down on the website with this comment:  

The membership lists were posted to prompt reflection on community responsibility*, especially that of church officers. The lists have hopefully served that purpose, and so have been removed.

Not all of those who were listed here as members were active participants in the Genevan Commons group. Some were added to the group and never participated. Some have since been removed from the group or have removed themselves. Some raised objections before leaving, and some left without saying anything.

Before those accusations came in, I made the statement on my blog post:

I have received a couple emails from people in Genevan Commons who were added to the group before it got belligerent, muted the group as the posts were frequent, and later were either purged when the group became more suspicious or removed themselves after the membership list you see on the screenshot website. It makes sense that not everyone on the membership list actually participated in the group or even paid attention to it. I was even added to the group originally (before Facebook updated the policy to require invitations that you need to accept) and paid no attention until I was tagged in a post where they were talking about me. After trying to reason with them and calling out their behavior, Shane Anderson kicked me out.

There are different levels to think about here, those like the above who aren’t really culpable, lurkers, and participants. Lurkers are guilty of breaking the nineth commandment as well. And of course, if anyone saw the behavior, it should have been rebuked before leaving.

There is a discussion to be had about both membership lists and also the way victims are treated. There seems to be a DARVO dynamic in the way some came after me for sharing that website which documented a sampling of how Genevan Commons obsessively slandered, inappropriately mocked, and plotted against me and others. DARVO is an acronym that describes spiritual or psychological abuse tactic when confronted: Deny, Attack, Reverse the Victim and Offender. I think the “Deny”can also be interchanged with “Downplay” (it was just a few out of the many, it was taken out of context, we’ve all got dirty hands, wait on the church courts to handle this…). So all of the sudden, in sharing the receipts of abusive and reviling behavior, I am called a slanderer who is ruining good mens’ reputations.

It does make me ask, is my reputation less important than the men who are members of this hate group? Are a group of members who have come to light more worthy of protection than me? Is telling the victims they are doing it wrong really the way you want to respond to this appalling behavior? Is it okay to call me out like this, bypassing the church courts, to protect these reputations, but not for me to address public abuse against myself?

But I do want to address this issue about membership lists and guilt by association that people are bringing up. What culpability does one have as a member of a group? What are we responsible for once we sign our name and include our Facebook profile? And does an officer in God’s church bear more weight of responsibility?

Like I said, I received a few emails from some who were added to Genevan Commons and paid no attention to what was going on in there. Some even muted them. I genuinely think there are a good number that were in the group that did not pay attention to them. They weren’t really culpable of breaking the ninth commandment, as they didn’t see the behavior. I was even one of those people over two years ago until I was tagged in the group. Nonetheless, these people who emailed me were still embarrassed and regretful for being associated with such membership. They apologized to me and said they have learned something about the responsibility of being a member of a group—especially as a church officer. They need to pay attention to what they join. We all have something to learn here. I will agree that many of us do have dirt on our hands. But rather than blame the people bringing it to light, shouldn’t we take this as a teaching moment? Can we not humble ourselves like these few who emailed me and take this as a lesson for the future? They don’t deserve a mob of vitriol. Sensible people can hear their explanations and sorrow and respect them all the more even. I know I really respected their reaching out to me. Thank you.

Then there were some who say they left the group over the behavior in there. Some confronted them about why they were leaving. Good on them for not wanting to participate in this behavior anymore. But their names were still on the list. Is that fair? That’s a good question to ask. In my post comparing GC screenshots with qualifications of an elder, I ended with this quote by Elie Wiesel: “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” Man, this is true. These people can safely leave the group while myself and others are continuing to be slandered, inappropriately mocked, harassed, and plotted against. This is why our confession is so detailed about breaking the ninth commandment:

Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?

  • A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

Good on those who confronted some before they left. But if the revilers were unrepentant and continuing their abusive behavior, why not inform the victims? And if you are officers in their denomination, it is your duty to pursue ecclesial action. Or, if they are officers in other denominations, bring this to light to those who can pursue it there. And for those who just silently left, the victims just don’t have that luxury. Isn’t this moment a good one to have this conversation? Where is the sorrow? This has all been traumatizing for the victims. Peter Levine is helpful in pinpointing how that is so: “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of empathetic witness.” It’s especially so for those of us who uphold male headship in the church. It is an extreme violation of trust.

Then there are those who have participated in the group. They are in the screenshots. There have been some arguments that the screenshots have some quotes taken out of context. However, in the website, you can click on any collage sampling to see the full thread. Some have parsed the individual comments to downplay what was actually said, as some commenters are not actually slandering or any of the above. But can one participate in a thread like that all nonchalantly as if there isn’t verbal abuse going on? Doesn’t that add another degree of complicitness? Again, we will use Martin Luther King Jr. this time: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Protecting Reputations

Just like the update I made, any members from Genevan Commons can make statements for why they were on the list. Some may not be culpable, but there is still a lesson for us all to learn about being members of these groups. Let’s have some profitable conversations here. If members or former members are concerned about their reputation now, they can defend themselves and speak against what has transpired at Genevan Commons.

But let’s be careful not to resort to community protectionism. I am grateful for those who have emailed me expressing their grief of being part of such a group, and even those who were not paying more attention to what they are members of. What an act of humility that we all can learn from.

I also need to be careful not to sin. Reading the confession on the nineth commandment breaks me. I have all kinds of heart issues to work through with these people. I have a community around me that I can be shepherded under, and many friends who are ministering to me. What a gift. I pray that I am not lashing out, encouraging “grievance mongering,” or seeking to destroy reputations of those who have hurt me. Yes, victims have to check their hearts too. And it is a vulnerable thing to do. What do we really want out of this? Well, the darkness needs exposed. We’d love to stop being harassed. And we want the men who are in spiritual authority over us to meet the qualifications of an elder and pastor. Those in the complementarian church who are up in arms over women in leadership need to be just as vigilant about qualification of the men in office. We want to be safe in our own churches.

We all need to grow. And I am not handling this perfectly. I’m stumbling along the way. I too want to be sorrowful where I am sinning. A friend really comforted me yesterday with the message that I am not expected to be perfect, or right about the Bible all the time, but to seek faithfulness in grace and truth. I am stumbling along, trying to be faithful here, fighting to love Christ’s church.