Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On Anonymity and Pseudonymity (II)

One newly-sprung blog has a page to explain their pseudonyms:

These are dangerous times for Lutherans who have not signed onto Kieschnick's Purpose-Driven Ablaze Movement. The cancellation of the Issues Etc. radio program is proof enough for us that Kieschnick intends to use corporate take over tactics and informational subterfuge to destroy any and all who would dare to question and challenge HIS vision for the LCMS. Therefore, in order to protect ourselves while we shine the light of truth on Kieschnick's agenda so that there can be real debate regarding its merits or lack thereof, we have no choice but to write from behind a mask.
Their blog is important. Obviously they have some inside information. Much of what they write is investigative in nature. But one thing really bothers me: this page. Mind you, I'm not bothered by the New 95 Theses. For years I've heard Confessionals in parishes, offices, and Seminary classrooms wonder if we need a new Formula of Concord. Some have advocated it. I think I agree. If Lutheranism has any good in it, it can only be helped by such Confessional development.

No, I'm bothered that the Theses are anonymous.

So I was talking with Marjorie about this last night, trying to express exactly why it bugged me so much that the author of the New 95 Theses hadn't put his name on it. I couldn't quite put my finger on why the pseudonyms on their posts revealing financial documents didn't bother me, but this call for debate, this anonymous document of a confessional nature did.

Then I read Fr. Gregory Hogg's comment published elsewhere:
...those who think an issue is fundamentally *theological*--a matter of the truth--have no hesitation to die, if necessary, for the confession of the truth. Those who think that an issue is fundamentally *corporate*--a matter of opinion--do hesitate.
My dad once gave me this advice: Don't put anything in writing that you will later regret. Don't put it in writing if you don't want it to last forever. It's great advice. I haven't always followed it, and when I haven't, I've suffered.

In these days when the 8th Commandment is used as a weapon against those who express displeasure, we most certainly need to be honest about our identities. Hiding behind a false name while attempting "to shine the light of truth" all too easily degenerates into cowardice and defamation. But if one is convinced that they write the truth, and that others need to know the truth, then he should saddle up and sign it.

The defense of the anonymous activists is "fear of reprisals." I can understand that, especially if their paychecks read "LCMS, Inc." But what of fear? Christ our Lord reminds us: "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God." Likewise, "The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Psa 118:6) For those of us who are sole (or nearly sole) providers it is difficult. But when the truth is at stake and we believe the time is right, our Lord promises us His protection.

I write this not to condemn or judge him. I have personal opinions and beliefs that I do not share here or write anywhere else. I have opinions about national politics, local politics, about history and the nature of man that I do not publish. I have theological opinions. I have beliefs about truth that I do not share at this time. We all do. But when the time is right, when one is led to publish ideas, to spark debate, to act in the public arena, then fear must give way to courage.

My dear wife reminded me last night that courage and fear are not opposite qualities. As Ambrose Redmoon said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear." Or as Mark Twain said, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."


  1. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    There are times not revealing your name is appropriate. This is when you are simply reporting information, when you are providing information, and if your name were revealed, that would be gone. I can understand that. I can also understand having user-names or what have you in an academic discussion.

    However, when you are anonymous that isn't the time to be creative, to make announcements, to give opinions. That requires a person. Melanchthon can be Didymus Flaventus when engaging in a theological debate, but you can't do it when you are going to stand up and say "This is what we need to do." You have no name, you aren't part of we. . . you have no name.

  2. Susan said...

    I would not want to fault anyone for choosing to remain anonymous since the reasons for that choice are probably numerous and I am not qualified to know all the reasons behind a decision.

    Sometimes, I wonder if it wouldn't be best for as many people as possible to tell the truth about their identity so we could join together and say, "Here We Stand" It seems like their should be safety in numbers? Perhaps I'm all wet on that.

    As for the fear quotient, I liked your TR quote in the other post and I liked Fr. Hogg's comment. There is much truth in both of those statements.

    Each person must face these kinds of difficult choices of whether to be a free man in Christ or crumble and be a slave to fear. It's not always so much a matter of courage, as it is simply setting your face like flint and doing what the Lord has set before you. One of those easy to say and not so simple to do situations. :)

    And lest someone accuse me of being naive or lacking understanding. I have not had an easy life and have been through many of the viscitudes of life. I would not wish my life on my worst enemy and also would not trade my life for someone else's. God knows what he is doing when he gives a difficult path.

    I do not mean to sound like I am speaking lightly of hardship - that is not my intent. But I do want to speak highly of a clean conscience and the pleasure of knowing you have done the Lord's will. As Paul said, it is all rubbish compared to knowing Christ. It only looks important before you lose it.

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Hi Susan! Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    Faulting someone for being anonymous is difficult, and I really appreciate your sensitivity. I especially liked your last line, that it "only looks important before you lose it." That's very wise. I may have to quote you on that.

    However, as I tried to express, anonymous thoughts have little value. But when one puts their name on it--their reputation--it becomes valuable. Anonymous posting of information, of tidbits, of philosophical musings is one thing. But when one writes a Confession, as I take the New 95 Theses to be, one must put their neck on the line.

    Again, I appreciate your comments, and you may still disagree (please do so if you have more to say). I am open to debate on this.

    Thanks again for your comment--very wise stuff, again.

  4. Rev. Eckert said...

    Hmm, I'm not sure I agree that anonymous thoughts have no value. I am tempted to mention the Book of Hebrews, which is anonymous. But I think that may be an apples and oranges argument. After all, the true Writer of Hebrews is One who is not anonymous.

    But I'm inclined to think that having the courage to take a stand by writing nonymously (that is, revealing your name) is not necessarily a gift given to all. We are all to confess Christ before men, but not all of us confess in the same way. Ultimately, none of us should be ashamed of saying things openly, but some are just not ready yet (mature enough?) to do so.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts. I'm not sure I'm even disagreeing.

    P.S. Nice little site you've got here.

  5. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Rev. Eckert,

    Thanks for stopping by. And you're right: not everyone has the gift of leading the charge, so to speak. But by golly, if you're gonna write down the charges and publish them, then you'd better sign it. That's my point. I don't care if Susan doesn't use her last name, or if her name's not even "Susan" (no offense). Susan is not calling folks into debate, into reform, into anything. I don't care if the Ochlophobist (from my blogroll) never uses his name: he's doing Orthodox philosophy.

    I do care if someone is blasting the trumpet, calling for change and doesn't have the courage to sign it. If that's not you, if you don't have that certain gift, then don't do it, and don't write it. Let someone else who has the guts.

    That's all. Sorry for the rant.

    Thanks for visiting, Andrew. Don't be a stranger!

  6. Susan said...

    I don't disagree with you Pr. Hall. I think you make excellent and valid points. I do think comments carry more weight when one signs one's full name.

    I don't understand enough of the other person's reasons for their decision to be anonymous on the 95 thesis to take a stand on it. Obviously, I'm not a pastor and I don't understand the finer points of the argument so I don't feel qualified to take a stand for that reason too!

    The reason I don't use my last name is so I don't cause any flak to come my pastor's way when I make clueless comments or tick someone off online! It is a difficult time to be a pastor and I try to protect his reputation. :)

    And a big thanks for your appreciation of my comment. My comments are not always appreciated!

  7. Rev. Eckert said...

    Yes, excellent post. But perhaps a little short - did you only write as much as you had to? Just kidding.

    Perhaps you could expand in part iii on concrete aspects of how this has worked in the LCMS and elsewhere. For example, in private confession, we are told that no one should be forced to confess, so we have minimalistically dropped confession altogether (in most places).

    Keep up the good work.

  8. Rev. Eckert said...

    Sorry about that. This comment should belong under "Why This Won't Work pt. 2."

  9. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    My main issue with this isn't even that they are hesitating to put their reputations, calls, or whatever else on the line.

    My concern is that at some point in time these issues are going to come to a head...It obviously is much bigger than Issues, Etc.

    These men(?) are already doing a good job speaking for us and educating us. But when we need this to go further, and these men are willing to come forward and do so, we won't necessarily recognize the leadership as coming from them.

  10. The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

    Okay, ironically, I posted that under a I'll be brave...

    Lora Horn