Denial: Not Just A River In Egypt11 June, 2008
Back on 5 June, I posted a short piece about a Florida youth minister who has been accused, by two teenage girls with whom he worked at a previous church in Pennsylvania, of inappropriate physical contact. I posted it not because I have anything against either church (I had never heard of them before I read the newspaper article). I did not post it because I have any personal connection with the Kingston, PA, church, other than being real close geographically. I did not post it because I think Neiswender is guilty or innocent. I posted it because I have a real problem with people who abuse their authority; because I wondered why the Pennsylvania church didn’t say anything to the Florida church; and because (and this was the biggie for me) the apparent hypocrisy of Christian moralizing and the drumbeat of cases similar to this one.
I figured (silly me) that I would get a couple of comments and that would be that. I figured the postfocusing parallels between Afghanistan and Iraq would get lots more comments. I was wrong. To date, the Afghanistan post has had one (count ’em, one!) comment. The quickie about Neiswender has garnered 34.
A chunk of those posts have been defending Mr. Neiswender. Florida Youth Member said:
I am a current member of Brian’s youth group in Florida and as someone who has worked with him extra hours on the worship team and gotten to know him very well, and as a female, I know that he would never EVER do anything of this sort.
She also blamed Satan. She was the only defender who had (or admitted to) any personal contact with the accused.
The others? Just Another Christian blamed the girls. He said that they “liked it for attention” and made the point (which may be valid) that “this happens to Christians everyone forgets that they are just people.” Just Thinkin also blamed the girls — they were ‘needy.’ By Real Folks compared the case to the Duke lacrosse case of a few years ago, again, implying that it never happened. The only three professed Christians who commented either blamed the girls or denied that it had happened.
Okay, folks. Time for a ‘what if’ thought experiment. What if the person involved had been a counselor at a secular youth camp? Would we see counselors immediately either denying the event or blaming the victims? It is possible, but I doubt it. What if it had been a public high school basketball coach? Or a non-believer? Or a cop? Would people be denying the event or blaming the victims? Seriously, Christians: if the exact same thing had happened at a Unitarian Church (just for an example, do not read anything more into this example) and the offender happened to be an atheist (yes, it is possible for an atheist to be a member in good standing of a UU church), would any Christian, or any other person, jump to the conclusion that it never happened or that it happened but it was the victim’s fault?
I see two possible reasons for this.
First, despite the contrary arguments of Be Real Folks, Christians do claim that belief in god (specifically the Judeo-Christian Abrahamic God as reinterpreted by the New Testament) is essential to morality. Pastors (and ministers, priests and preachers (I’m not sure whether Christians think Imams or Rabbis or Buddhist Monks are moral)) are part of the link between parishioner and God. The formality and amount of link varies by denomination, but it still holds for most. The thinking may be (and I stress may be) that a pastor, who sets the moral standards for his flock, cannot have done this (a general ‘this’ covering everything from marital indiscretion to siphoning money off the collection plate to sexual crimes) because he is a good Christian and Christians are, because they believe in the right version of God, by definition, moral (notice the circular reasoning there).
Second, take a look at PhillyChief’s post Theist Trick — Scotsman’s Fallacy over at You Made Me Say It. Read it and then come back. I see the possibility of the Scotsman’s Fallacy in some of the responses to my original post. In short: “He couldn’t have done it because he’s a Christian.” Then, if (notice I use the word ‘if’ not ‘when’ — I am not judging him!) he pleads guilty to a lesser charge, or is found guilty by a judge or a jury of his peers, it will become “He did it, so he’s not a Christian.”
I was surprised by the reaction to my post. I was even more surprised that the four self-proclaimed Christians who commented (only one of whom admitted to actually knowing him) about my post and the case itself used three basic themes: the girls are lying, the girls are to blame, or it was Satan. None admitted to even the possibility that he may have done it.
If anyone has any other explanations for this curious coincidence, I would be happy to entertain them. Unlike some, I freely admit that I do not have all the answers (and I usually don’t have the questions, either).
And they say denial is river in Egypt.