Comments on the Comments

Next week, after New Year’s day, I hope to post some 2007 pictures. Meanwhile, people have been remarking to me offline that the comments on my blogs have become a battle zone. It seems I’ve offended people, for reasons sometimes apparent, sometimes not.

Someone asked why I don’t stop this by keeping some of the comments from being posted, or deleting them. Another suggested I disable comments entirely. Yet another suggested I explain and defend myself.

Reluctantly, as of a few days ago, I’ve resorted to moderating the comments. I’ll still let through comments criticizing me. But I don’t want the comments to facilitate self-promotion or speaking prophecies attributed to God that aren’t confirmed by Scripture. So please, no more links to web pages people have written that are signed by “God.” (I hope in an upcoming blog to address the dangers of this.)

I also don’t want the Comments section to be a platform for leveling accusations. If you disagree with a blog, fine, but if you have personal issues with others go to them personally, not publicly, as Jesus commands in Matthew 18:15. (Scripture IS signed by God.) I don’t think it’s right for me to allow this blog to be used by others to violate Scripture. However, I anticipate it will be extremely rare that I’ll screen anything out. (It hasn’t happened yet.)

I don't want to disable the comments because I like open forums and I truly value feedback, including criticism. But I learned long ago there are many people you can’t please, and shouldn’t try to. Jesus said, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

I always read the comments. I ask God to point out to me any truth they may contain. The commenters are certainly correct that I’m very flawed. No one’s more aware of this than I am. (If I see a hint that critics realize they’re also flawed, it gives them credibility.)

To my friends who’ve raised the question, yes, it’s true that a number of misleading things have been said in the comments. But I think it’s a healthy discipline not to answer most accusations. I don’t want to get into self-defense, because there’s no end to it, and it distracts us from Christ.

I figure for every inaccurate accusation made against me there’s another accurate one critics don’t know about. For every person judging me unfairly, there’s another one giving me credit I don’t deserve. God is the Audience of One. We all stand or fall before Him, not each other.

Some have said it’s unfair to condemn my Heaven book without reading it. My response is, if you can’t take criticism, you shouldn’t write. If your skin doesn’t thicken, you’re going to lose a lot of sleep. So far I haven’t lost sleep over any comments on this blog. (Please, don’t consider this a challenge to ratchet up the criticisms to see if you can cost me sleep.)

Anyway, self-defense is usually fruitless. Some people want to believe what they do. Attempting to explain, especially in a public forum, just gives them something else to criticize (as today’s blog, and its subsequent comments, may prove).

There is one thing, however, that I sense God wants me to address. That’s the idea that I did a disservice to Joel Stein through my previous blog, by talking about our interview and asking people to pray for him.

Joel Stein has better things to do than to read my blog. But there’s nothing in it I’d be embarrassed about. Joel knows I’m a Christian. He knows Christians believe certain things and that they pray for people. My guess is that if he read my blog, Joel would disagree with various points, sure, but would feel like I treated him with respect and courtesy, as he did me.

Most unbelievers I know are not offended to learn that people are praying for them. They figure it can’t hurt and might even help.

As for this idea of divulging a “private” conversation, Joel did not call me for advice or counseling, or to share personal concerns. This was a newspaper interview intended for publication. The majority of what was publicly said about our conversation was written by Joel, not me. In my blog I mainly quote what he said in his column, then what I said to him. There’s very little divulging anything he said to me.

Many people talk with me and share private matters. I would never quote them. Anything that Joel Stein said of a personal or sensitive nature I would not restate for publication.

Perplexed by those comments, I went back to the blog to see if I’d included any inappropriate personal statements by Joel. If so, I was determined to delete them. I mentioned his question about why some Christians were angry about the Starbucks cup, then shared my answer. Unless I’m missing something, the only other portion that reflects what Joel said to me, besides what’s in his column, was this:

He said, “since your books are now in every room in my house I told my wife, maybe I’d better read it.” We had a good laugh. He wondered if I orchestrated sending the five books. I assured him I didn’t, and signed that one to him only at someone’s request.

As much as I disagree with his worldview, I found Joel to be sharp, engaging and witty; the kind of person I’d enjoy having lunch with. (I might enjoy it more than he would.) I was friendly and unapologetic about my beliefs, and he was professional and considerate. Joel said he’d read about eighty pages of the book and planned to read more.

That’s it. Every other time I quote Joel it’s directly from his column. If he’d shared with me he had a bad childhood experience, a prostate problem, or that he played poker with Kiefer Sutherland, I wouldn’t have mentioned it. Had he asked me questions about his spiritual pilgrimage, I wouldn’t have said so. I related only a small portion of what he said, and nothing at all that any journalist would consider confidential. (Joel is a big boy. He can handle it.)

Every word I said to Joel was fair game to be published in the LA Times and around the world. Nothing was off the record. When writers talk with writers they’re never surprised to see it in writing. The words Joel shared which I included are neither derogatory nor inappropriate. I sought to convey respect and appreciation for him even when I disagreed. In short, when I reread the column I found nothing to delete.

The really sad thing about some of the comments on this post—now I’m talking only about the ones in which people judge motives—is that they confirm precisely the stereotypes Joel and others have about judgmental and angry Christians. So, while I would not be embarrassed for Joel Stein to read my blog, to be honest I would be embarrassed for him to read a few of the comments.

Jesus said, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:23). The world will believe the gospel is true when it sees the oneness of God's people. When what it sees is Christians fighting and accusing each other, it wants nothing to do with the gospel we proclaim (and which we deny by our actions).

I welcome the presence of unbelievers here, and their strongly worded disagreements don't bother me. But for Christians who are combative--warriors looking for a war--if you don’t like this blog, there's an incredibly simple solution: stop reading it.

If you don’t like me, take a number. Sometimes I don’t like myself. But while I have to live with me, you do not. (Well, unless you're Nanci, my wife and best friend, but she can handle it.)

I could understand your resentment if I were coming to your house at midnight, trudging up on your porch with muddy boots, kicking your cat, and nailing my blog to your door. Or if I were shouting it through a megaphone or forcing open your mail slot and screaming at you, or holding a gun to your head. Or to your cat’s head.

But there's not more than a dozen of you I do this to. So please, if you're not one of them, feel free to read something else. You will be happier. Unless, of course, what makes you happy is to be angry and critical. That’s not for me to judge, but you might ask the Lord about it, just as I regularly ask Him about things in my life.

Now, if you honestly disagree with my posts, I'm happy to hear from you, and I hope you'll keep reading. But if you have to judge motives and lash out and condemn others, this probably isn't the place for you.

Since many comments are being directed toward other commenters (and I genuinely appreciate most of the interaction), my request of everyone is this: please show respect, treat people with dignity, and don’t believe the worst.

Above all, please don’t condemn people by presuming you know their motives. Now is not the time for judgment, and we are not qualified to judge. It’s not our job, as those lacking omniscience, to set up judgment seats and pass sentences on each other. That’s up to the only competent Judge. Let's place ourselves on the correct side of the judgment seat. Let God be God:

“It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries