A Guest at the Diner – Craig French

Following is a guest post by Craig French.

I want to bring my own perspective of the current Genevan Commons debacle, both as an “outsider” and male voice of support. I offer somewhat of an “outsider’s” perspective having been outside Reformed/Presbyterian circles for several years now. But I’m not a total outsider. I was a deacon within the PCA until my family and I left our so-called patriarchal church. I taught often at that church and became a contributor to a then-popular blog committed to emphasizing authority and submission, and (for a time), I believed in the Eternal Subordination of the Son…until I started reading St. Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers. 

Once I began reading “Thick Trinitarianism” as opposed to “thick complementarianism,” my categories shifted significantly. I am not here to defend Amiee Byrd’s writing but I want to acknowledge that she raises important concerns. Reformed/Reformed-leaning “thick” complementarianism is a stagnant pond. The disconnect from historic streams of Christianity can unnecessarily limit outlook and discussion, so there is little room for questioning their raison d’etat. Complementarianism is ahistorical and a neologism offering some comfort and safety from perceived feminist influence. Complementarianism is a hunker down and hole up position. Disconnected from clean, free flowing water, some in that camp are coming to realize they’re thirsty but their water hole is just making them sicker. Leaders claim to have everything they need, but a walk through of the Complementarian Hill Autonomous Zone reveals there are no supplies. I see Aimee Byrd as searching for supplies while also identifying significant problems within CHAZ.

Genevan Commons is an activist group. We already know there are community organizers who tried sabotaging book releases by Aimee Byrd and Rachel Green Miller. Organizers have also revealed Aimee Byrd’s home church and encouraged folks to contact her session in a sort of guerilla style polity. And people did contact her session. People contacted other churches set to host her teaching as well in coordinated guerilla style activism.

Wouldn’t you know it, activism like this did get her session’s attention. One or two of Aimee Byrd’s elders reached out to GC. Rev. Peter Jones confirmed this through Twitter here and here. Click through and take a look, noting especially the contradictory public posture of innocence vs private acknowledgement of their failure to respond to this letter in a timely fashion. They waited until after Aimee Byrd’s session dealt publicly with fallout resulting, in significant part, from GC moderators’ refusal to enter into a reconciliatory conversation. Peacemaking ought to be a way of life and marker of a minister’s character. To date, I have not seen this character modeled by prominent members and moderators from GC. 

All of what I’ve described serves as relevant context for what GC Screenshots revealed. 

I do not agree with the “doxxing” of all GC members. I may even see places where the blog misunderstands context for some of the collaged posts. That should not be surprising. That said, confessional Christians reject any economic accounting of sin where one group’s potential sin somehow cancels out another’s actual sin. Presbyterian elders should not use the “But MOM!” argument. The merits of the claims should be examined on a case-by-case basis rather than prejudicially dismissed, which is functionally how Rev. Wedgeworth’s article advances. I don’t blame him exactly, he has some level of interest in deflecting scrutiny from a group he participated in. That is to say, his account is not “above the fray,” rather, it comes squarely from within.

When an attorney argues in court, he directs the jury’s attention to carefully selected issues. Opposing counsel will insist “those aren’t the issues, here are the issues! Look here!” and they’ll pound the table, repeatedly if necessary. The tactic is effective with convincing rhetoric, discrediting of (and distraction from) the other issues. Here’s the interesting thing about Rev. Wedgeworth’s post: he makes himself a witness to the other parties’ argument. He says:

“Over time, it became increasingly clear to me that an unhealthy ethos and tone was dominating the group. This was a gradual process, and some of my friends recognized it before I did. I ‘unfollowed’ the group (which means I no longer saw its content) sometime in June of 2019, and I fully ‘left’ (which means I deleted my membership) in early 2020, as a part of a general Facebook cleanup decision.” (emphasis my own)

Rev. Wedgeworth summarizes GC as having an unhealthy ethos and tone that was so dominating (synonyms: pervasive, or definitional) that it led him to unfollow and eventually leave the group. 

This does not mean that a majority of GC’s members engaged in this unhealthy behavior. Wedgeworth acknowledges this in his conclusion. If it wasn’t pervasive numerically, then it’s reasonable to surmise this is a qualitative assessment on Rev. Wedgeworth’s part. This pervasive and dominating culture was established through influential members. 

Contrary to the assertion of some (e.g. RE Shane Anderson and Rev. Michael Spangler), Rev. Wedgeworth’s testimony tends to confirm the group was not being moderated particularly well. It also tends to bolster Aimee Byrd’s (and others’) contention that the moderators themselves fostered this “unhealthy” culture. Let’s not use terms like “unhealthy,” though. Call it what it is: sinful. This sinful enculturation came from members and moderators which include officers within confessional Presbyterian churches. This has been the issue that is consistently brought out by GC’s critics. Rev. Wedgeworth’s own testimony confirms the validity of this criticism. 

I find it curious that GC members and supporters have retweeted Rev. Wedgeworth’s post. At most, his post offers a particular defense of himself and his boss, Rev. Mark Jones. While he attempted to minimize sins within GC, he did not hesitate to describe the entire ethos as unhealthy – sinful. That is the broadest of brushes one can paint with. That is damning. Far from discrediting the collages from the whistleblowing blog, Rev. Wedgeworth gives church courts reason to investigate more thoroughly. I trust that Rev. Wedgeworth, in keeping with Leviticus 5:1, can be depended upon by church courts seeking testimony regarding activity from their own officers.

Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt.

Rev. Wedgeworth has given testimony which should be taken seriously. Much more seriously than any sleight of hand which distracts from the actual issue. Aimee Byrd has written an excellent rebuttal to such sleight of hand. I echo what she says while also driving home the gravity of Rev. Wedgeworth’s testimony against GC.

One such bogeyman issue is the one of “privacy.” This is a tricky issue to raise and, to Rev. Wedgeworth’s credit, he doesn’t spend much time here. But others do raise this issue. Private can mean many different things, so it’s important to define the term – which no one from GC has yet to do. Take for example private clubs. Private, in this case, means “exclusive.” 

Other notions of privacy have to do with “privileged information.” Think attorney client privilege, medical records, financial information. The very nature of the data creates an obligation for protecting that information. This is an example of legitimate and necessary confidentiality.

GC does not host what anyone would reasonably consider “protected information.” Expectation for privacy is more of a courtesy than anything, and it is reasonable to maintain some level of privacy, but certainly not to the extent of a secret society. Each of us has private conversations but few private conversations are treated like sworn secrecy. Most often, privacy has to do with intimacy. Privacy is a fabricated right and is not the same as confidentiality. It would be a rash vow to promise to maintain secrecy of future discussions you may find questionable. Such a requirement is illegitimate and unenforceable. Especially for Christians. I also question the validity of legal grounds for any torts. 

As Christians, we do not consider “privacy” a right, and certainly not something absolute. Claiming privacy merely sidesteps the actual issue. It enables sin to lurk in the shadows, sin which we are supposed to expose (Eph 5:11). Let’s not leverage the logic of Roe to sidestep legitimate concerns of how teaching and ruling elders conduct their lives. The higher standard for church officers can’t be casually wiped off when they enter an online discussion forum.