Sunday, June 03, 2007

Truth in reporting

I haven't been blogging for a while as I've been busy with several commitments. I have a few posts partially written, and I hope to finish them soon and get back to some regular blogging.

However, some very recent happenings among the Christadelphian ecclesias in the Brisbane area (Australia) have prompted me to post something about truth in reporting. We often hear things through the "grapevine" and wonder whether they are actually true or have simply been churned out by the rumour mill.

I guess we're all familiar with the game of 'Chinese whispers' where something whispered to one person in the room then makes it's way around a group of people, each time being slightly distorted until the end result is something which is so distorted from the original message that it bears no resemblance to it.

Sometimes we just dismiss misreporting as a kind of innocent game of Chinese whispers. But what if an untruth was started deliberately and maliciously?

Over recent months I've heard rumours about myself which are contradictory and so far from the truth that I cannot imagine how they could possibly have started. The recent rumours have included things which are so bizarre that I cannot understand how any intelligent person could seriously pass them on, yet they do! (I may give an example of this in my next post.)

I want to give just one example here of what I believe is simply troublemaking of the worse kind.

On 25 April this year I received an email from someone I don't know, but who I later discovered is an Arranging Brother of the North Oaks ecclesia in Queensland. He said he'd heard a rumour that I believed in the trinity. I replied immediately and told him quite clearly that the rumour is untrue, and added "In fact, I was instrumental in having a lengthy work disproving the trinity translated into Urdu for use in preaching by the Christadelphians in Pakistan. That's hardly something I would do if I believed in the trinity!"

Not satisfied with this answer he emailed again and asked "As for beleiving in the trinity and being a trinitarian probably these could be different its like saying I believe the same as a roman catholic but im not a roman catholic which is it. (sic)"

It seemed to me that this fellow was determined to believe the rumour rather than anything I could say to the contrary, so I sent this reply: "I fail to see how believing in the trinity and being a trinitarian could be different, unless you've come up with a new kind of hair-splitting that's beyond my comprehension. I definitely don't believe in the trinity and I'm not a trinitarian. I don't think I can make that any plainer and it's 'saying it as it is'."

That seemed to satisfy him. He replied the same day and said "thank you for clearing up the trinity problem". He then added: "I can now say without a doubt you do not believe in the doctrine of the trinity. This is what happens unless we get actual words then people don't believe us I will not make my own judgment its what you have said "I definitely don't believe in the trinity and I'm not a Trinitarian" if people ask me I can now say exactually (sic) what it is".

Having given me the impression that he was now going to report accurately what I'd said, you can imagine how surprised I was to learn that the next day he wrote to another Queensland ecclesia (Pine Rivers) "On behalf of the arranging Brethren of NorthOaks Ecclesia" with this comment: "We believe that he [Stephen Cook] probably will fellowship those who believe in the Trinity". Although he'd sent me four emails over the previous two days he never once asked whether I would or would not "fellowship with those who believe in the Trinity", and didn't ask me even a single question about who I would or would not fellowship. What he thinks I'd "probably" do is pure speculation. And even though he thanked me "for clearing up the Trinity problem" it's clear that he still had a problem - but the problem now was that I hadn't given him the answer he was looking for!

The simple fact that he speculates about what I'd "probably" do (even though he didn't ask me when he had the opportunity) rather than reporting what I'd said (even though he said he would report "exactly" what I'd said), indicates to me that he wasn't really interested in the truth, just in getting some 'evidence' he could use against me.

The reason why North Oaks wrote to Pine Rivers ecclesia, apparently, was to object to some of their members facilitating an event where I was to be one of the speakers. Incidentally, this event was a meeting of non-trinitarians where I spoke against the trinity! And now they are actively lobbying the other Queensland ecclesias to have Pine Rivers ecclesia ostracised because some of their members invited me to speak at the gathering. I don't know if they've stopped telling the lie about me being a trinitarian, but today I learned that they've invented (or are actively passing on) at least two more lies about me!

These truly are worrying times for Australian Christadelphians. My advice to anyone who may have been approached or lobbied by North Oaks ecclesia in an effort to ostracise Pine Rivers ecclesia is to think carefully and prayerfully about what you are being asked to do, and to ask yourself if you can trust any information coming from an ecclesia with a divisive and disruptive agenda.