Blog & Mablog: “An Olive Branch for Rod Dreher”

Blog and Mablog | October 5, 2015

An Olive Branch for Rod Dreher

Scripture has something to say about the unnecessary perpetuation of strife.

“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: So where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth” (Prov. 26:20).

So there are two ways to deal with falsehoods that are burning off hundreds of acres. The text says you have to deal with the talebearer. Sometimes this means answering him, sometimes it means you don’t. Which you choose to do varies, according to the circumstances. Sometimes answering the challenges makes it worse and other times refusing to do so makes it worse. Sometimes you answer and sometimes you don’t (Prov. 26:4–5). Sometimes you fight forest fires with water, and sometimes with backfires.

Ah, well. I will do my best. Don’t feed it by answering too much, and don’t feed it by wishing it would go away by itself. That said, I believe that Rod Dreher has been unfortunately gamed by the talebearers, and so I want to answer his latest briefly, but with the goal of offering him an olive branch.

Olive Branch

And with olives on it.

Rod thinks that I am being kind of self-absorbed in all this, somehow thinking that it is all about me. But when one has sharp jagged objects being thrown at one’s head for a month running, one can sometimes get that impression. At least I think they were thrown at my head. Most of them went sailing on by. Maybe everybody is mad at the wall behind me.

When a soft-spoken pastor in north Idaho gets tweeted at by President Reagan’s son and Billy Graham’s grandson, he can start to get delusions of grandeur. Please bear with me. But that all comes with the territory. If you can’t stand the tweet, get out of the bitchen.

But Rod also tellingly says this: “I don’t want to get dragged into an extremely bitter fight that has way, way more layers than I am capable of understanding from this far away.” Exactly. And all those layers were entirely present before his first post, which he published the same day he first heard of it. He really should have thought of that before he jumped into the controversy, which has far more complicated snarls than he is capable of understanding from that far away. That is exactly the entire problem here. Why is Rod Dreher in this fight at all? There is a proverb for everything. “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, Is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (Prov. 26:17).

“As a general rule, I will only comment on what information is publicly available and that I judge reliable, or what Pastor Wilson himself says.”

Right. But the judgments of what is reliable are being made by someone who himself confesses that he only knows a fraction of what has gone on here. How reliable are an utter outsider’s judgments of reliability? And how reliable are his determinations when on the basis of them he published the same day he heard about it? How many minutes of due diligence were spent on this? Quagmires are not something you do on the side.

A case in point would be the question of excommunication. Rod didn’t answer my question about excommunication because he said that he didn’t understand our take on it.

“Yes, he should have refused to perform the wedding. I don’t even see that this is a close call. About excommunication, who knows? I don’t know how his church handles such matters, and anyway, it’s a secondary issue. It is clear to me that a morally responsible pastor cannot give the church’s blessing to such a union.”

But another thing that he doesn’t understand is how, in our covenantal circles, church membership and marriage vows intersect. If someone in my congregation divorced his wife unbiblically in order to marry another, I cannot simply wash my hands of it by insisting that he marry his mistress in a civil ceremony. If he marries his mistress in any ceremony, he is going to be excommunicated. And if someone in my congregation decides to marry in challenging circumstances, as the Sitlers certainly did, and it is a marriage not scripturally prohibited, then part of my pastoral duty is to stay as close as I can to provide whatever help I can. This help would come in the form of hard-headed counsel and accountability, which the gawking world of the Internet is not privy to. That counsel may or may not recommend the marriage, may or may not recommend children, and so on. In this instance, none of the critics have any idea of the content of my counsel to the Sitlers. They do know that I conducted the ceremony, but have no concept of the theology under-girding that, or the counsel and pastoral care that accompanied it.

So despite the disagreements, here is the olive branch. Dreher wonders why I am puzzled by the fact that he has read my defense and continues to believe that I ought not to have conducted the ceremony. But that doesn’t puzzle me at all. I understand fully why a critic like Dreher wouldn’t agree with it. I have friends that don’t agree with me on this. Sometimes, when surrounded by festive accusations, I could almost wish that I didn’t agree with it. But I really do believe this to be right. My problem is not that he differs, but that he has, from the beginning, on the basis of just a fraction of the available information, treated this strong disagreement as a scandal. But I did what I did in the broad light of day, in a church service, in line with a local judge and with Steven’s secular treatment professionals. That doesn’t make me right. Of course not. But a pariah?

So suppose Rod were simply to say that he continues to differ strongly with what I did in marrying Sitler, and he would never do that kind of thing himself, but that he judged too hastily in saying that this was scandalous and “insane.” I would be happy with that level of disagreement, would shake hands with Rod, and would do my best to buy the beer.