Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I Had to Ask: Does This Sharpen Me?

Dear Guests of SI-ITIS:
Last week I posted two articles in regard to Sharper Iron. The first was posted at my this blog blog. The article was composed by Ps. Brian Ernsberger who recently quit SI and explained his departure. Please see, SI’s Deplorable Moderator Actions Run Off Another for details. The second article I posted was a response to Aaron Blumer’s article (9/2) A Few Answers to SI Critics. An article in which he complains about long time, wide spread legitimate criticism of SI. You may read SI Sizzles In & Over the Iron Skillet for a complete reaction to Blumer’s complaints. Today, Aaron is hearing from another former, long time member of SI who shares his experience with SI. An experience, which typifies what is commonplace at SI and why so many have quit SI or would never join in the first place. Let’s now consider why one would ask: Does This Sharpen Me?

I’ve recently come to a decision. It wasn’t earth shattering, and quite honestly, the effect of my decision will likely go unnoticed by the very individuals that necessitated it. In May 2005, I joined the self-identified, fundamentalist website, Sharper Iron. Since that time I posted literally hundreds of times on a variety of topics, some serious and others not. My purpose in joining was to reacquaint myself with some of the current issues in fundamentalism as I approached my ordination some twelve years removed from my graduate work. In those early days, I found much to praise at Sharper Iron. I learned a lot. I solidified a number of positions as I observed, and occasionally partook in, the discussions. I entered the fray decidedly separated in my personal life, as well as, ecclesiastically. I am also convinced of the superiority of the traditional family of Greek texts, and I am a non-Calvinist.

While I rarely dealt with threads on Calvinism or the text issue, I derived much personal edification from the interactions of men like Scott and Christian Markle, Jon Gleason, Lou Martuneac, John R. Himes, and others. These men represented a brand of fundamentalism with which I identify. It is a thoughtful, church-centered fundamentalism, but not one that easily tolerates error or compromise. It is also a loving fundamentalism, although you would never know that by listening to its detractors. (I have more than a few anecdotal stories to prove my point here, however). Unfortunately, those men, and effectively this whole segment of fundamentalism, are gone from the threads and pages at Sharper Iron.

Increasingly, the threads are filled with intimations of “serious doctrinal error” hurled toward fellow fundamentalists, while the compromise and errors of Conservative Evangelical personalities are glossed over as praise is lavished on their ministries, as in a recent series of articles by Dr. Kevin Bauder.

When a concerned member recently posted a thoughtful response to one of Dr. Bauder’s articles, his response A Letter from Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters to Kevin Bauder was sharply criticized by SI moderators (Rogier, JayC and Linscott) and ultimately removed by Aaron Blumer. A few days later, an SI Filing/thread was posted by Sharper Iron leadership (Jim Peet, Aaron Blumer) introducing and eagerly promoting a website that was nothing more than a vicious personal attack on Lou Martuneac.

Just last week an SI filing referencing a blog post by Dave Doran provided an illustration of some of the concerns I am articulating in this article. It was one of the clearest examples in a long line of the double standards that exist at Sharper Iron. Doran hurled an ad hominem attack at an unnamed fundamentalist(s) using the phrase “pathetic and disingenuous” to describe those who opposed or were relieved the merger of Faith and Central had not gone through. When one commenter called SI to the carpet over this filing he was firmly rebuked. It appears there is a lot of “respecting of persons” going on over there, and now I suspected and have confirmed yet another conservative fundamentalist has left the SI ranks.

If homogeneity was their goal at SI, they have very nearly accomplished it.

It seems serious concerns brought in from the “right end” of the fundamentalist spectrum are scrutinized far more closely at SI than the attacks thrown back the other way. I find that disheartening at best. My alma mater has been a regular source of ridicule, yet such ridicule is rarely hurled at Conservative Evangelical institutions. It smacks of a bias away from the southern brand of fundamentalists and away, it seems, from me.

I’ve watched over the years as non-Calvinists, traditional text men, and those who hold to a certain standard of personal separation were repeatedly shouted down by SI moderators and other members. Of course, a vigorous debate is desirable in many cases; however, on the internet, such debates often become a numerical dog-pile where reasoned arguments carry less weight than the shear number of responses. The result is that the admittedly minority viewpoints eventually “wore out” and stopped posting.

Today SI is a place where Calvinism is the settled opinion of the overwhelming majority of posters. The traditional text family is seen as inferior and those who hold to it are routinely labeled obscurantist or ignorant. Personal separatism to a degree held by our parents and grandparents is regularly declared legalism and almost anything now appears acceptable under an understanding of Romans 14 that puts the perceived rights of the “strong” over concern for the weak.

I find that SI is not a place that welcomes my viewpoint, nor is it a place that holds the Conservative Evangelical camp to the same standard it holds my “camp.” 

 Well, I, for one, am tired. The old caricature of the angry, fightin’ fundy, so repudiated by the SI majority is quickly becoming the new face of that very site (moderators and remaining membership), only in reverse. It’s a strange, almost surreal thing to realize that you’ve become the very thing you’ve opposed. Unfortunately, I am almost sure the SI leadership does not even recognize the shift.

I am sure there will be those who believe my assessment is wrong, but I know that I am not alone in this opinion. When a number of different individuals with no connection to one another outside of this website bring the same concerns to light, it should raise the concerns of the site leadership. As for me, I wish them no ill, but I had to ask, “Does this sharpen me?” So, I’ve chosen to leave Sharper Iron for good. As I said, in the beginning, I doubt they even noticed.

(Disclaimer: I have submitted this article anonymously. I am obligated to do so by my current ministry situation.)

Site Publisher’s Addendum:
The author is one of many in a long line who have quit SI because of its obvious bias. Many of these raised and tried to resolve genuine concerns with SI’s leadership prior to departing, but without success. Aaron Blumer claims he wants to hear from critics, but when wide spread legitimate concerns with SI were posted in his (9/2) thread by a fundamentalist pastor (Marc Monte) SI moderators immediately set upon him. Blumer responded with, “It’s not like everybody has to like SI. If a few dozen or a few hundred don’t see much value in it (or worse yet, think it’s toxic) that’s OK. They have no obligation to even care about what happens here. But if they do, the contact form is there. I have nothing more to say than that…. And we’ve given folks lots of opportunities to communicate. Until they do, the whole matter is moot. I’m not going to chase ghosts

That reaction typified why the pseudo-fundamentalist SI has hemorrhaged so many members over the last several years. Typifies why SI will never be able to win back the departed. Typifies why SI is not a welcome place for fundamentalist preachers like Marc Monte, Brian Ernsberger and the author of this article. SI is a place whose leadership eagerly welcomes those who wish to heap lavish praise on the star personalities of the so-called “conservative” evangelicals, welcomes those who will tolerate and excuse the aberrant theology and ecumenism of conservative evangelicals, welcomes those who castigate fundamentalism with the broad brush and line up against any who dare to offer legitimate criticism of conservative evangelicalism, defend fundamentalism or question SI’s obvious bias.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

SI Sizzles In & Over the Iron Skillet

Aaron Blumer, site publisher of the pseudo- fundamentalist Sharper Iron (SI) has reacted to articles at my obscure blog SI: In the Iron Skillet and criticism of SI various threads at this blog. See this commentary, and this commentary and for example consider the following edited excerpt,
Last night a preacher sent me an e-mail advising me of this recent quote at SI, from one of its leadership, “SI is not trying to redefine Fundamentalism or doctrine.” Is he kidding or incredibly na├»ve? Since its inception SI has been trying to castigate and redefine Fundamentalism (with Kevin Bauder taking SI’s lead in these efforts) and furthermore make fundamentalism compatible and tasteful for the evangelicals whom SI heaps lavish praise on. One guest at my blog asked, “Even if SI gang tackles certain people, aren’t they just acting like so many have in the past?” SI moderators have historically and certainly do gang tackle participants with whom they have issues. The fiasco with Dwight Smith over the “Doc” Clearwaters Letter to Kevin Bauder being among the most recent. From 2009 SI moderators and Blumer piling on John Himes who tried to address Kevin Bauder’s unprovoked attacks on John R. Rice and Bob Jones, Jr. So, YES they act like so many in the past the very attitudes they denounce. The problem is: SI does not even realize that they (moderators and some vocal members) have become the very thing they decry and detest from Fundamentalism’s past.
Aaron Blumer has reacted to the legitimate criticism coming from various sources to the obvious bias and other verifiable issues with SI. Not unexpectedly he does not disclose vital facts that would be problematic to his team and site. Nevertheless, I have two articles, among many more, that detail with archived material from SI, verifying legitimate criticism that Aaron understandably does not want to fully disclose to what is left of SI’s membership and advertisers. I encourage you to, among other examples, carefully read,

Blowing the Whistle on the SI “Referees”

SI May Fit the Description of Pseudo- Fundamentalist

In 2009 Aaron Blumer misrepresented the membership numbers to his advertisers when he opened SI 3.0. Aaron was claiming “4,000 members, with several hundred active,” that he knew he did not have and could not produce in June 2009. Only after I contacted him, drove home the point that he was misrepresenting the true membership count did he reluctantly revise his claims to a more accurate number. Blumer, in his words, “updated the page with more precise wording,” after I explained to him that his misrepresentation of the membership count is commonly known as “cooking the books.” His update was not “more precise wording,” it was more honest wording.

You will also note that Aaron did describe SI as site, “with 4,000 members who identify with conservative evangelicalism of the fundamentalist variety.” The “little switcheroo misquote” obviously is his own and I am happy to be able to refresh his memory of how he did describe SI. That was verbatim how he defined SI, but again responded to me and changed the wording when I pointed out to him that the statement was accurate and verified who and what SI is for, which is conservative evangelicalism.

Incidentally, in his complaint piece he states, “‘3.0’ does not have members and never will.” Well, I'm happy to refresh his memory again. The quote above about his “4,000 members,” those are his words that he posted at the current SI 3.0! Plus, in the comment threads under the name of every participant is an icon. Go to SI and hold your cursor over any of those check mark icons and you will see this word appear, “MEMBER.” Furthermore, when a member quits SI, his icon (half moon) is changed to “former member.” Aaron, SI 2.0 and 3.0 have always had “members!”

I would encourage the few current or potential advertisers who feel strongly about Fundamentalism to consider if SI is the best place to invest the resources God has entrusted to you. SI is a site that frequently allows for, promotes, and its leadership happily joins in on, the redefining, castigation and besmirchment of fundamentalism. SI, furthermore, heaps lavish praise on the so-called “conservative” evangelicals and can barely tolerate legitimate criticism of it’s star personalities or fellowships. Is the kind of site that deserves to be sustained with financial support from fundamentalist institutions?

To any fundamentalists who still has their membership with or participates at SI: I understand that you feel you may be posting for the lurkers, posting to represent what the best of fundamentalism has to offer. That is very noble and primarily why myself and others used to participate at SI putting up with the moderator’s bias, shrill complaints and gang-tackling. There comes a time, however, when you have to consider whether or not you can post at a site that does not cherish the fundamentalism you do and instead of building up fundamentalism redefines and besmirches it with impunity. Pastor Brian Ernsberger finally had enough of SI and publicly quit last week. See, SI’s Deplorable Moderator Actions Run Off Another for details.

If it were not for a few of you left at SI their discussion threads would nearly grind to a halt. Presently if it were not for Blumer and a few of his moderators staying very active in the threads, SI’s threads would surely grind to a halt. So, to those of you who have considered, but not yet quit SI: Is commenting there, keeping its threads active the best use of your time; is that the best way to redeem the time?

Here is the real irony in Blumer’s current complaint piece about the legitimate criticism of SI. In virtually every issue I’ve raised with Aaron, some of which he references in his complaint piece, his reaction to my addressing him resulted in his making changes to the site or its descriptions.

FWIW, twice I offered to buy SI from Aaron. Once when he was trying to raise operating funds in 2009, the first offer was right after I quit SI in June 2009. I offered to give him everything he paid Jason Janz for it. My offer was declined. Too bad, I had a solid business plan for SI.

Incidentally, on Tuesday, September 7th, there will be a new article appearing at my primary blog In Defense of the Gospel. The article is from another pastor who recently quit SI and he will detail, with examples, why he quietly left. They are irrefutable examples of the bias and gamesmanship that is routine at SI and has been from its inception.

If there are any readers who have also quit SI and would like to share your experience you may e-mail your story to me at indefense06@gmail.com. Or if it is brief you may post it in this thread.

Kind regards,