As fallible humans we all sometimes succumb to haste, emotion, and the influence of others, especially the media, whose sole occupation lies in seeking to get us to believe its narratives and to think and act along its preferred lines. Add in the rigors and tedium of pastoral and publishing work and mistakes are apt to happen sometimes, even large ones. In such cases a little public or private contradiction that seeks to set one right is justified, provided it is moved by charity and expressed courteously.
On April 24th, byFaith, the official magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), published an article titled “Prayer and Work in the Face of Violence,” in which it was claimed that “gun violence” is “the leading cause of death among children in this nation.” I published an article showing that was false on the basis of mortality statistics provided by the CDC (available here). Others also took umbrage to the April 24th article, and I dispatched a personal message to byFaith requesting a removal of the article and a full retraction. That has not occurred, and as of May 24th the article is still available at byFaith, unamended and unaccompanied by any editorial clarifications.
Mistaken claims are rather common in the world of the published word. The careful observer will note, for instance, that I misnamed David Cassidy’s church in the first sentence of my first Aquila Report article, accidentally referring to it as Spanish River Presbyterian rather than Spanish River Church due to an editing error. Are Dominic Aquila and I to then be regarded as wholly unreliable in our claims? Hardly. But the answer in all such cases is to correct the mistake when it is brought to one’s attention and to be more careful in future, hence why I have mentioned my fault here and why I have checked with a former professional proofreader to ensure my pronoun usage is correct in the phrase above about the proprietor of this site and me. (And in fairness, I reversed them the first time around.)
It is a rather more serious fault, however, to make a claim as large and consequential as that gun violence is the leading cause of death of children in this nation when it is easily verified that it is not. And it is significant as well that this claim seems to be that of a certain political faction in our nation, as evidenced by the fact that I passed by a waiting room the other day and found a pair of activists making the claim verbatim on a major news outlet. The PCA’s magazine should not be parroting the false claims of the political left. Nor should it be repeating the claims of any other political faction, unless they involve questions in which the church has a vital interest or unambiguous questions of public morality, such as matters of liberty of conscience, the free exercise of our faith, abortion, euthanasia, and the like; and even in those questions I think the church’s involvement should be as an independent witness of right and wrong, and that she should never allow herself to become a de facto organ of any political party.
But even granting that it is a more serious offense, we need not assume the worst as to its reasons. As fallible humans we all sometimes succumb to haste, emotion, and the influence of others, especially the media, whose sole occupation lies in seeking to get us to believe its narratives and to think and act along its preferred lines. Add in the rigors and tedium of pastoral and publishing work and mistakes are apt to happen sometimes, even large ones. In such cases a little public or private contradiction that seeks to set one right is justified, provided it is moved by charity and expressed courteously.
What I am suggesting, then, is that we provide a collective remonstrance against byFaith’s error of fact. If you are reading this and are a member of the PCA I ask you, dear reader, to take a moment to drop byFaith a line here or via email at [email protected], and to tell them that you are disappointed that the public news outlet of our church has done poorly by its departure from its proper mission, and that it needs to retract its errors by removing the source of offense in question and offering a public acknowledgment and correction of its published errors of fact. The reason I suggest this is simple: byFaith is an official agency of the PCA, paid for by her funds and subordinate to her government. Our magazine should not be publishing false claims which venture into the territory of the purely political and have no direct relation to the church or her duties of disciple making.
I believe, moreover, that any PCA member should be able to do this in good conscience, regardless of his or her beliefs about criminal justice policy. For while we may differ as to our beliefs about civil or political questions, yet the proper focus of the church is a matter which we should all respect, and upon which we should all insist. Christ’s “kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36), and when the people of Israel were about to make him king he withdrew from them (Jn. 6:15), lest their mistaken popular enthusiasm should distract from his true mission of redeeming his elect. The PCA (including her agencies like byFaith), being a manifestation of Christ’s body, the church, ought to take heed and beware lest in her concern with the things of this life she diverts people’s attention from things above (Col. 3:1-2; comp. Matt. 16:23).
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Five Forks (Simpsonville), SC. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not of necessity reflect those of his church or its leadership or other members. He welcomes comments at the email address provided with his name.