Monday, February 16, 2009


A couple of weeks back a war of words was fought on the Internet via the blogs about whether anonymous sources should/should not be used to report plans that may/may not be in play, depending on the validity of the source, in dealing with the discussed removal of some seminary faculty members at one of our seminaries who personally hold to a particular theological view not shared by the leaders of that seminary.

The bearer of the information provided by that anon source was praised and applauded by some but also criticized and castigated beyond belief by others. Those praising him did so based on a belief that things which are done unjustly and then hidden by leaders need to be brought to light and his track record was of a person willing to pay the price to do so and was the honorable thing to do.

Those who criticized him did so saying the use of anon sources was both unreasonable and dishonorable. [Both words were used in comments.] Unreasonable because to ask people to accept the validity of such remarks based on an unnamed source was flat out wrong and didn't meet the "reasonable" expectation test. Dishonorable because to say anything without fully revealing sources shows a "lack of integrity." Was it either? I didn't know. The originating messenger had come to his conclusion but I like to come to my own. So I investigated.

Two things are, and always have been, foundational to my way of thinking. One is that the end NEVER justifies the means. So if the means to achieving an end are illegitimate or unscriptural then the end can never justify their use. The second is that if the scripture forbids something it is not to be done. Period. If the scripture commands something it is to be done. Period. But where the scripture is SILENT everyone is free in the Lord to find what He desires done. Armed with those two foundational concepts I began a CSI style journey for the truth about anon sources being used.

Knowing the scriptures could settle it for me I investigated the biblical reference books I had for instruction on "anonymous sources and their use in reporting information" that could be found in the text of scripture. [There was none except it takes two when the negative information is concerning an elder.] In fact I found that some of the books of the bible itself are anonymous as to authorship. Hebrews comes to mind.

I DID find that the scriptures speak to integrity and character issues galore and will not give a pass for lying, deceitfulness, or dishonesty in motivations. It also speaks to how we are to respond if we disagree with brothers about something or are offended by what a brother/sister, in the Lord, does. With this in mind I hurried off to the Internet for clues to solve the crime. [Or lack thereof whichever the case might be.]

Some sources on the Internet said anon sources of critical information must never be used. They say it is never justified. Look at how it has been abused. [They then quoted some news man who made up a story pretending an anon source had given the information but was then found out and fired.] Who will keep that from happening again? they ask. So...NO anon sources..EVER...for any reason.

Others say anon sources must be used, albeit cautiously, otherwise legitimate ends such as Watergate and My Lai would never make the light of day. The cautious spirit is because anonymity is to never be a cover for revenge or getting even. Thus the motivation for anonymity is extremely important. [Think 'deep throat.'] This is the reason IMB participants can tell stories or report facts using anon sources from the field.

My final conclusion about anon sources is that they are sometimes legitimate and are to be used with caution but are not automatically a no-no. But that also means that sometimes they are not legitimate. A Professor of Journalism said to his class one day something on the order of it would need to be a case by case decision and should never be done without a great deal of soul searching. His conclusion was that the thing coming to light would need to warrant such anonymity. definitive answer could I find. It would probably depend on what one knows of the issue being addressed and what one knows of the character of the messenger.

Since I know the character of the messenger who originally presented the information mentioned at the beginning and the depth of the issue being addressed, [even the source] I have settled my wondering about it all. For the sake of full disclosure I need to say I do have an on-going connection to the bearer of the original story in which an anon source was used. But I'm totally objective as any good CSI guy would be. :)

But what I really was struck by was what I've come to see about saying someone is "unreasonable" to think of doing something someone thinks is wrong and "dishonorable" if they choose to do said thing anyway. Oh really? It may be that a fresh look at "reason" and "honor" is needed. Next time we'll take that look.

Paul B.


Bob Cleveland said...


It just seems to me that those who agree with whatever the anonymous sources say, will "amen" it, while those on the other side will attack the anonymity. That seems to be the way us humans react.

Adapting the old lawyer mantra ... If scripture is on your side, deal with scripture. If the facts are on your side, deal with facts. If neither, attack your opponent.

Paul Burleson said...


Your second paragraph says it all.

Lin said...

Funny how this works with news. We are always hearing, 'high level sources say' news reports and think nothing of it.