3 Questions to Ask Before Responding to a Controversy

photo credit: Wolfhowl via photopin cc

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? Yes, but the better question is if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, who cares? If you found out a tree fell would you go tell others? Would you blog or tweet about it? Probably not.

And that?s precisely how we ought to treat many ?controversies?. A controversy is only controversial if people talk about it. If we let it lie there like the tree in the forest it?s just something dumb that was said or done and then it goes away. And far fewer people get hurt in the process too.

So many mistakes get blown into controversies by people?s responses to them. Before we decide to write, post, or speak a public rejoinder here are three questions to consider.

1.??? Am I really the one to respond to this?

What gives me reason to think that I should be the one raking Miley Cyrus over the coals or blasting a bunch of old white guys for hating rap? Should someone? Maybe, but why me? Just having a strong opinion on the issue isn?t enough. There better be a doggone good reason to enter into the fray.

2.??? Do I have something to say that others are not already saying?

Most public responses are restatements of something that?s already been said. If you have nothing fresh to offer, please don?t offer it. All you?re doing is piling on and brining in new readers or hearers who otherwise could innocently go about their business. Pay attentions to who is saying what so that you aren?t just another loud mouth pushing a controversy to new lows.

3.??? Is my response going to help solve or help escalate?

Don?t fool yourself into thinking your contribution will be the last nail in the coffin. Seriously consider whether you will be stirring up or settling down, hurting or healing. Will you be leading people further into the dispute or leading them to freedom from it?

Ego makes these questions nearly impossible to answer for ourselves, so we must have honest (and blunt) sounding boards. We need people to save us from our own delusions. Find these people and listen to them.

So often, more damage is done through spreading controversy than through ignoring it. I can already see hackles rising on many of you. ?But we must respond with CONVICTION! We can?t let so-and-so- get away with whatever!? And to a point you?re right. Some actions must not be ignored. Ask yourself this before responding: Was it malicious, unjust, prominent, authoritative, or personally connected to me? If it is some combination of these it might deserve your ire. But even then, it?s often better to let the tree fall, let the echoes die away, and let it decay where it lies.

photo credit:?Wolfhowl?via?photopin?cc

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Barnabas Piper

I am married to Lesley and we have two daughters, Grace and Dianne. Being a dad and having a full time job means I don't really have time for hobbies, but what time I do have is spent reading, writing, or watching sports. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.


  1. Jenn Grover says

    used to totally buy into this line of thinking, and as a stand-alone topic it
    can be helpful. However, for many that have been conditioned to “leave the
    thinking to the experts”, this is a dangerous post that discourages them
    from actively considering, praying, and dialoguing on important issues.
    Since you do not cite Scripture, I will assume that this is mostly your
    preferences, but when preferences like this are put forth on a blog that
    discusses practical Christianity, preferences easily grow into legalism. From
    my experience, Christians have grown far too comfortable “leaving the
    thinking to the experts” and not nearly as participatory as the
    Bereans. I am sure your intent was not to
    endorse a culture of controlling leaders, but I fear these types of preferences
    can lead to exactly that type of culture. This line of thinking is the next door neighbor to a view of disagreement as a lack of unity or a lack of appropriate honoring of leaders.

  2. Trace Batton says

    I enjoyed this article was gently convicted and reminded about my own propensity to jump into the fray in regards to controversies and conflicts. Having said that I want to stress that it is not sinful or imprudent to address controversies and conflicts. The Bible is chock full of verses and instruction about how to do these very things. In my own life, however, I don’t always think (and more importantly PRAY) before I speak or write when I’m addressing controversies and conflicts. I also don’t believe an intelligent person has to have a Bible study or prayer time every time he or she addresses a controversy or conflict but praying and asking God for wisdom is NEVER a bad thing. I also agree with Jenn Grover’s excellent points regarding the culture of cover-up and/or silence in some churches/denominations. I read an excellent article by Dr. Carl R. Trueman (Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary) at First Things entitled, “Areopagitica” I’ve copied and pasted a paragraph that I found particularly well-written and thought-provoking. He writes: “That is why the health of the Christian subcultures in our society depends to an important extent upon the freedom of the Christian press; and that in turn depends upon having plenty of public voices and different groups presenting their different perspectives without the threat of being silenced by those with power and money. I need voices that criticize me and so does everyone else who operates in the public Christian sphere. Of course, I do not like being criticized; but it is necessary for the health of public life that it be so. It would be a disaster for us all if one or two organizations or individuals came to wield such influence that dissenting voices were eliminated.” -C. Trueman. He ends the article with one of my favorite quotes from John Milton regarding truth: ?Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” Collin Garbarino (Asst. Professor of History at Houston Baptist University) says this, “When faced with a crisis, Christians batten down the hatches, circle the wagons, and stick their heads in the sand. Local churches and national denominations hide from scrutiny. Christian colleges avoid commenting on theological, financial, or ethical problems until too late. Now we can add the Christian publishing industry to our list of Christian institutions that want to ignore crises. We need more transparency in our Christian institutions. If we really have truth and light on our side, why do our institutions hide so much? Christians ought to be the most talkative and forthcoming with information. If we are doing things right, then we need to let the world see our witness to truth. If we?re doing things wrong, then we need to openly confess our sin as a witness to truth. Either way, we need transparency.” Let’s hear it for truth and transparency.

  3. Sam Smith says

    We all want to think we have the perfect answer, and that our arguments will win the day. As a pastoral worker, I know that usually the best I have to say doesn’t win the day. There are two verses in Proverbs that perfectly sum up this argument, made even stronger in that they appear one after the other. Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him himself.” And Proverbs 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
    Most of the time, arguments on the internet are fought by people that just want to argue. There is no real engagement with one another as there is no relationship. And the two verses above highlight the risk. You may be able to sway the argument. But you may just be making yourself no better than the other. You may be acting the fool and achieving nothing.
    I would suggest that unless the ‘controversy’ is actually with people you know (i.e. people that you meet face-to-face on a regular basis) then it isn’t your place to enter into the argument. Keep it real, not ether-webby. Having said which, I will bow out and leave this ‘controversy’ to the friends of Mr Piper :)

  4. Kim says

    Ahhh, no real comment needed, just refreshing contented agreement. :-)


    Tired of Controversy-Induced Pastor’s Wife High Blood Pressure. (I like young people whose thoughts speak wisdom.). “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise, and when he closes his lips he is considered prudent.” Proverbs 17:28,29

  5. Elldee says

    I appreciate how this article differentiates between speaking out thoughtfully and productively on a subject and speaking just to be heard. I’ve been in meetings where there are two main speakers…and everyone else just says the same thing in a slightly different manner. If you don’t have something new, different, and constructive to say, don’t say anything!

  6. Jeff Baxter says

    I appreciate these questions and here are a few more in no particular order:
    1. Does this issue have to do with Free Speech in America?
    2. Do I care about the Biblical stance on Homosexuality?
    3. Do I support Phil Robertson’s remarks in GQ Mag?
    4. Have I prayed about my response before responding?
    5. Is this another example of selective tolerance in America?
    6. What does this say about the direction our country is headed?
    7. If only 3.5% of Americans a LGBT, what does that tell us about A&E’s reaction?
    8. Does my response have to be different or creative or can it be supportive?
    9. Can love come in the form of Truth?
    10. Is there a “right” person to respond to this issue with Duck Dynasty?
    I could list more.
    There is something larger going on here. This is why it is more. Just more food for thought.

  7. Tracy says

    I don’t think a tree makes a sound if nobody is there to hear it! Only sound waves… there would be no ear drum to interpret the waves into sound :-)


  1. […] Three Questions to Ask Before Responding to a Controversy “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound? Yes, but the better question is if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, who cares? If you found out a tree fell would you go tell others? Would you blog or tweet about it? Probably not.” […]

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