shutting down arguments

Online discussion is very predictable. There’s a meme out there about how such discussions go and the odds that Hitler will be mentioned as the discussion lengthens (It’s even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, apparently).

In Christian discussion boards odds are that as soon as someone is losing an argument, one of two strategems will come up:

  1. Have you spoken to X about this? (The Matthew 18 card)
  2. You can’t judge motives

What is the purpose of these strategems?

To shut you up, that’s what. It does get a little tiresome, but I encourage you to either take no notice of those who attempt to use them, or push back against them.

This does not mean that I advocate impolitic speech, or uncharitable communication. However, I think that we must insist that topics be discussed on their merits and refuse to be drawn into a side-tracking rabbit trail by allowing these tactics put us on the defensive.



  1. Hello, Don. I agree wholeheartedly on #1. Matthew 18 is obviously discussing how a local church handles personal offenses, and is not intended to guide how public behaviour is dealt with. There is no indication that Paul personally contacted the man described in I Corinthians 5, nor went with a witness to confront him. He didn’t have to — it wasn’t a personal matter between them.

    As for #2, yes, if it is being used to shut down discussion, that is one thing. But negative speculation about a person’s motives is rarely productive, and is contrary to the love that “believeth all things, hopeth all things.” If we are going to assume anything about motives, we should assume the best that the facts permit, rather than the worst.

    Usually actions can be assessed without regard to the person’s motives. If an action is wrong or unwise, it is wrong or foolish even if the person had good and honourable motives. If the assessment of the action depends entirely on a person’s motives, we probably don’t need to be making public proclamations on it.

    The exception would be when a person publicly states their motives for their actions. But then, of course, no one can say, “You can’t judge motives.” You are judging their public statement.