There are hosts of good reasons for writing anonymously, and many bad ones as well. Some may be surprised to discover that C.S. Lewis asked if he could write The Problem of Pain anonymously. He asked this because he would “make statements of such apparent fortitude that they would be ridiculous if anyone knew who made them.” On the other hand, the World Wide Web is riddled with a myriad of anonymous posts which has caused the internet to be a seething cauldron of hate speech. Anonymity has its place and there are great reasons to be anonymous. Simultaneously, there can be harmful implications when people aren’t held accountable for their words.
One of the things I so miss about the seminary community is the public wrestlings that I had there. No, I don’t mean those late nights when we’d clear off the Student Center floor and reenact the latest episode of WWE. What I mean is the grappling with issues and questions: What about gay marriage and the Scriptures? What about recreational marijuana and the Scriptures? What about science and the Scriptures? I miss the unbridled learning arena where no question was out of bounds or taboo. It was necessary for my growth. I still wrestle, not in the safe environment of the seminary, but in the safety of my office or my home. But I miss the community’s voice speaking into these issues.
Many, like me, feel that Calvin Seminary is a special place, like Narnia, where we dared to question what was possible, even what was proper. But I acknowledge that not everyone has felt that sense of safety in the seminary community. I learned early-on that biases and prejudices are rarely perceived in one’s own-self, especially by those who are in the dominant class. I, a middle-class, Caucasian, married, handsome, heterosexual male, could explore freely and with confidence. It is hard for me to imagine how my demographics helped to produce the confidence to explore without fear. I know I will never understand unless I listen and learn from others not like me. Moreover, in order to listen to them, I need to give them a chance to speak without being harmed. I need to give them a safe space. That is where I believe an anonymous space is beneficial.
Now, I do not know if the “harm” which would be done is actual or perceived. What I mean is this: some fear to speak openly with their name attached to their concern or critique because it may impact ordination, or it may impact grades, or friendships, or reputations. I am not sure if it would, in fact, impact them! However, if the fear that it would is enough to keep them from speaking, then it is worth allowing the dialogue to take place anonymously.
I do know this: I am proud of Calvin Seminary. It is a place of learning, growing, and exploration. It’s not a perfect place, but in my experience, I have seen those who work there try their very best to create an atmosphere of fairness and love. In my experience, there is nothing to fear. I also know that Calvin Seminary is full of bright students who both love Christ and are concerned about justice. They seek to be fair, mature, and do their very best to honor God with their whole selves. In my experience, the institution has nothing to fear by allowing them to publish anonymously.
Students may be worried about their reputations. That is a legitimate concern, and it is justified. We must also remember that Calvin Seminary also has a reputation. What is written about the seminary directly impacts its public reputation. Therefore, caution should be used. Let me modify what Bonhoeffer said: “Christ has not called us into the seminary so that we become its accusers before God and man.” Let love be our guide.
The Pauline rule of thumb applies here, as in all areas of life. Whatever you decide to do, whether publishing anonymously or publishing publically, do all things for the glory of God. That means we do not publish with an ax to grind, or to malign, or to harm, but because we love God and want to glorify him in all that we say and do. ∞
Brian Tarpy is a Calvin Seminary alumni (M.Div. ’16), former Student Senate President, and Senior Pastor of Stephenville CRC in Stephenville, Texas.