Of Course Abolition Is Not The Gospel

Tony Miano recently wrote an article titled “Abortion Abolition is Not the Gospel“. As far as that goes, we agree with Miano: abolition is not the Gospel. We have said the same thing ourselves on numerous occasions. We are Gospel-centered, and as we have explained to our critics before, we believe that the work of abolition follows from the Gospel, even though it is not the Gospel itself. However, despite our apparent agreement on this point, Miano nonetheless put in the time and effort to write a nearly 8000-word article to try to demonstrate that somehow, we replace or distort the Gospel with the message of abortion abolition, at least in our open-air preaching.

However, Miano does not explicitly argue that AHA, as a whole, distorts the Gospel, though the title implies as much, and the article is written to leave the reader with that impression. Rather, Miano takes issue with one person within the abolition movement, Toby Harmon. It should be noted that AHA is not an organization, but a grassroots movement comprised of many individuals and local abolitionist societies. Each local abolitionist society is independent and autonomous — no individual abolitionist or abolitionist society “takes orders” from any other individual or organization. As such, even Toby, who is well-known within the AHA movement, is merely an individual abolitionist, who is simply seeking to be faithful in doing the work of abolition. This video is not an “instruction manual” for how every abolitionist is supposed to engage. Nor is it a set of “marching orders” given by the upper echelon of a hierarchical organization. Rather, it is simply an example of an abolitionist doing the work of abolition in a way that made sense in his locality in that particular (and extremely specific) context. Any attempt to make this video something other than this is misleading. As such, even if Miano has valid criticisms of Toby, they begin and end with Toby. If Miano wants to connect Toby’s bad street preaching practices to the broader abolition movement, he needs to demonstrate that abolitionists across the country are “following” Toby in suppressing and distorting the Gospel.

As it is, however, Miano cannot and did not show that there is a trend within the AHA movement to distort the Gospel during open-air preaching. Indeed, Miano cannot even show that there is a trend in Toby Harmon’s own abolitionist activity to distort the Gospel during open-air preaching. Miano is commenting on one five-minute video. Toby has preached open-air on numerous occasions. He has boldly and faithfully proclaimed the Gospel on numerous occasions. A few minutes after Toby preached the very message in question, he got back up again to preach the Gospel (though a police officer told him to step down after only a few sentences).  Indeed, on the very day Miano published his article, Toby spent 45 minutes presenting the Gospel to a high-school student.  So, even if Miano’s criticism of Toby’s 5-minute sermon are valid (and I will show below why they are not), they only apply to one 5-minute video, and are contradicted by the broad pattern of Toby’s life and abolitionist activity.

In any rigorous and professional field of study, any person who tried to argue that a trend exists based upon a single observation would be quickly dismissed. In places where intellectual rigor matters, empirical trends must be established through the analysis of samples that are large enough to represent the population without bias. A sample containing only one observation does not come anywhere close to fulfilling this criterion. In a rigorous field of study, anyone who would try to prove a trend based upon a single observation would be considered either lazy, incompetent, or ignorant of what constitutes a legitimate empirical argument. Yet, when it comes to the analysis of street preaching, Miano seems to think that he is doing the Christian community a service by picking apart a single 5-minute video and then insinuating that his conclusions apply to Toby’s broader abolitionist activity, as well as to (at least parts of) the broader abolitionist movement:

I’m confident that neither Toby Harmon, nor most (if not all) of the people who lead and/or associate with the abortion abolition movement, would ever suggest that the abortion abolition movement is the gospel. However, the implications of some abolitionist preaching, as exemplified in Toby’s video, is that the lines between abolition and the gospel can easily be blurred to the point that the gospel is overshadowed by abortion abolitionism.

Sadly, Miano’s conclusions are not only groundless and unwarranted; they also involve serious slander against a faithful brother in Christ.

The Context of the Video

Contrary to what a reader of Miano’s article might come away thinking, Toby did not stand up outside of the concert with the intention of preaching the Gospel. He actually did start to preach the Gospel a few minutes later, but the video in question recorded a message to professing Christians. This open air message was delivered in the context of a Christian music concert in Oklahoma City, the very buckle of the Bible Belt. Abolitionists from the Abolitionist Society of Oklahoma stood in strategic locations with signs and handouts, with the goal of alerting Christian attendees to the continued practice of child sacrifice occurring in the OKC metro area, and to exhort them to love their unborn neighbors both in word and in deed. After seeing such an outpouring of professing Christians to come and be entertained at a concert, while also having seen such a glaring absence of professing Christians at abortion mills to plead for the lives of the unborn and preach the Gospel, Toby’s spirit was provoked within him to address the crowd regarding the sin of abortion apathy. This is not unlike the way that the apostle Paul’s spirit was provoked within him to address the sin of idolatry in Athens (Ac. 17:16-31).

When Toby stood up to speak, he did not preface his speech with claims to be presenting the Gospel message. He did not advertise his words as providing a way to “get to heaven,” or of making oneself right before God. On the contrary, it is quite clear from the video that Toby is speaking to professing Christians, exhorting them to action consistent with their profession. Miano makes it sound as if Toby were preaching in such a way as to be understood as substituting abortion abolition for the Gospel. It is clear from the video that Toby is doing no such thing. Rather, he is simply calling professing Christians to repent of the sin of abortion apathy, and exhorting them on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

Proclaiming Moral Obligation in the Bible

Redemptive history is full of godly men publicly proclaiming God’s moral obligations to the professing people of God, and calling them to repent of their transgression of those obligations. Every prophet of Israel, from Elijah to Zechariah, son of Berechiah, confronted the professing people of God in their day publicly about their sin, and called them to repentance. There is no Old Testament example of godly men speaking publicly to the sons of Israel, and only preaching a Gospel or salvation message in so doing. On the contrary, whenever godly men are recorded as addressing the sons of Israel, they are recorded as doing so primarily to exhort them to repentance. The reason that God sent prophets to Israel was not primarily to deliver messages of salvation, but rather messages of repentance. Of course, God also directed His prophets to deliver salvation messages as well (such as Is. 49:6-7, 53, 55:1-5, and others), but the primary focus of the prophetic enterprise was the return of Israel to Yahweh. Israel was unfaithful, like an adulterous wife (Hos. 3) and went astray, turning after all manner of idolatry. As such, Yahweh sent prophets to her to bring her back from her sin and spiritual adultery. Repentance, not salvation, was the main purpose and focus of the OT prophetic message. Nowhere in Scripture is it even suggested that this emphasis is somehow out of place.

Coming into the New Testament, John the Baptist came preaching a message of repentance, and administering a baptism of repentance. John, like prophets of the Old Testament, also taught a message of salvation (John 3:36), but his recorded public sermons are overwhelmingly messages of repentance (e.g. Lk. 3:1-17). Yet, we have not the slightest indication from Scripture that John was somehow amiss in this emphasis.  The honor accorded to John in Scripture seems very much to militate against the notion that he conducted his ministry in such a way so as to warrant an 8000-word critique.

When Jesus came into His ministry, He also came preaching a message of repentance. Like John, He also taught a message of salvation (e.g. John 3:14-18), but His recorded public sermons deal much more with repentance from sin than they do with what Miano would likely deem an acceptable “Gospel presentation.” In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), His longest recorded sermon, Jesus delivers a number of moral obligations for the people of God to follow, and exhorts them to obey them. Missing anywhere from that public sermon is a discussion of His impending death and resurrection, substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, etc. On the other hand, He does say that only those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the Gospels, when we see Jesus delivering what we would think of as a Gospel or salvation message (mostly in John), it is usually to an individual or group of individuals, privately. Most of Jesus’ public sermons deal with sin and repentance. I find it highly disconcerting that Miano holds Toby Harmon to a standard that even Jesus Himself would not meet! Will Tony Miano be consistent, and on the basis of one sermon (the Sermon on the Mount), excoriate Jesus for leaving out the Gospel? Will he be consistent and express doubt that the disciples of Christ will get their ministry right, since their Lord seems to be all about preaching a “moralistic” message? Or will Jesus get a special pass? Yet, if we are to imitate Christ, and are being conformed into His image, shouldn’t the way we live our lives look something like the way that Jesus lived His? I highly doubt that Miano will take Jesus to task for the way He conducted His ministry. Yet, in failing to do so, he will reveal his own hypocrisy. For by the same standard that Miano criticizes Toby Harmon for both following the example of Christ and following the commands of Christ (Matt. 28:20 — “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”), he also bound, on pain of hypocrisy, to criticize the Lord Jesus Himself, whose example Harmon follows and whose commands he seeks to obey.

The pattern of prophetic public address continues into the post-ascension New Testament writings. The sermon that Peter preached at Pentecost was primarily a sermon of repentance. Peter spent a quite bit of time explaining to the Jews exactly what they needed to repent of and why, but at the end of the message, Peter calls them to “Repent and be baptized” (Ac. 2:38). Obviously, this will lead to salvation (“the forgiveness of [their] sins”), but main point of the message is that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the Jews were in sin to call for His crucifixion, and that they were in sin for continuing to reject Him as Messiah. Peter calls them out on their specific sin, and calls them to repent, and thus also to be saved. But even as such, the sermon is much more about vindicating Jesus as the Messiah to a crowd of Jews who rejected and crucified Him, than it is about presenting the Gospel for the sake of being morally obligated to evangelize.

Likewise, the sermon of Stephen in Ac. 7 is a sermon of rebuke. Stephen spends a good amount of time grounding his rebuke in redemptive history, but at the end of the sermon, Stephen doesn’t plead with the Sanhedrin to “repent and put your faith in Christ.” He doesn’t deliver a “Gospel presentation.” Rather, he rebukes them for opposing the work of God.

Likewise, the sermon of Paul in Ac. 17 is a sermon of repentance from vain worship of idols to the worship of the true and living God. However, even though Paul mentions the resurrection, there is no record of him mentioning the crucifixion, or justification by faith. Rather, there is just talk of judgment and turning away from sin. Will Miano be consistent and criticize Paul, based upon this one recorded sermon (while ignoring the rest of his public work), for not faithfully preaching the Gospel? Or will he persist in his hypocrisy and maintain that Toby did something wrong?

These Scriptures are adduced not to argue that every public address recorded by a man of God had nothing to do with salvation or the Gospel message. Acts 13 contains a good example of a message given along these lines. However, what these Scriptural examples demonstrate is that public addresses, or sermons, as recorded in Scripture, are much more often about the gross sins of the professing people of God and exhortations to repentance, than they are pure Gospel presentations in the sense that Miano conveys in his article. As such, in order for Miano to condemn Toby for addressing a crowd of mostly professing Christians with matters of rebuke and exhortation to repent from sin, he must also condemn the OT prophets, John the Baptist, Peter, Stephen, Paul, and Jesus Himself for doing the same thing. And inasmuch as he does not do so, he demonstrates his hypocrisy.

The Ethics of Open-Air Preaching

Approaching the issue from a different angle, there is nothing at all in Scripture that suggests that public addresses, or sermons, must always or only contain the Gospel message. Moreover, there is nothing that remotely suggests that this must be the case even the majority of the time. Indeed, the Scriptural examples adduced above suggest that public “Gospel presentations” of the kind Miano has in mind are not as common in the Scriptural pattern as other forms of public address.

However, from reading Miano’s article, one would come away with the impression that open-air preaching should always concern the Gospel message, especially when there is a chance that unbelievers are in attendance. Indeed, he says as much:

To stand before a crowd in which there are likely unsaved people, and then preach a “to do” message without the gospel, is to run the very real risk of causing unsaved people to rush toward moralism and not toward repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ.

However, this is disingenuous. No unbeliever in his right mind would have come away from Toby’s message thinking that it was directed to them. No unbeliever or false professor in his right mind would have taken Toby’s message as a means of saving themselves or getting right with God. Toby’s message is clearly directed to believers, and it clearly concerns only things that genuine followers of Christ can really do — love their unborn neighbors. It seems inescapable that it is a result of bias against Toby and the ideology he espouses to think that an unbeliever would seriously come away from Toby’s message thinking “I’ve got to do good works to be saved”.

Further, is it not the case that every church service, Sunday school class, or Christian conference is very likely a mixed audience of believers and unbelievers? So unless there is a Gospel proclamation every single time that one of these events is held, Miano should also count the presiding preacher or teacher guilty for the same wrongdoings that he alleges Toby to have committed.  But we don’t see him laying down critical articles in those cases. Only in this one.

As such, by laying down the moral obligation that one cannot deliver a public message that concerns rebuke or public exhortation to repentance regarding a specific sin (by placing Toby in the wrong for doing that very thing), Miano engages in sinful legalistic moralism, going beyond (and against) the example and mandates of Scripture to bind the consciences of his readers. Given that Miano accuses us of promoting moralism, the irony is a bit rich, to say the least.

Misinterpreting Jesus?

Miano then goes on to criticize Toby for utilizing the parable of the Good Samaritan:

A mere 85 seconds into his open-air message, Toby tries to explain the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (see Luke 10:25-37). While I am sure Toby had no intention to mislead anyone, mislead the crowd he did. He used the parable to further his cause, while minimizing and almost maligning the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Miano’s first complaint seems to be that unbelievers would find Toby’s message appealing:

To whom in the religious community does Toby’s message appeal the most? Anyone who prefers a social gospel over the gospel of Jesus Christ: Oprah Winfrey, Rob Bell, Brian Maclaren, Tony Campolo, the pope, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, World Vision, many evangelical mission organizations, Christians committed to “friendship evangelism,” and most of the pro-life movement—people and groups who have denied the gospel or see it as being of secondary importance.

And to whom would this kind of message not appeal? Jesus Christ. And why wouldn’t it appeal to the Lord? Jesus never preached a message that put the felt or actual physical needs of a person over the person’s need for salvation. Yes, Jesus did talk about meeting the physical needs of others, and He most certainly personally addressed the physical needs of many through miraculous healings and the provision of food, but not at the expense or the minimization of the gospel. After all, Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

In response to this criticism, consider the following:

1. It should be obvious that the kind of person who would find a message acceptable is no measure of the truth or appropriateness of that message. To assert otherwise is to commit a version of the genetic fallacy. For example, if it were common among professing believers (say, some strains of Fundamentalism) to say that the sun revolves around the Earth, I could preach an open air message to the opposite effect, and exhort them to renew their minds in truth (and not close them in ignorance), and so have a greater impact for Christ on the world around them. Most unbelievers would probably find my message appealing. Oprah Winfrey would probably find that message appealing. And I suspect that Jesus also would not have a problem with it, given as He wants us to grow to maturity in our understanding. To judge a message as bad by the fact that it would appeal to certain kinds of unbelievers is simply wrongheaded. The issue is: is the truth being proclaimed? Is it being proclaimed in the right spirit? Are we communicating what we believe God wants them to hear (that is, doing the will of the Father)? To go beyond these is to engage in legalistic moralism. Mote, meet log.

2. Moreover, it not clear at all that Oprah Winfrey, Rob Bell, etc. would find this message appealing. Many of those individuals are pro-choice, though some may be “personally pro-life”. None of them would likely identify with a message calling for Christians to rise up and abolish human abortion, no compromises, no exceptions. The last time I checked, Oprah Winfrey wasn’t sharing our statuses. The last time I checked, we have not yet been endorsed by World Vision. No Mormons are beating a path to our door to join us in this work. The idea that abolition appeals to worldly people is simply laughable.

3. Even if Toby’s message in this 5-minute video somehow appealed to some worldly people, his message as a whole would not. Miano has either not seen videos of Toby rebuking worldly people of these different stripes for various sins in ways they did not appreciate, or he has willfully ignored them. If Oprah Winfrey invited Toby onto her show, he would hammer home the Gospel there. The idea that Toby’s message appeals to the world is both laughable and slanderous in equal measure. Once again, Miano seems bent on making Toby fit to a Procrustean bed of his own imaginings.

4. Consider if we applied Miano’s criteria to the Bible itself. Roman Catholics love to misinterpret James 2, claiming that it teaches justification by works, in addition to faith. That passage appeals very much to them, the way it was written. James wrote and said other things, of course, but à la Miano, suppose that I wanted to judge James by what he wrote in that one chapter. Even if James believed in justification by faith alone, in the sense that concerned the Reformers, this chapter does not communicate that clearly. His message clearly appeals to moralistic unbelievers who want to be justified by works. As such, it is a disgrace to the free Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  James ought to be ashamed of himself!  Does Miano want to join Luther in calling the book of James a “right strawy epistle”? Or would he prefer to rethink his position and repent of his hypocrisy? For his sake, I hope he chooses the latter.

Miano’s second point of contention with Toby’s use of the parable is as follows:

But Toby didn’t stop there. He went beyond the Lord’s intended meaning of the parable to openly proclaim, “The gospel is not enough.”

Even though he quotes Toby verbatim, Miano completely misses the point of what Toby is saying. Here is what Toby said:

“And if they would have stopped and they would have said, ‘Hey, buddy, let me tell you about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus,’ or if they would have thrown him a $20 bill, that wouldn’t have been enough.”

The key question is: “wouldn’t have been enough for what?” Certainly, Toby would acknowledge that presenting the Gospel message would have been enough for that person to believe and be justified and reconciled to God, if they had not previously heard the Gospel. But, contrary to how Miano would frame Toby’s words, what he is saying is quite different. What Toby is saying is that simply presenting the Gospel is not enough to fulfill our moral duty to God and our neighbor when our neighbor is in need and/or being oppressed. Toby’s obvious meaning was that only proclaiming the Gospel to someone who needs both the Gospel and rescue from imminent physical death is incomplete. He is saying, along with James, that:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  (Jas. 2:14-17)

Likewise, along with John, Toby is saying that:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  (1 Jn. 3:16-18)

Scripture clearly teaches that is not morally sufficient to love in word only; one must also love in deed. Does Miano have a problem with what the Bible teaches? Or is he just interested in slandering a faithful servant of Christ?

Miano is also in error concerning the purpose of the parable. Miano says the following:

Jesus, knowing the lawyer’s heart, just as He knows the heart of every man, presents a parable that pitted the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers against their hatred for people they considered half-breed, idolatrous dogs—the Samaritans. Through the parable, Jesus showed the lawyer that his self-righteous efforts to keep the law were worthless and marred by his sinful mercilessness toward those the lawyer deemed less worthy than he (Luke 10:37).

It has been a common misconception, since Luther, that the New Testament authors were something like proto-Augustinians writing against proto-Pelagian Jews, who were trying to earn their way into heaven. While that may have been true for some Jews, consider how Jesus responds to the religious leaders of His day:  does he condemn them for trying to keep the law as a means of being right with God, instead of exercising faith? Or does He condemn them for justifying themselves in the eyes of men by making much of trivialities (such as tithing and dietary practices) while neglecting the weightier matters of the law? Consider what Jesus said in another lengthy public address, which also did not include a Gospel presentation:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!  (Matt. 23:23-24)

Jesus nowhere condemns the Jews for elevating the law over, above, and in the place of faith. Jesus nowhere condemns them for trying to keep the law.  Rather He condemns them for making a pious show in trivial matters while neglecting the matters of moral duty that are most important to God: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are precisely the duties that Toby exhorted the gathered professing Christians to attend to. Perhaps Miano would like to criticize Jesus here as well, for emphasizing “moralism” and compromising the Gospel when rebuking the Pharisees!

A Confused Ecclesiology?

Miano then continues, claiming that Toby has a “confused ecclesiology.” In the video, Toby said the following:

“Church is not going to a Christian concert, or going within the four walls and meeting with other people who agree with you. Church is about loving your neighbor, hitting the streets with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Church is keeping the two greatest commandments.

“The Bible tells us that the only religion God the Father accepts is this, which is pure and undefiled religion, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and keep one’s self unstained from the world. We have not loved our unborn neighbor. I know because I’m the only one that’s standing outside an abortion clinic in Norman, Oklahoma. How come thousands of people are here, but nobody’s there? That is not what Christianity looks like.

“We are calling Christians to wake up from their apathetic stupor. We’re calling them to wake up from their comfort zone, to get off their hands and to leave the pews, and take to the streets with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“There’s nothing wrong with a Christian concert. I love Christian concerts; nothing wrong with that at all. But there is something wrong when you can get thousands to come to that, but you can get nobody to love their unborn neighbor.”

Miano responds by saying:

Where in the Word of God is Toby’s assertion that the church is not “going within the four walls and meeting with people who agree with you?” Nowhere.

Of course, the obvious question is: where in Scripture is the Church described as such? The church is described as many things — the family of God, the Body of Christ, a royal priesthood, and many others. In none of these descriptions does Toby’s intended sense of “going within the four walls and meeting with people who agree with you” come to mind.

Miano continues:

Church is not about loving your neighbor. Church is not about hitting the streets with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Church is not keeping the two greatest commandments. Loving your neighbor, proclaiming the gospel, and obeying Christ are fruits of salvation. They are not the bricks and mortar of the Church. Jesus Christ is the bricks and mortar! Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone!

Sadly, Toby Harmon and other leaders of AHA are part of such a nomadic enclave, which calls itself Door of Hope Church. The “What to Expect” page on the church’s website will show you, in their own words, their flawed ecclesiology. And it is this flawed ecclesiology that informs Toby’s preaching, as evidenced by what he said about the Church in the video.

Miano has obscured the point Toby is making. Toby is not giving an academic lecture on ecclesiology to seminary students. He is not giving an academic discourse on a particular theory concerning some fine point of theology. He is preaching to a crowd of people who have come to attend a concert. As such, it is quite unfair to parse Toby’s terms and criticize his use of language, as if he had been speaking in an academic setting requiring precise formulaic constructions.

It is obvious to anyone who watches the video with a clear head and an open mind that Toby is using the term “church” in this context as a metonym for the whole Christian life, or for one’s religion in general. It is exceedingly clear that the entire message is about the Christian life, and how it should be lived in love for one’s neighbors who are being oppressed in one’s community. For many people, however, simply attending church services is the sum total of their “Christian life” or religious devotion. As such, using the term as a metonym is particularly relevant when addressing a crowd likely filled with many such people. One can look through any number of systematic theologies, and find definitions of the word “church” that, when substituted into Toby’s address, would make him sound foolish. An imputation of such meaning onto his words, however, would be nothing short of a misrepresentation of what he was communicating to the crowd.

As such, consider the first paragraph in the above quote, and substitute “The Christian Life” for the word “Church” into the first three sentences:

The Christian life is not about loving your neighbor. The Christian life is not about hitting the streets with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not keeping the two greatest commandments.

If he were staying true to Toby’s use of the term in context, this is what Miano would in effect be saying. As Miano would likely not make these claims, however, he should apologize to Toby for misrepresenting what he was clearly communicating to the crowd.  If Miano was actually uncertain as to Toby’s intended meaning, he could have simply asked Toby for clarification, either publicly or privately.

Miano then goes to criticize the ecclesiology of a church called Door of Hope, of which some abolitionists in one specific city are a part. He attempts to connect this ecclesiology to Toby’s statements regarding “Church.” As one who is an active part of said local body of believers, I can confidently say that nothing that Toby said was an expression of our ecclesiology. Rather, the things Toby said are expressions of our theology of the Christian life, which we believe to simply be what Jesus and the Apostles taught about how we should live. Very few discussions have actually taken place publicly about our ecclesiology, and most of what has been said is either a misrepresentation of what we believe, or an eisegesis of long-standing theological traditions into a few choice passages in the Epistles.

Miano uses the pejorative term “nomadic enclave” to describe Door of Hope. Leaving aside the obviously negative connotation of “enclave” (why he used it I have no idea, but I doubt it was out of kindness and generous charity), to my knowledge, he has never talked directly, in public or private, with any member thereof. The term “nomadic” has become fashionable of late among critics such as Tony Miano and Jon Speed, and when they use it, they mean “disconnected from a local church.” Yet here, Miano uses it about a church with a greater internal integrity and a higher level of involvement and accountability between members than any church I have ever seen or been a part of. What would lead Miano to use such a term of the people at this church? What has he observed in the behavior of those who are a a part of Door of Hope?  If he meant “Door of Hope does not currently have an elder”, he should have said that and not used the term “nomadic”.

In any case, Miano blatantly misrepresents what Toby is clearly trying to communicate, and then makes Toby’s supposed foibles out to be the result of a “confused ecclesiology,” even though Toby is clearly not talking about ecclesiology here.

A final note is in order about Miano’s view on ecclesiology, as it presents another opportunity to explain the position of abolition as we define it. Abolition is not an extreme pro-life position. Its major feature is not rejection of the usual exceptions. It is best described in the so called “5 tenets”. Abolition is an attempt to answer the question: “What does Christianity look like in a culture that murders its children?”  See that? What does Christianity look like? Not “What does it look like to be pro-life…?” or “What does it look like to hate abortion…?” We believe and we have spent a considerable amount of time, energy, and words to explain it, flesh it out, and defend it. Yet Miano, in writing his hasty piece, thinks that it is relevant to say something like the following:

  • A church for homeschoolers is unhealthy.
  • A church for cowboys is unhealthy…
  • A church for open-air preachers is unhealthy.
  • A church for abortion abolitionists is unhealthy.

Miano apparently believes that this one specific church is “a church for abortion abolitionists”. He asserts it without evidence and in fact against all the evidence of which I am aware. No one who is a part of Door of Hope would ever say something like that. Further, without argument or justification, he applies what he thinks is a fact about one specific church to all the abolitionists in the country, and around the world!  But on what basis does he do so? He doesn’t tell us by what reasoning he arrived at his decision to extrapolate in yet another faulty way. Perhaps part of the problem is that he labors under the mistaken impression that AHA is an organization. It is not. It is an ideology, and there are numerous organizations that expressly subscribe to the ideology, such as the Abolitionist Societies of Omaha, Colorado Springs, Chicago, Tallahassee, Reno, Little Elm, etc. Miano could have learned that fact before publicly rebuking “AHA,” if he had but listened to numerous abolitionists who requested and counseled him to contact us directly or ask for clarification. A public request would have been fine. If you don’t know, just ask. Miano didn’t know, and sadly, he didn’t ask.

I am unsure what a church for abortion abolitionists would look like. However, if we take into account the way we define abolition (as discussed above; this is not about being really pro-life), then a church of abortion abolitionists is to be greatly desired. In fact, in this culture in which child sacrifice occurs 3,500 times per day while American Christians continue blithely on as if nothing were wrong, a church of abolitionists is by definition a church that is following Jesus in the right way. Abortion is the very evil of our age. Miano may disagree; I invite him to lay out his case. A church of cowboys could also be a church of abolitionists – they could be abolitionist cowboys. A church that happens to have a mostly elderly congregation could be a church of elderly abolitionists. “Abolitionist” is not just another lifestyle preference like being a cowboy is. Abolition is the godly response to this culture of death. Let us all do what we must to abolish this monstrous evil in the power that God provides.

Applause

Miano then continues by lamenting the fact that Toby was applauded for his speech. Apparently, if you exhort professing Christians to repentance and faithfulness to Christ, no one is allowed to agree with you, (even if the crowd is mostly composed of people who profess Jesus, don’t live consistently for Him, and hold the twisted American idea of “tolerance” as a high and lofty ideal). Or at the very least, no one is allowed to express such agreement outwardly, through, say, applause, or an “Amen.”

Miano then proceeds to give some plausible reasons why people might have applauded. He follows this by giving some rather outlandish reasons why they might have applauded:

Maybe people heard a message that said the gospel is not enough and Christians must do more.

Maybe people, in their minds, had their unbiblical belief that they are the gospel affirmed.

Maybe people were relieved to hear they’re off the hook for doing evangelism.

Maybe people heard loving your neighbor does not include evangelism and that sharing the gospel without meeting someone’s physical needs is somehow less loving than meeting people’s physical needs

Miano produces these reasons as if they are the real reason that Toby’s message was applauded. First, let us be clear – Miano is speculating, which he even admits: “The first and honest answer to the question is, I don’t know.” He doesn’t know, but he feels total freedom to speculate despite the lack of any possible means to confirm his guesswork. This attitude is actually indicative of his entire article.

I don’t know about Miano, but I don’t know anyone who would applaud the idea that “the Gospel is not enough.” The few people who would are not the types to frequent Christian music concerts. Likewise, I seriously doubt that anyone “had their unbiblical belief that they are the gospel affirmed” as Toby made it very clear that he was not talking about the Gospel.

Likewise, I find it preposterous to suggest that hundreds of people are going through their daily lives, wringing their hands in anxiety over “being on the hook for evangelism” and not wanting to be — and that when a bearded man in a hoodie, whom they don’t know from Adam, stands up in front of them while they are waiting to enter a concert, they unquestionably accept his message and feel validated by it? And they feel validated, even though Toby rebukes them for not loving their unborn neighbors? Please pardon our skepticism on this point.  Either Miano is unduly credulous, or he is trying pretty hard to demonize Toby’s message. I think the latter is much more likely.

An Unethical Pre-emptive Strike?

Miano also criticizes AHA for a particular post on the AHA Facebook page. I did not write this post, but I know the person who did, and I know why he wrote it. At the time that was written, Miano had written the following on Facebook that same day, after seeing Toby’s video:

“The False Gospel of Abolition” will be my next article on the Gospel Spam blog. I will begin writing it in a few minutes.

I know MANY fine Christian men and women who have a biblical framework for their abortion ministries. I know MANY godly men who preach the authentic gospel outside of abortuaries. However……

The article I must write is motivated by a video I saw today–a video in which a well-intentioned man offered up a moralistic message built on the foundation of …

Then, after a few commenters offer critical thoughts on the proposed title, Miano amends it:

The new title is: The False Gospel of AHA’s Brand of Abolitionism

Miano was originally intending to write a blog about the “false gospel of abolition.” So, why wouldn’t we say that he was “claiming that we are spreading some message that is contrary to the gospel or that we are spreading a message instead of the gospel”? He said as much himself in his Facebook comment! Unless, of course, he was being disingenuous there. Which is not outside the realm of possibility, since he later deleted that entire thread.

But then again, Miano did change his tone. What happened to the “false gospel of abolition”? Why change the title of his article, when he was so sure of what he was going to write just a day before? Could it be that we truly called him on it, and forced him to change his tune? Notice that Miano goes to great lengths (for a hatchet piece) to state that we have a good Gospel presentation in our written materials. This is precisely what we emphasized in the supposed “pre-emptive strike” — the Gospel presentation in our written materials. And then, one day later, Miano posts and article with a different title, in which he claims that our written materials are OK in terms of the Gospel, but this one open air proclamation was not, and that therefore there are problems with our theology. Any rational person would infer the effect of the change in tone from the cause of the so-called “pre-emptive strike.” But if the post had an effect, then there must have been some truth to it, otherwise Miano would not have changed his tone. So why call us out for “poisoning the well” when it appears that we actually worked to “purify” the well? Perhaps Miano has another explanation for these facts. We are waiting.

Throughout the course of this article, we have seen time and again that Miano’s accusations and implications are simply ludicrous. Miano is obviously not incapable of understanding the intended meaning of Toby’s message. So the question remains: why did he misrepresent us so badly? Why did he go to such great effort to misconstrue Toby’s message and paint us in such a bad light? What could be the cause of such serious bias? We think that jealousy happens to be a quite good explanation for what Miano has written. Of course, it is not the only possible explanation, but it certainly does seem to fit. Another fairly well-known abolitionist personally emailed Miano the morning before he published his article, saying:

If you have a problem with what Toby or any abolitionist says, do you think so little of our work that you’ll give us the Jed Smock treatment? Will you not come alongside us and in a brotherly fashion advise us? Something like, “Guys, I don’t agree with everything you do and say, particularly (fill in the blank), but I think you love Jesus and want to see the Gospel proclaimed. I have a concern with the way you expressed yourself in this particular instance, and I’d like to offer you some advice to correct that going forward.”

We would listen to you, Tony! We would hear you out! We seek and ask for correction from others. We are capable of admitting fault… Do the right thing. Don’t cast off brothers with a mere flippant “yeah these guys preach a false gospel”. Don’t dismiss us based on incomplete information.

Sadly, Miano chose to forge ahead with his article without even deigning to reply to this well-intentioned message.  Instead, Miano chose to publish an 8000-word article that not only blatantly misrepresents Toby’s message, but also insinuates a broader trend in Toby’s open air preaching from one five-minute video! Tony Miano can easily show that the Facebook post in question was really an unjustified “pre-emptive strike”:  he can retract what he has written, admit that he blatantly misrepresented Toby, apologize to Toby for doing so, and enter into an honest dialogue with us about the issues that genuinely concern him. If he does this, the author of the aforementioned status would be more than willing to retract his comments about him being a “jealous slanderer” and offer his own public apology. However, if Miano persists in misrepresenting Toby, one might just have to conclude that the so-called “pre-emptive strike” actually hit pretty close to home.

Conclusion

Miano wraps up his “Conclusion” with the following statement:

The cause, regardless of what it is, must never come before Christ—not in a church; not in a ministry; not in a movement, not in an open-air message; not in anything.

We couldn’t agree more. Which is why we remain quite puzzled that Miano would put the cause of always-give-a-Gospel-presentation-when-addressing-a-crowd over emulating and obeying Christ. What Toby did in delivering his message was biblical on many accounts. He was exhorting professing believers on to love and good deeds — to love not only in word, but also in deed. In doing so, he was following the biblical example of public proclamation, calling out sin and exhorting repentance. In so doing, he was even following the example of Jesus Himself.

In contrast, Miano’s criticisms of Toby are not grounded in Scripture, and cannot be Scripturally justified. Moreover, taking the standard by which Miano judged Toby to its logical conclusion, one would have to conclude that Miano should also write similar articles critiquing the prophets, the apostles, and even the Lord Jesus Himself!

We don’t have to agree with each other on every point of doctrine or practice to avoid writing ludicrous articles that, if taken to their logical conclusions, would logically compel one to criticize the Lord Jesus Christ. We can give faithful servants of Christ the benefit of the doubt, and not work overtime to fit their words onto a Procrustean bed of slanders and misrepresentations. We can find a way to dialogue peacefully without misrepresenting each other.   But refusing to dialogue and publishing these kinds of falsehoods is not the way.

In the stated interest of preserving Christian unity, some of the authors of this blog and admins of the AHA Facebook page have received requests from several individuals to refrain from responding to this article, until the issue is discussed further with Miano.  However, multiple attempts were made to talk with Miano before he published his article, to no avail.  Additionally, over the past few days since the article’s publication, I know that at least one attempt has been made by a “third party” to get Toby Harmon and Tony Miano together in a moderated Facebook chat to talk through the issue. Literally a few minutes after the Facebook group chat was created, however, Miano promptly exited without saying a word to Toby. As such, Miano is clearly not interested in having an honest private dialogue with the man he so egregiously misrepresented in his article.

Moreover, I flatly reject the notion that putting forth the truth to correct slanderous misrepresentations is in any way divisive or contrary to the goal of Christian unity. This is not a situation where both sides have an equally valid complaint, and a third party is needed to mediate between them before “more salvos are fired.” This is a situation where one party has slandered the other, and the slandering party needs to repent. This slander is the true cause of whatever division comes from whatever exchange we end up having with Miano. If anything, setting the record straight will serve to re-unite us with those who have been divided from us by the false and misleading words of a respected individual within the Christian community.

The unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 is real. I experience it every day in deeper and richer ways with my brothers and sisters in Christ not only locally here in Norman, but across the country, as we daily encourage and exhort one another, and work together to be faithful Christians in a culture that practices child sacrifice. Our detractors can twist our words to their hearts’ content, but it will not affect our fellowship. If anything, it will simply make it stronger. Christ has a church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, all the falsehoods written by respected religious individuals notwithstanding.

 

[This article was a collaborative piece written by Matthew C Martellus and Rhology]

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