Is Greg Johnson of Standing Together Ministry Really Compromising Scripture?
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Greg Johnson [of Standing Together Ministry] now claims that the quotation in the BYU Newsnet (21 January 2005) was in error. But his reasons raise as much doubt and certainly as many questions as the original article. BYU reporter Emilie Foss quoted Johnson saying, ""We are trying to show the upcoming generation that we don't have to be confrontational on truth," Johnson said, "There is a lot of room for us to build on our compromise of scriptures."
The attributed "compromise of scriptures" has challenged Johnson to respond. He has responded to two people that I know of, so in fairness, he needs to be heard. One e-mail is what Johnson sent to BYU insisting upon a correction. In the second, he rewords the first quotation and claims not to know how "to fix" the second. Late this evening, I opened an e-mail from a man who called Emilie Foss, the reporter, at BYU and spoke with her about the story. She was surprised that Johnson (after two weeks) is now claiming that she was wrong. She, however, claims that she is not incorrect and at the time she quoted him, Johnson was answering questions publicly at a question and answer session for the Biola University students. It was fair for her to quote him in the newspaper, especially since she quoted some of the students present. She has no question that she accurately quoted Johnson.
Johnson's two e-mails that I've read follow. I have underlined areas of concern for my following comment and questions.
To a man in North Carolina, he wrote, "Thanks for bringing this article to my attention as I had not had the opportunity to see it before. To be sure, this is a classic example of not being able to believe everything in print. The statement attributed to me would be something I would not say and is a misquotation at best of something I did say. I will attempt to correct this with the writer, in fact I will insist upon a correction. I might have said that truth doesn't have to only be confrontational, although it is sometimes very confrontational, I do believe that we must confront people with truth. The second statement is worse than the first, and I cannot even begin to fix it.
I do hope that you will pass along this response as a good faith effort to be clear about things, as unfortunately those who are critical of me will see this as all the proof they need to dismiss me."
To the BYU Newsnet (February 4), he wrote, "...I have received several e-mails from folks very concerned about this statement and it really does need to be corrected. I was not interviewed at all by Emilie and did not know there was a reporter in the room. I probably said something like "We are trying to show the upcoming generation that sharing truth with others need not always be confrontational." Although, truth is many times very confrontational. Secondly, the latter part of the statement is simply mistaken and again I must insist that it be corrected. I would not and did not say that we can compromise the scriptures for any reason. To be sure, there is much "room" for us to discuss doctrine and engage with one another civilly, but I would not have said something like this. Emilie's effort here has real ramifications. I travel the country, and tomorrow we will fly to England with Bob Millet, where we will present our Conversation, "A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation." This is a most delicate exercise, to engage in the way we do with mixed audiences (both LDS and evangelical) who are often very suspicious of both of us. All we need is for some statement like Emilie's to be discovered by our critics, and it has, to be used against our good effort of advancing healthy and honest dialogue.
Please, be most quick about clarifying this matter and copy me your retraction that I might pass it along to the folks e-mailing me and demanded an explanation."
Johnson's corrections create a quagmire that begs questions left unanswered.
He has to delicately claim that Foss is either a careless reporter or that she may have outright lied. This creates trouble, since he does not know what she may or may not have to back up her quotation. At this time she is standing by her work.
It is curious that he claims in his first e-mail that he "would" have said something differently. Why didn't he simply state what he said in the earlier e-mail instead of what he "might" have said? Does he know that these kind of words are red flags to any listener that something is not on the level? When a politician gets caught in a quandary, they appeal to the same venue, "I would have said," or "I might have said," but people aren't interested in afterthoughts and spins to confuse the issue, they are only interested in what was said. Here, it took Johnson until his second, better attempt, to figure out what he said. I'm sorry, but that raises suspicion. If BYU's reporter saw these two e-mails side by side, would she sympathize with his plea that correcting this is in the best interest of Bob Millet? This should only be corrected if she made a mistake, not because it can make Millet and Johnson look good, which is all his pleading is about.
It is unnatural for someone to claim "I cannot even begin to fix it" in reference to a quotation that they claim was not theirs. One does not have to be concerned about how to fix something they didn't do, they only need to deny its accuracy. This raises suspicion too.
In his BYU reply, he challenges Emilie Foss on the fact that he was not interviewed. That is irrelevant. He either said what she quoted or he didn't.
It is interesting that Johnson (without him knowing what she was going to say to the North Carolina man) places her in the correct place to hear him; "the room." The fact is she was indeed "in the room," but since he did not know that she was in the room, then how is it that he knows where he said what she is claiming that he said? She, through her phone call that matches what Johnson said, places herself in the right place and the right time to hear what he claims did not happen. This gives more credibility to her, as I see it.
In his second attempt, he again, says "I probably said..." What is important is to know what was said, not what he "would have, might have, or probably said." All of these are typical spins to distract listeners from finding the truth. Why does he use these tactics reserved for professional spin-doctors? It really appears as if he is laying out a fresh quotation that he would like to see in print when and if he gets his retraction.
Admittedly, the second letter is more forceful and has less spin on the second half of his quoted statement. He outright denies he said it, but it is troubling that the first e-mail was much less forceful, as "I cannot even begin to fix it." By the time he wrote the second e-mail, he fixed it by denying it. Why, then, didn't he outright deny it in the first e-mail. My reasoning goes like this. If I didn't do something, then truth would compel me to consistently deny it. Here he did not deny it until he had more time to think about it. It sounds like an afterthought.
His plea that Emilie's efforts has real ramifications is only self-serving. If she told the truth, then nothing needs to be changed no matter how much it could alter the Millet and Johnson relationship. He should be pleading with Emilie to be truthful and drop it at that, since the truth would solve all possible scenarios, including his and Bob's.
Kurt Van Gorden
Director of Utah Gospel Mission
Monday, February 07, 2005 10:19:27 AM
From: "Emilie Foss"
Subject: Emilie Foss
To: Glenn E. Hendrickson (Glenn.E.Hendrickson@Biola.edu)
Mr. Greg Johnson was quoted exactly as recorded on tape.
If you have further questions you can contact the editorial director Kaylene at newsnet.
BYU NewsNet offers correction of Johnson's statement
I asked Van Gorden, "Have you listened to the tape? How do you know that Emilie didn't interpret from the tape as opposed to simply quoting directly from it?" He responded:
Dear Rob, I have not listened to the tape, but Emilie's manager, Kaylene, did, and she has now verified by e-mail that Emilie quoted Johnson correctly. I have another e-mail where Emilie checked her sources on this and wrote that she accurately quoted Johnson from the tape. Kaylene got rather touchy about Mel Heath asking if he could hear the tape and she stood (as any good reporter would) on her free press stance that nobody will get the tape without a court order. Later on, she said that they wrote a typed transcription of the tape and the tape no longer exists, but she verified again that Greg's quote is accurate in their article and she uses the transcription to back it up.
One pastor asked me if I thought the BYU retraction was true or if they simply bailed out a friend. This is interesting to think about, and it wouldn't surprise me if BYU prof Bob Millet (Johnson's good friend) played some part in this. Nonetheless, despite the outcome of this, given all the other problems with Johnson "compromising" on the truth, it will still take me some time before I will be able to trust him again.
R. M. Sivulka
One thing I just noticed concerning this issue is that the article never said it was a "correction" as Johnson said on his site. Johnson called it a "misquotation". The article now says simply that Johnson "requested a clarification" of what he said. So it seems like BYU Newsnet is saying the reporter got it straight, but here's what Johnson meant by it. This still seems like he's playing fast and loose with the facts! His site actually fooled me!
R. M. Sivulka
If the newspaper wanted to clarify what Greg *meant,* then they should have said that's what they were doing. You can't just say the quote "should have read" a different way if it read exactly the way he actually said it. I feel sorry for the reporter because it's her reputation they're sacrificing to smooth things over.
As for clarification of the tape of Greg making that "compromise" statement, my soon-to-be mother-in-law is the editor of the BYU NewsNet, and she told me that they no longer have the tape. She claimed the reporters listen to it to verify what was said, and then she said that it appeared Greg was attempting to do a "CYA" [Cover Your Anterior] with his clarification.
R. M. Sivulka