An Apology to Matthew Heimbach

A week ago I made a comment on a Facebook post that I need to make a public apology for. In the midst of a robust discussion on a friend’s page about issues of globalism vs. nationalism, recent events involving a group based in Bloomington, IN led by Matthew Heimbach were mentioned. To be clear, I personally find the ideology of this group extremely disturbing and do have an issue with the way this group has co-opted Orthodox Christian imagery/language alongside their nationalist views. I believe they are wrong. I do not apologize for speaking up against what they stand for, and will continue to do so. However, while I strongly disagree with Mr. Heimbach and his group, I also am firmly against false accusations, using character attack as a weapon, and misinformation in general. I think as Christians we must always be about Truth. I have been very concerned about the ease of disseminating misinformation in this age of social media. I am especially concerned when Christians repeat and share unchecked or unsubstantiated claims or cite questionable opinion sources as having the same credibility as reputable news sources. Its a difficult jungle to navigate sometimes, and when we feel very strongly about something it is easy to feel the urgency to jump on to something that seems to back up one’s position. “Maybe this will convince people to listen” “Ah! Finally evidence to show what I’ve been saying all along!” The danger in doing this hastily, or without taking pause to fact check is that one may become party to spreading misleading information. As a Christian, reacting before taking time to prayerfully consider if it is helpful to share it, or before asking the question of whether it just stirs up more anger, more internal violence and division puts one in danger of  causing someone to stumble, or of being a poor witness to the Gospel. There is a time to stand for Truth, and for calling out lies. However, its important to make sure the stand is based in fact, that the battle is the right battle, and that any bold statement is done in love and not driven by fear.
So this is why I must apologize. I failed to practice what I preach. I reacted in frustration, and, after further investigation, realized I had repeated an unsubstantiated accusation. In the midst of explaining why I disagreed strongly with Mr. Heimbach’s ideology and tactics, I stated that he had used a homemade Orthodox Cross as a weapon against a counter-protester at an event his group attended. Worse, I used the word “attack” to describe what happened. I based my assumption on a picture I had seen disseminated by his group and other groups sympathetic to his cause showing Mr. Heimbach in the midst of a clear altercation, one of which it appears he is using the large cross he is holding as a weapon. There were also discussions among various clergy groups, etc. in the aftermath of this event, wherein reports were made that the cross was used as a weapon in some sense. Mr. Heimbach’s site reported on the event explaining that protesters attacked them, and to varying degrees of reports, there was some self-defense, or defending another person there, and the cross was in the midst of it.  A basic internet search/investigation on this event leads one to polarized accounts of what happened, but no way, at least in my estimation, to get to the bottom of what really happened beyond the “he said she said” accounts. I will say that the first picture I saw posted of what happened was a meme from a group sympathetic to Heimbach’s group, with a photo of an altercation, the cross in the midst of it, and the phrase “Good Night Anti White”. Clearly something happened that day, and my spirit is still unsettled at the proximity of the cross to the physical altercation. My “gut” tells me something strange was going on.
But here’s the thing – my assumptions, my “gut” feeling, or my strong disagreement with this group is not enough for me to make a statement like “they attacked someone with an Orthodox cross”. I simply do not know this to be true. To repeat it is to fail to be above reproach in speaking the truth at all times, which a Christian must strive to do. It also does a disservice and obscures the real conversation, or even the real issues that do need to be addressed.
Most importantly, it assumes the worst about a person, Mr. Heimbach, and then puts that assumption out there publicly, in an impersonal manner, rather than approaching the person, which is the scriptural mandate. So for this, I ask your forgiveness, Mr. Heimbach. I also ask forgiveness from anyone who read the comments. I have since taken the comments down. I’ve also come to the conclusion that Facebook statuses or comments are certainly not the place, at least for me, to address these kinds of things. I realize this apology itself is being done via a blog, and not one on one. Perhaps there will be a chance for a one on one apology, but I feel that because the initial comment itself was public, the apology should be as well.
Forgive me, a sinner.