James White is the director of Alpha & Omega Ministries, a small and apparently struggling1 apologetics ministry located in Phoenix, Arizona. I listened fairly regularly to White several years ago but grew tired of what I perceived to be a narcistic infatuation with his personal accomplishments not to mention his patently unique apologetical method of making those with whom he disagreed out to be liars.2
Going back several years, James White has persistently harassed and morally denigrated Ergun Caner and anyone--including reputable scholars, local church pastors, capable apologists, Southern Baptist college professors, presidents and entity heads alike--who has dared disagree with and/or outright reject White's condemnatory, personal pronouncement that Ergun Caner is a deplorable fake and deceptive charlatan to be universally condemned and thoroughly banned from Christian service. Apparently, White's preferred flag to fly concerning his personal crusade to force Caner and Caner supporters to "publicly repent" for their alleged deception, charlatanism, lies, and cover-up is what White regularly calls "The Great Evangelical Cover-up."3 White even cites one of evangelicalism's most respected scholars and theistic apologists, Dr. Norman Geisler, as the supposed leader behind Caner "myth-making." And, I too have been named by White as being a part of the supposed "myth-making" machine which constitutes the "Great Evangelical Cover Up."4
The truth is, there exists no "myth-making" and certainly no "cover up" as White claims—at least not on the behalf of Caner. What Caner defenders have consistently advocated is, whatever discrepancies exist in some recorded words of Dr. Caner, words selectively compiled by Caner's enemies, in no reasonable measure do those discrepancies equate to the ridiculous, uncharitable charge of charlatanism, consequently smearing Dr. Caner's integrity in the worst possible way. And, the smear campaign has been promoted going on four years after Caner publicly apologized for the confusion concerning his past some of his words apparently caused among some.
Even so, this present piece is not so much about Ergun Caner as it is about Calvinists like James White and his mob of internet harassers who face an insurmountable cover up of their own surrounding their theological darling of which they proudly wear his name as Calvinists—John Calvin. The fact remains, were we to examine the evidence surrounding John Calvin's butchery of Michael Servetus, what'd we find is reasonable suspicion Calvin had planned the death of Servetus a full four months before Servetus ever stepped foot in Geneva on Sunday, August 13, 1553.5 Only a few days before Servetus showed up in Calvin's church, he was living in France under an assumed name--Michael Villaneuve. Since Servetus was living under the assumed name, Inquisitors did not know Villaneuve was actually Servetus. Thus, Servetus comfortably lived a rather lucrative life in France as author and medical doctor for thirteen years. What disturbed Servetus' peaceful situation in France? His old nemesis, Calvin.
Consider the actions of strict Calvinist Baptists' theological hero.
John Calvin sent to the Catholic Inquisitors several private letters he had received from Servetus under the alias Michael Villaneuve. Calvin also wrote under an assumed name, Charles D' Espeville. The pseudonyms were for protection of them both if the letters were confiscated by Catholic authorities. In the letters were several exchanges and debates the two had concerning theological doctrines. The punishment for heretics by the Catholic Inquisition was death. Calvin, of course, knew this. Hence, he purposely betrayed Servetus into the hands of their common enemy by turning over private correspondence knowing Servetus would receive the death penalty.
Calvin did not anticipate the final outcome, however. After he was tried and sentenced to death, Servetus escaped from jail and fled the country. And, the last thing Calvin undoubtedly expected was for Servetus to show up in Geneva. Thus, when Servetus showed up at church on August 13, 1553, and sat in the pew glaring at Calvin as he began to preach, shock must have rushed through Calvin's soul. Calvin immediately recruited a student-servant to publicly accuse Servetus, and the authorities came and hauled Servetus out of church throwing him in the city dungeon.
Consequently, in an unprecedented move for the city of Geneva, Michael Servetus was tried and condemned for heresy and put to death almost immediately after the verdict.6 Neither civil nor church authorities in Geneva condoned capital punishment for heresy then nor any time since Protestantism had taken control and Catholics were banished. Ironically, Calvin helped in writing the laws for Geneva which allowed only banishment not the death penalty for persons convicted of heresy. Thus, famed Calvin historian, William Naphy, concluded Servetus "would...become the first person to be executed for heresy in Geneva..."7
Additionally, it was John Calvin who insisted upon capital punishment for Servetus, an insistence which placed Calvin in direct contradiction to everything he had written and spoken against the Roman Catholic position of using the sword against heretics rather than correct doctrine. Rives even compiles evidence that Calvin purposely expunged from his earlier writings statements contesting putting heretics to death since, Calvin argued, no one should be judged a criminal or deserve capital punishment based upon matters of the conscience. In the first edition of Calvin's Institutes, he had written, "It is criminal to put heretics to death. To make an end of them by fire and sword is opposed to every principle of humanity." However, according to Calvin's former friend, Sebastian Castellion, the first critic to openly charge Calvin with criminal murder, Calvin sought to cover up his former protest against putting heretics to death by expunging allusion to tolerance for heretics from his earlier writings:
"As soon as he gained supreme power, Calvin had hastened to erase that appeal to humanity from his book. For in the second edition of the lnstitutions the words just quoted have been sedulously modified. Just as Napoleon, when he became First Consul, was careful to buy up and destroy all obtainable copies of the Jacobin pamphlet of his youth, so the leader of the Genevese Church, having become a persecutor instead of remaining one of the persecuted, was eager to suppress all knowledge of his erstwhile appeal for moderation." But Castellio will not allow Calvin to run away from his own words. He reproduces them textually in his polemic. "Now," Castellio goes on, having finished the quotation, "let all my readers compare Calvin's original declaration with his writings and his deeds today and it will become plain that his present and his past are as unlike one another as light and darkness. Because he has had Servetus put to death, he now wishes to execute in like manner all who differ from himself. He, the lawmaker, repudiates his own law, and demands the death penalty for dissentients."
Finally, up until Calvin died he was still insisting putting Servetus to death was a noble deed honoring God's glory. The Baptist historian, David Benedict, writes:
A multitude of testimonies go to prove that Calvin was at the head of this barbarous affair [i.e. the murder of Servetus]. But omitting all others, I will transcribe a part of a letter written by him in 1561, to the Marquis Paet, high chamberlain to the king of Navarre. "Honor, glory, and riches," said he to the Marquis, "shall be the reward of your pains; but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels, who stir up the people to revolt against us. Such monsters [i.e. Anabaptists] should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard."8
The letter Benedict cites above was written by Calvin in 1561, a full eight years after Servetus' burning at the stake on October 27, 1553.10 The truth is, Calvin spent the rest of his life rationalizing his murderous treatment of Michael Servetus. As Harvard Reformation historian, Steven Ozment, concluded:
No event has more influenced history's judgment of Calvin than the role he played in the capture and execution of the Spanish physician and amateur theologian Michael Servetus in 1553. This event has overshadowed everything else Calvin accomplished and continues to embarrass his modern admirers. (link).
So, do cover ups exist among evangelicals? Certainly. But the defenses of Ergun Caner against the non-stop harassment inspired and performed by James White and his motley crew of mostly extreme Calvinists does not qualify.
On the other hand, embracing a man and his theology who twice planned and strategized a scheme to put a person to death for the sole reason of religious dissent, finally accomplishing his premeditated murder on October 27, 1553; consequently, expunging his earlier writings protesting heresy by death, and finally dying unrepentant for the murder he evilly committed, does, at least in my personal thinking, nicely qualify for a gargantuan cover up. I cannot blame some Calvinists for not wanting to be known as Calvinists.9 After all, who wants to follow or have their theology associated with wilful murderers?
Before closing, allow me to mention one of White's most prolific internet accomplices in carrying out his anti-Caner crusade, extreme Calvinist, J.D. Hall. Hall led his church to officially withdraw from the Southern Baptists of Montana. In fact Hall is so cantankerous, he deplorably condemned by name Baptist convention executives as liars and deceivers. More than once Hall has dubbed me to be unregenerate as he has both Emir and Ergun Caner not to mention other pastors and prestigious scholars of the Christian faith. What is more, Hall made this claim on twitter recently: "if we fail to demonstrate repentance, we've surrendered our right to preach the gospel."
Let's see if Hall will honor his claim if it's applied to his theological patriarch, John Calvin.
- Failing to demonstrate repentance surrenders the right to preach the gospel
- John Calvin failed to demonstrate repentance for murdering Michael Servetus
- Hence, it follows John Calvin surrendered his right to preach the gospel
Of course, Hall will laugh off the syllogism since he's neck deep in Calvin's theology and concludes other theologies outside his narrow Calvinistic perspective to be heresy.
Nonetheless, neither Hall nor James White nor other strict Calvinists can so easily shake the implications of Hall's claim. If Calvin did unjustly murder Servetus, and went to his grave unrepentant for Servetus' murder (and we have no evidence anywhere Calvin publicly repented of his treacherous betrayal of the Protestant principle of resisting death as a means to deal with heresy), then Calvinists continually honor a known murderer and call themselves Calvinists thereby adorning the name of a man unfit to preach the gospel.
Yes. But a cover up beginning in Calvin's Geneva and continuing to this day amongst cantankerous, contentious Calvinists like James White and J.D. Hall.
1originally I had some fiscal info concerning A&O Ministries to show what I meant by "struggling" in the assertion above. However, after further reflection upon the relevance of the info in light of a comment logged, I decided it better to remove the footnote not because the data it contained was inaccurate or inappropriate. Nor was it because the data was especially sensitive. To the contrary, the data on A&O Ministries I posted is publicly required information on all non-profit organizations in the same category in which A&O Ministries rests with the IRS. Rather I took the footnote down because the commenter made a valuable point: the footnote seemed to deter the overall force of the post. My thanks to "Steven" for his rightful judgment.
UPDATE: I took the original footnote above down in sincere response to what I believed was a valid criticism the commenter offered. Apparently, James White thinks I took it down because it contained some sort of vile content and thus thought I could "get rid" of it. He assured his DL audience he saved it to his harddrive and assured me what's on the internet stays on the internet. This only demonstrates again there exists no way to please these guys other than cower in obeisance. Hence, readers should understand I hold no reluctance whatsoever in the contents being read by anyone. Nor did I delete the footnote but only removed it from the post. Here is the exact footnote I removed and kept for it contains useful information about A&O Ministries.
2I've documented what I call White's sub-Christian "you-sir-are-a-liar" approach many times on this site
3White has employed this term to describe his holy war against Caner at least for three and a half years
4on a recent DL program, White likened North Carolina pastor, Tim Rogers and me to spinning myths around Caner like Joseph Smith's followers spun myths concerning him.
5documentation for the Calvin-Servetus event comes from Did Calvin Murder Servetus? by Stanford Rives, one of the most interesting, informative books I've read in a while. Though I haven't made my way completely through it, as a practicing attorney, Rives thoroughly documents his treatise with both primary and secondary sources, sources I'll be sure to explore as time permits.
6according to Rives, it was the next day. However, in that time as in ours, it is not too much to say "almost immediately" since Servetus' legal filings for appeal went unanswered.
7William G. Naphy, Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) as quoted in Rives
8A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, Volume 1 by David Benedict. p. 170
9though admittedly, many—perhaps most--I know who do not like the term "Calvinist" do so not because of the man Calvin but because of the theological baggage being "Calvinist" has necessarily attracted. Few of them have thought through the horrifying circumstances of Michael Servetus' needless and unjust death
10I originally posted October 26, 1553 as the day of Servetus' execution. Incorrect. While Servetus was sentenced on October 26, all sources I re-checked agree he was executed the next day on October 27, 1553.