Earlier, I posted our first "Questions and Ethics" query, and invited you to join in. Below is the question again, and my response to our ethically-inquisitive friend. Do you agree? If so or if not, let me know (but use your real name).

 

Dear Dr. Moore,

Sometimes I go on blogs and websites, in the comments section, especially in places that are taking shots that I know are not true about people I care about, and I'll use a fake name. The point is just to get the information out there. "The statement you made about so-and-so isn't true, and here's why." Is it okay for a Christian to sign up with a fake name? How about on sites hostile to historic Christianity where they've "banned" me because of my outspoken beliefs? Is it okay to go back on with another identity? I guess my question is this, it is okay to be anonymous or use a pseudonym as a Christian? Is that lying?

Anonymous (of course)

Dear Anonymous,

First of all, I admire you for seeking to look out for the names and reputations of others, above yourself. That's Christian, and commendable. I agree also with some of the comments on the first post that deception is sometimes ethically permissible. Warfare, for instance, inherently involves some deception (you want the opponent to think you're amassing your troops in one place when you're really going another).

I am not saying that a fake name is never permissible. A Christian missionary in a closed country (or an intelligence agent with the military) might use a pseudonym to the glory of God in order to keep from sacrificing the mission at hand. I could also see a situation where a pseudonym might not be deceptive or cowardly at all. Say, for instance, you're a Christian pastor with a background in firefighting. The local newspaper would like a local column on fire safety, but they don't really want to distract people with your calling as clergy. Writing about smoke alarms as "Sparky the Fire Ant" in that case really doesn't seem all that ethically problematic to me.

I also don't have a guilty conscience about posting anonymous questions here (or questions with pseudonyms) since the person sending them in isn't engaged in conversation with others but is simply offering me a test case to prompt others to think about an issue of relevance to many.

In most cases, though, I think our responses as Christians ought to be authentic, transparent, and honest about our identities. I think that's especially true in controversy, on the Internet or otherwise. Jesus tells us to let our "yes" be "yes" and our "no" be "no," meaning that our integrity is above questioning by outsiders (Matt. 5:27).

I think, though, the issue becomes much, much clearer if one is using a fake name (or an anonymous note) to criticize, attack, or tear down. There are few things more cowardly or counter-productive than anonymous or pseudonymous attackers of others (whether those others are believers or unbelievers). Our speech, whether spoken or written or typed, is not to be "cunning" (as is the Serpent of Eden) but truthful, and loving (1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:15). I've seen the Spirit move in some mysterious ways, but never through an anonymous letter of attack to a brother or sister in Christ.

So, short answer: since you're involved arguing with people in public (and sometimes that's an okay thing to do), I think you shouldn't make up a fake name (unless the rules of the site require some type of "handle"). Just be yourself. And I'm still working this out myself. I use the name "Russell Moore," because doing this pastoral and ethical stuff tends to detract from my main career out there writing songs and singing with my friends.

What about you? Do you have a question for me to answer about some ethical decision? Email it to me at questions@russellmoore.com