Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 23, 1963
NUMBER 4, PAGE 1,12-13a

"Ethics Of Persuasion"

Vernon Ripley

A few years ago while enrolled in a speech class we were studying a book by Robert T. Oliver, entitled, "The Psychology of Persuasive Speech." Beginning on page 29, Mr. Oliver lists seven moral principles which should guide every speaker in presenting his material to an audience. As I observe the conduct of many today in the church, and especially as pertains to the problems before us, it occurs to me that many among us could use these fundamental ethical Standards to a great advantage. Also I believe that you will agree that Mr. Oliver is hitting at the tap root of a very real problem before all those who are engaged in public speaking. Especially is this true among those who are more interested in audience appeal than they are in appealing to the scriptures. At any rate each time I read these seven principles my mind immediately focuses on today's ills. The first one he points out is:

1. "Do not falsify or misrepresent evidence." We notice this can be done by misquoting authority, or taking something one has said out of context, so it appears to mean something other than intended. Examples of this are found among those who lift such passages of scripture as James 1:27 and Gal. 6:10 out of context and apply them to the church, when the individual is under consideration. Yesterday, a young fellow from A.C.C. was trying to describe to me the basic difference between those of us who are opposed to the liberal trends among us by saying, "You fellows believe in following the letter of the law while we believe in following the spirit of it." And then he quoted 2 Cor. 3:6; stating that, "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." What could one do in falsifying scripture or misrepresenting evidence that would be more obvious than the above example? Anyone who has ever casually read the third chapter of the second Corinthian letter is immediately aware of the contrast that Paul is making between the law given through Moses (the letter) and the law given through the spirit (of the spirit).

2. "Do not speak with assurance on a subject on which you are actually uninformed." We often see one in a moment of crisis, while trying to bolster an argument, pull something out of thin-air, something about which he knows little or next to nothing! We find this possibly more in politics and in secular matters. But, to be sure, it is found among those in the church today who are trying to bolster a position in which they are not informed. Those contending for church support of human institutions often afford a real example of those who are uninformed. If faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17), what classification is to be placed upon the excuse so many are using the "Lord told us to do it, but did not tell us how"? A student of the Bible is seeing this individual try to speak with assurance on a subject about which he is actually uninformed. In fact, he is only parroting what he has heard, rather than what he has read from God's Word.

3. "Do not seek approval from your audience for a policy or a program by linking it in their minds with emotional values (such as patriotism Or sympathy for the underprivileged) with which it has no actual connection." This one makes me think of the Harper-Tant debate in Abilene a few years ago. This was before the orphan-home issue really got into the present conflict. Several times in the discussion the thought was injected that "If what we (Herald of Truth) are doing Is wrong, what about the orphan home?" In fact this whole controversy has centered around "underprivileged" for the sole purpose of the emotional values that are to be found. I have thought many times, that if the institutional brethren had not had the emotional appeal, their cause would have fallen flat long ago. The Broadway plan for Germany, the Brownfield plan for Italy and the Abilene plan for the Herald of Truth would have dissipated into thin air. The recent poster by the Abilene brethren with two small children in ragged and torn clothing pictured and the caption "Just a piece of bread, mister" is a prime example of the unethical principles involved in seeking to persuade through irrelevancy, befogging the judgment and appealing to the emotions. What other purpose could some "mister" have concluded from the poster? Certainly we are not to believe that each of us is to buy a loaf of bread and start out to find those two small ragged children that we might give them a piece of it! Our author suggests, "as an ethical speaker, you have an obligation to talk about the subject — not around it."

4. "Avoid confusing the minds of the audience about the worthiness of a point of view by 'smear attacks upon the leadership associated with it." This particular thought is pertinent to those in the present day controversy who are opposing present day innovations. Salaries received by Presidents, Superintendents, Secretaries, Boards of Directors, etc., plus the number of financial statements made public each year (or lack of them) are beside the point. But we still find those who are opposed to present day institutions solely on the basis of personal likes and dislikes. Our author directs our attention to an autobiography by Chauncey Depew "My Memories of Eighty Years." Telling of a conversation he had with a great orator, Wendell Phillips, after Phillips had made a vitriolic attack in a speech upon Caleb Cushing, Depew wrote that Phillips defended himself as follows:

"I have found that people, as a rule, are not interested in principles or in their discussion. They are so absorbed in their personal affairs that they do very little thinking upon matters outside their business or vocation. They embody a principle in some public man in whom they have faith, and so that man stands for a great body of truth or falsehood, and may be exceedingly dangerous because a large following connects the measure with the man, and, therefore, if I destroy the man who represents a vicious principle, I have destroyed the principle."

This same line of reasoning accounts for the bitterness that so commonly characterizes any religious controversy. This was the type of reasoning that characterized the Corinthians when they were calling in question Paul's apostleship. (2 Cor. 10:10) "For, His letters, they say, are weighty and strong; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account." Brethren, we should oppose error because it is not authorized by God's Word, and leave the personal attacks to those who have to use such for a lack of truth.

5. "Do not delude yourself into feeling that the end justifies the means." Does this one sound familiar? From the standpoint of ethics this rule is classified as dishonesty. And of all people the Lord's people have used it overtime. Such expressions as, "Look at how much good it is doing," "If we don't do it, the Catholics will get them," "What if their families don't do it, then, what?" All of these are based upon the principle that "the end justifies the means." It would be just as reasonable to argue that if the church of Christ doesn't take over the government, the Catholics are going to, as it is to jump into all the other such arrangements solely based upon the end justifying the means, In the final and scriptural analysis we are led to realize that if God has not been pleased then we have not reached the end nor the means. But if God is pleased, then the end and the means are of secondary importance. And the only way we can please God is by following His Word. Many things being done in the name of Christ are not authorized at all in His word.

6. "If you are activated in advocating a proposal by self-interest or by your allegiance to a particular organization, do not conceal that fact and pretend an objectivity you do not possess." In matters that are spiritual a teacher is never at liberty to advocate proposals that are designed to be of self-interest. Jesus through his few years upon this earth exemplified and taught that a true follower of his would be a man of self-denial. (Matt. 16:24) So we see that such is not only unethical, but unscriptural. I am, however, interested in the other part of the principle stated above, "do not conceal that fact and pretend an objectivity you do not possess." This we notice has reference to an allegiance to a particular organization one is advocating. If the "do-gooders" among us today would stop and consider seriously and soberly the havoc they are making by their organizational schemes in the church today, it would be apparent to them as it is to us that more harm is being done than good. For every new convert they have made, look at the results. The churches of the Lord are torn asunder from coast to coast, brethren are alienated one from another and multitudes are going to lose their souls. Any sober thinking by-stander could tell you at a glance that a pretended objectivity is surfaced. The real objective is concealed, in the organizational machinery of institutionalism. By adding up the number gained as opposed to those alienated, we see true facts. Our author suggests to us, "Frankness is in itself very disarming and often opens the way toward conviction, especially if the case you support is really sound." We know and are more convinced each day that the "on the march" brethren know their positions are not sound.

7. "Do not advocate for an audience in which you yourself do not believe." Carl Sandburg relates an instance in which Lincoln said to a prospective client, "You'll have to get some other fellow to win this case for you. I couldn't do it. All the while I'd be talking to that jury I'd be thinking, 'Lincoln, you're a liar,' and I believe I might forget myself and say it out loud." Demosthenes said, 'What greater crime can an orator be charged with than that his opinions and his language are not the same?" Jesus condemned the scribes in Mk. 12:40, because of their pretense. And to be sure it is condemned in those today who are found advocating something in which they do not believe. There are yet many who in private conversation will condemn present day innovations but either do not have the courage of their convictions or will let anything and everything go by without speaking against it. But is it not true that to be silent on many issues is equal to approval? Was not this the meaning of Matt. 12:40?

While we realize that in spiritual things the above source is not our guide, still we have tried to show that even secular sources frown upon the conduct of some today as they try to persuade through unethical principles. In fact, we have shown that these principles are also Bible principles and they are fundamental.

— Lewisville, Texas