(Note: The Caner family asked me to share my commentary with you. I am honored to do so.)
I did not know Braxton Caner. But I knew his father - Ergun - a Muslim convert who became a Christian preacher.
For years Ergun has been hounded by unrelenting critics accusing him of all sorts of ministerial misdeeds. They hunted him like prey -- as if it was some sort of spiritual sport.
In early July - they found a new target -- Ergun's teenage son - Braxton.
The 15-year-old was a son and a brother. He played football, dated a girl and drove a pickup truck. The young man's supposed "crime" was defending his father.
They wrote terrible things about the 15-year-old - beyond the pale. It was theological thuggery.
And last week - Braxton ended his life.
We do not know what led young Braxton to do the unthinkable. We do not know if the postings of these online agitators pushed this young child over the edge. But these are the facts.
A 15 year old boy was bullied. His reputation tarnished at the hands of grown men who professed to be doing God's work. And now Braxton Caner is gone. Bullied in the name of Christ.
Twitter allows us to express our thoughts in 140 characters.
But I only need nine.
Jesus Wept.I expect better from Todd Starnes. On the very day the Caner's held the memorial service for Braxton, Todd - apparently at the request of the Caner's - decided to insinuate blame for this tragedy on the part of bloggers, and to give a slanted opinion of facts. Starnes says "..we do not know if postings of these online agitators pushed this young child over the edge" is to presume that just perhaps they were, and to assume they probably were; when there could be any number of contributing factors, with varying weights or contributions to Braxton's decision to take his life.
Todd Starnes and others like him who are already blaming people for Braxton's suicide, should heed the advice of Jen Pollock Michel, who wrote back in 2012 about her own family member's suicide in her piece "In the Wake of Suicide's Silence, Why Blame is Never the Answer":
"Trying to locate blame is not usually helpful when seeking to understand why a person has chosen to take his life, especially when that locus of blame is sought by outside observers. The reasons are never immediately obvious, even to those within the closest circles of family and friends. Moreover, the problems are never one-dimensional or easily fixed."So shame on Todd Starnes on the day of Braxton's funeral to begin throwing stones of blame at people. Starnes is an outsider of the Caner family who never knew Braxton. He knows NOTHING about the facts. Yet he uses his prominence to throw stones of blame. His article doesn't help the Caner's in their grieving. A simple expression of condolence, and letting them know Todd is praying for them wasn't enough. Starnes had to go on the attack.
Making it worse, Starnes mis-characterized the last 4 years as "unrelenting critics...hunt[ing] him like prey." That is an absolutely ridiculous description of what has happened the last 4 years. There were a number of bloggers who felt it their Christian duty to expose the years of deception by Caner in churches all over our country. Two of them endured a year-long lawsuit from Caner both of which were thrown out of court. Starnes conveniently lumps all the critics of Caner together as "they". "THEY hunted him [Caner] like prey", Starnes said, then in July, "THEY found a new target - Ergun's teenage son".
Come on, Todd. Instead of lumping all of Caner's critics together as "they", why not at least be as clear as Peter Lumpkins was back on July 2nd - you are referring to none other than J.D. Hall. HE is the one who on July 2-3rd decided to bring Braxton Caner into his father's mess.
Go back and look at the tweets of J.D. Hall and the ensuing Twitter conversations in the July 2nd and 3rd time frame. The vast, vast majority of people engaging J.D. Hall called him out for being a bully and an idiot to engage a man's 15-year old son over his father's misdeeds. I publicly rebuked Hall on Twitter for being a "bully" and a "religious jerk", and I tweeted my agreement with Peter Lumpkins' post on July 2nd. As someone who has raised teens in the midst of the social media craze, it made me sick to my stomach to see Hall cite tweets by Caner's son as evidence of the "immorality surrounding Caner" and to try to embarrass Caner over his teenagers harmless tweets. But maybe the worst one of Hall's tweets was inviting Braxton to contact him, "...if you ever want to speak or seek truth about your dad, email me." How a man would tell a 15-year old to contact him so he could tell him the terrible things his dad has done, is beyond me. It is disgusting.
But having said all of this about J.D. Hall, to now to even insinuate based on these July 2-3 tweets of Hall's that he is to any degree responsible for the tragedy of Braxton taking his life, is despicable. There may be more to the story involving Hall - that is possible - but to begin laying blame at Hall's feet or any other bloggers' feet even before Braxton's memorial service is just as despicable if people were to begin to lay blame Ergun Caner or his family for Braxton taking his life. It is needless, senseless, and it is sick.
I expect much better from a man like Todd Starnes.