What’s in a name? Over the weekend, my opponent (James White-JW) protested publicly, during the second debate, and privately, in a brief conversation after that debate, that I had not called him by name during our exchanges.
In response to his complaint in our private post-debate conversation, after intentionally addressing him by name, I explained that there had been no malicious intent behind not using his name during the debate and referring to him most often as “my opponent.”
I explained that I had refrained from using his name for two reasons:
First, it was a rhetorical strategy to de-personalize the substance of the debate. This was not a personal conflict between me and my opponent but a question about the text of Scripture.
A friend recently pointed me to the guidelines for “Debate Decorum” on Robert’s Rules of Order online, which states the following under point 43 (underline added):
43. Decorum in Debate. In debate a member must confine himself to the question before the assembly, and avoid personalities. He cannot reflect upon any act of the assembly, unless he intends to conclude his remarks with a motion to rescind such action, or else while debating such a motion. In referring to another member, he should, as much as possible, avoid using his name, rather referring to him as "the member who spoke last," or in some other way describing him. The officers of the assembly should always be referred to by their official titles. It is not allowable to arraign the motives of a member, but the nature or consequences of a measure may be condemned in strong terms. It is not the man, but the measure, that is the subject of debate.
Second, it was also meant to be a humorous inside joke for those in the TR camp and others who have followed our past interactions. I explained to JW that for several years on his DL podcast it had been noticed that he had a tendency not to mention my name directly and the names of several others who had critiqued him. As a result, we began talking about using the “Voldemort Principle” (“he who shall not be named”) when discussing JW. No harm was intended.
We found creative ways to refer to JW, like “an apologist in Phoenix” or “a cyclist who dabbles in apologetics.” Yes, this continued in the Text & Canon Conference in Atlanta in October 2019, where we generally avoided referring to JW by name, though we did do so a few times (even if it was a slip up). There has never been a formal rule to avoid his name but only an informal practice.
Later, in a few blog posts and WM podcasts I began to refer to JW as the “Popular Internet Apologist” or PIA for short.
After I explained this to JW in our post-debate conversation, his response was to say that he had never avoided using my name or anyone else’s name on the DL. I was a little stymied by that response since that was not my recollection, but I again assured JW this was not meant to be taken as malicious but in good humor.
I am addressing this in a public blog post, since JW mentioned it publicly in the debate, several folk made mention of his complaint in post-debate comments I read or heard, and Samuel Nesan (and his panelists) also made glancing reference to our off-air conversation during his post-debate review [see the 58:53 mark for comments on our post-debate conversation; and the 10:43 mark for Samuel’s views on our pre-debate meeting].
For the record, in light of this expressed sensitivity, I do plan to use JW’s name, if (when) I respond to him in the future. I don’t desire to swerve into “foolish talking” or “jesting” that is “not convenient” (Eph 5:4) or “vain jangling” (1 Tim 1:6; one of my favorite AV phrases!). I also want to it be known that every-once-in-a-while I might also refer to him by a circumlocution, whether by intention or by chance. If I should do so, I hope it will not necessarily be interpreted as coming with malicious intent.