|"The bell tolls for me..."|
My heart goes out to both men. My wife and I are sending a check to Ergun and Jill Caner to help them with any unexpected expenses associated with the tragic suicide of their fifteen-year-old son, Braxton. The note we attach will remain private, but it expresses to them our prayers on their behalf. No answers. No wisdom. Just an expression of love and support.
In my office I keep a file of suicide notes from all the suicide scenes where I've ministered as a police chaplain to family members left behind. Every now and then I go through and read them. Every time I read a note, I remember a family with whom I've shared an experience of pain. The most agonizing part of working a suicide is the conversation that must take place with family members of the deceased.
I cannot remember ever talking with a family when I did not say something along these lines:
"I know you are hurting. I wish I could take your pain away. I can't. But what I can do is tell you that you are not to blame for the death of your loved one."
I would then explain that in the coming days some friends, co-workers, and even a few family members will begin playing 'the blame game.' Ignore them. It won't be easy. However, every time someone attempts to place blame, remember what I am about to tell you right now:
"The only person responsible for this death is the one by whose hand this life ended."When I heard about Braxton's suicide, my heart broke. It broke for the Caners. It also broke for another person - JD Hall.
During the first week of July I read about an on-line Twitter exchange between JD Hall and Braxton Caner. It was brought to my attention by Peter Lumpkins who wrote about it. The tweet exchange between JD and Braxton occurred over the course of just a few minutes, consisted of a handful of back-and-forth tweets between Pastor JD Hall and 15-year-old Braxton Caner, and ended just as quickly as it began. It never should have happened. The exchange is still a matter of the public record. Anyone can read it. Pastor JD Hall never should have 'called out' Braxton Caner for 'immorality' via Twitter (why does JD get to define 'immorality' for Braxton?). Pastor JD Hall never should have asked Braxton if "he spoke Arabic at home" (Come on). Pastor JD Hall never should have told Braxton to 'call him if he ever wanted know the truth about his father" (I don't blame Ergun for wanting to punch Pastor JD).
It was stupid behavior on JD's part. It was foolish behavior. I would call it sinful and selfish behavior.
A few years ago, the same thing happened to me and my kids. We were attacked for 'immorality,' 'dishonesty,' and 'hypocrisy.' I am not unfamiliar with people attacking a 'high-profile' person with whom they disagree through their children. It's not pleasant. It's not Christian. I get it.
I did not know JD Hall, so when I read Peter Lumpkins, I went to JD Hall's blog to read what he had to say about the Twitter exchange with Braxton. Surprisingly, I read an apology. When I looked at the time line, I noticed that the apology was posted less than 48 hours after the Twitter exchange took place. Here's what JD Hall wrote:
"As I said on Friday's program, I regret pointing people to the material or behavior exhibited on Caner's son, Braxton's Twitter account. That was a distraction, and I should have contacted Caner about it. I did reach out to one of Caner's associates, but apparently didn't give enough time for him to amend the situation. Again, I should not have done that.
I've asked for people "chapter and verse" why it's wrong to point out publicly his already-public behavior. I've thought a lot about it. Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Well, Caner and I are not exactly, "close friends" but the point is salient. While it was in no way an "attack," Braxton wasn't a public persona even though his tweets are public, and now even more are aware of the various things mentioned in the above blog post. Likewise, I shouldn't have interacted with the boy those couple times once the original tweet was made.
Finally, I gave credence to the rumor in a tweet relating to Caner's marriage which I should not have mentioned, even in passing. That, I will go so far as to say is sinful. So, thinking my email address already blocked, I've reached out to a mutual friend of Caner and myself to give an apology to make sure he gets it. If someone wants to beat me over the head with this apology or the way it's worded, then I apologize for that, too."When I heard that Braxton died, my heart went out to the Caner family and to the Hall family. Last Sunday, right before the early service at Emmanuel, I googled JD Hall, found the contact number for his church in Montana, and called. The person on the answering machine said, "Hello, this is Jordan... "so I thought I might have the wrong number. However, after realizing that the J in JD was probably Jordan, I left a message, telling Jordan I was praying for him and his family. Remember, I've never met or spoken to Jordan (the name used by his friends).
Jordan called me back Sunday night.
I spoke to a hurting man. The death of Braxton has hit him hard. At the time, not much had been written on-line about JD being responsible for Braxton's death. The only thing I had read was from an atheist website. Yet, I told Jordan that it was more than likely that in the coming days and weeks a number of people would write articles about Jordan being 'responsible' for Braxton Caner's death.
Jordan Hall is no more responsible for the death of Braxton Caner than Ergun Caner is responsible for the death of Braxton Caner. I gave the same speech to Jordan Hall that I've given for decades to family members of loved ones who have died. If someone says to me, "But wait a minute, JD Hall is not a family member of Braxton? Why does he need to be told he is not to blame?"
Because he is a human being who had an interaction, albeit unwise, with a young man who committed suicide. All of us have 'unwise, foolish, and stupid interactions with others' Not all of us commit suicide. Pastor JD Hall is a brother-in-Christ with Braxton. He did have a relationship with Braxton - albeit a poor one via social media. JD Hall needs to hear the same thing the family of Braxton Caner should be hearing. I'm sure, like every parent, there have been 'unwise, foolish, and stupid exchanges" between the Caners and their kids - just like there's been some between my wife and me and our kids - but Jill and Ergun Caner are not responsible for Braxton's death.
I remind those Christians who disagree with me about JD Hall not being responsible for Braxton Caner's death of three things:
(1). The Twitter exchange was stupid, foolish and unwise, but anybody who would quantify the exchange as cyber-bullying probably needs to be shown other examples of cyber-bullying.
(2). Jordan Hall apologized within 48 hours of the exchange.
(3). Nobody knows why Braxton Caner committed suicide, and assigning blame to Jordan Hall and/or Ergun Caner is both unwise and unhealthy for everyone involved.
I am not a friend of Jordan Hall. I am not a friend of Ergun Caner. I am a brother-in-Christ to both. My heart broke when I heard of Braxton Caner's death.
"Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee..." John Donne, Meditation 17Friends and family of Ergun Caner may feel the need to blame JD Hall. Friends and family of JD Hall may feel the need to blame Ergun Caner. People who have personally experienced the subtle power of spiritual abuse and who have no relationship with Jordan or Ergun may be quick to blame Jordan Hall.
Blame is not a game.
Only God knows why Braxton Caner took his life. My encouragement is to lift up the Caner family in prayer, as well as the Jordan Hall family in prayer, and spend our time focusing on how we can help both.