Lying is done with words and also with silence. -Adrienne Rich
I contend that "slander" is the most misused and overused word in today's churches. Recently, Frank Viola posted an article by John Zens called The Most Ignored Sin here which deals with their perspective on gossip and slander.
Slander and Gossip According to Zens and Viola
I agreed with his definition of gossip
Gossip is second or third hand information that someone dumps on you without your prior consent and without the consent of the person being gossiped about. Gossip can be true, partially true, or completely false. It can be motivated by good intentions, but it’s always negative personal information about another that puts them in a bad light.
But I disagreed with his definition of slander because I believe there is an important element missing in this explanation. Note that he starts off by invoking what he claims the Bible says about slander.
The Bible defines slander as accusatory speech that is injurious to a person’s name and reputation. It’s essentially character assassination . . . the act of smearing someone. Gossip and slander color people’s perceptions of an individual unfairly and unjustly without their knowledge or consent.
What Does the Bible Really Say?
He claims this definition can be found in the Bible, but I had a hard time finding the exact wording that Zens proposes. Here is a word search for slander in the ESV Bible.
From 1 Peter 3:16 we read:
Having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
From Psalm 103:9:
They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
Is Slander Merely Saying Something Negative?
Zens goes on to say something that I believe can be dangerous when applied in today's churches.
One doesn’t have to be operating in malice to be guilty of gossip and slander. Again, the motive is irrelevant. Spreading negative or shameful information about another person is contrary to walking in love. Love “thinks no evil” and “believes the best of others” (1 Cor. 13)
Here are his three points.
- It has nothing to do with malice.
- Motivation is irrelevant.
- Spreading negative information is contrary to walking in love.
An Analysis of the Verses In Regards to Motivation
I believe he is wrong. Let's start with some background information. The Bible verses dealing with slander makes some vital points.
- Slander attacks without cause.
- Slander attacks good behavior and the person's life demonstrates that good behavior.
- It involves dishonesty.
Let's look more closely at James 4:11. From the Berean Christian Bible Study Link
However the word "slander" should be used consistently throughout theses verses, as the same greek word "katalaleo" is used throughout. "Katalaleo" means to traduce – To cause humiliation or disgrace to by making malicious and false statements. This is the sense here. Thus it should be "anyone who slanders his brother slanders the law and judges it." He then transitions from speaking of slandering to speaking on judging based on one's own opinions. These are of course related in that when one sets one's own opinion above God's, such a person ends up misjudging others. Jesus was subjected to such misjudgment in his trial by the Sanhedrin. So what criticisms you make concerning fellow Christians, let them not contain false and malicious statements, but rather even as Jesus said, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil" Jon 18:23
And lest one misinterpret what James says here, Paul explicitly commands, "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." 1Cor 5:12,13 We are to judge fellow Christians, but not misjudge them.
So, we are allowed to judge fellow Christians but not misjudge them. This contradicts Zen's statement, which I repeat.
One doesn’t have to be operating in malice to be guilty of gossip and slander. Again, the motive is irrelevant. Spreading negative or shameful information about another person is contrary to walking in love.
Truth Versus Lies Is Important
In fact, truth is relevant. Here, Zens overlooks one of the Scriptural names of Satan, which will make all the difference when we look at the word "slander." He merely focuses on the word "accuse" in a pejorative sense. He appears to say that "accuse" always mean "bad". He seems to overlook the fact that it might not be about the accusation but the validity of the accusation.
Satan’s nature is to accuse. He is called the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12). In fact, the word “Satan” means adversary, and the word “devil” literally means “slanderer.”
If one refers to John 8:44 Satan is called "The Father of Lies." The Devil, slanderer, is the Father of Lies. So, lying is part and parcel of slander. Note how frequently the word "lie" is found in this verse.
When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies
It's about lying and the motivation for the lying. This appears to contradict Zen's argument. U.S. law appears to mimic the Bible by defining slander as being a lie link which is linked to a motivation of wishing harm to another individual.
Slander is the oral communication of false statements that are harmful to a person's reputation. If the statements are proven to be true, it is a complete defense to a charge of slander. Oral opinions that don't contain statements of fact don't constitute slander. Slander is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Slander is a subcategory of defamation.
Truth and Motivation Is Important.
It is vital to the discussion to understand that slander is an act of making a false statement in order to damage another's reputation, etc. It is a big fat lie, and the person making it knows it, just as Satan knows it.
Therefore, the expression of a legitimate concern, based on a number of reports, is not slander but a form of Christian love. It is meant to protect the church from serious error; to help those who are being hurt by the church; to prevent harm to others in the church; and to exhort those in leadership to follow the example of Jesus.
How Not to Use the Word "Slander".
Let me show you how NOT to respond to a legitimate concern. A few years back, we had the opportunity to speak with a mega-church pastor in our area. We addressed two points. Both points were based on credible information which we, along with many, many others, believed to be true. In fact, as time has progressed, it has become increasingly apparent that we were on the right path.
1. We knew this pastor was very friendly with leaders in Sovereign Grace Ministries and that he sometimes visited with them. By this time, we were aware of the incredible numbers of serious concerns regarding the handling of child sex abuse, domestic abuse, and bizarre theological applications that were hurting many, many people as documented on the blogs of SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge. Never had we seen so many documented ugly situations anywhere else. We asked this pastor to consider asking his friends at SGM to address these issues. We truly believe that had he done so and had SGM leadership responded, we would not have seen the filing of a class action lawsuit.
2. We knew that this pastor, along with SGM, recommended Gary Ezzo's books. The American Academy of Pediatrics had issued warnings about the advice in Ezzo's book link. We asked him to reconsider his recommendation of this book.
The pastor responded, accusing us of slander and "character assassination".
In fact, we did no such thing. We documented our concerns based on a large number of reports. One of our motives was to make sure pastors do not give bad medical advice to their congregations. After all, they are not trained physicians and have no business blatantly ignoring the advice of experienced professionals without good cause.
We also contend that had he, along with other well-known pastors who are held up as examples within the SGM leadership structure, spoken up earlier, we would not be at this point today. But that would have interfered with all the speaking engagements and conferences and being nice to one another because "being nice" and supporting each other's ministries is what it is all about, isn't it?
It is not slander to express concern about the SGM lawsuit or the number of documents that have been released by Brent Detwiler. It is not slander to ask why Prestonwood Baptist Church did not report John Langworthy to the police. It is not slander to look at the associates involved in a business venture. It is not slander to ask if your pastor is paid by both the church and the conference at which he is speaking.
(As an aside, in fact, we want to commend an author at SBC Voices. In one post here, he revealed his relationship to Cruciform Press and Kevin Meath's former relationship to SGM.)-Updated to more accurately reflect the authorship This is mean to be a compliment for disclosing a business relationship. 3/20/13
Does Slander Really Mean an Inconvenient Truth?
Unfortunately, this accusation of slander is used to squelch very serious concerns within the church. In fact I would contend that, in many situations in which a pastor cries "slander", he is really saying "I don't want to hear that. It means I have to deal with it and I don't want to. It will screw up all sorts of things." Slander, in many instances, is simply an "inconvenient truth".
Matthew 18 + Slander: Applied Erroneously
A series of exchanges between Frank Viola and some of his readers gives us insight into how far some believe we should go to keep things "quiet". It appears that Matthew 18 is in full force, always, with no exceptions when it come to dealing with "inconvenient information".
This advice, if followed, could have serious consequences.
February 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm
“If someone is clearly sinning, they are to be approached in private.” Is this the case with pedophilia? Should we let the churches handle this “privately”?
Frank Viola says:
February 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm
I didn’t write the article, but I think I can give an answer nonetheless. Jesus teaching in Matt. 18 doesn’t prioritize one sin above another or make exceptions. I was once part of a church where a pedophile was discovered to be among us. We went to him in private first. Eventually he was put out of the church, following Matt. 18, because he refused to accept correction. What he was doing was inappropriate, but it hadn’t gotten to the crime stage.
The NT doesn’t make an exception or an excuse for the sin of gossip, as Zens points out. Zens is appealing to the NT. If one doesn’t believe the NT, then that’s another story. The article is written to those who do. btw/ the instruction about the 2 or 3 isn’t that they have to be witnesses to the sin, but they are witnesses to the discipline process and correction. In addition, pedophilia is a crime. So going to the authorities for a crime … like murder, physical abuse, etc. . . . isn’t gossip if it’s happening.
Here are the problems with this response. Viola claims the man was a pedophile. They went to him privately and at some later point, threw him out of the church because he did not "receive correction". Viola said it was "inappropriate" but it did not reach a "crime" stage. So, the man was a pedophile, but his sin was not a crime? And this is still considered "gossip"? It appears that Viola is saying that we must "Matthew 18" the situation before reporting it. The discussion progresses as Viola is pushed on the pedophile issue since his answer is not clear.
February 16, 2013 at 10:51 am
So what would you do if someone tells you they fear a child is being molested and has given their reasons for thinking so but they have no proof? How would you handle that? Would that be considered “gossip”?
Frank Viola says:
February 17, 2013 at 10:47 am
Someone’s “fear” or “suspicion” doesn’t make it so. If there’s a legitimate concern with clear evidence, an investigation should be done. The person should be approached directly. If it’s clear that it’s happening and will continue to happen, the authorities should be contacted for this is a serious crime. Again, just as yourself, how would I want to be treated if it were me being accused. That question answers most of these questions.
Viola's advice here contradicts the advice of many experts. In fact, it mirrors a situation with which I am acquainted. A teen boy reported a sexually charged incident at a church retreat. The church "investigated" it and pronounced the teen "nuts". The pedophile continued to have full access to a group of boys for another year and horribly abused them. He is serving 13 years in jail, thanks to the police who caught him.The Matthew 18 brigade at the church had an epic fail, and there were many who were hurt by their inability to make an adequate assessment.
Frankly, this is why churches get into trouble. He (Viola and pastors) get to determine what constitutes "legitimate evidence.". He gets to do the investigation. He gets to determine if it is "clear" that the abuse is occurring. This is dangerous. I am sure he thinks he is being "biblical", but he is mistaken.
If you believe that sex abuse is occurring, call Child Protective Services immediately. You are immune from any prosecution by reporting a legitimate concern. Many states will allow you to report this anonymously. This is not slander, it is the right thing to do. Let the experts decide what is going on. And, if your church accuses you of slander, get out of there, pronto! That is a dangerous church.
Boz Tchividjian Addresses Matthew 18
Today, Rachel Held Evans featured an interview with Boz Tchividjian link on the use of Matthew 18 in regards to child abuse. We will end on this note. She introduces Boz as follows:
Basyle ‘Boz’ Tchividjian, a founding member and Executive Director ofG.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Born in Vevey, Switzerland, Boz grew up in south Florida, where he served as Assistant State Attorney, Seventh Judicial Circuit (1994-2001). While in that position, he was chief Prosecutor, Sexual Crimes Division, where he gained much experience in cases involving sexual abuse and harassment. In 2003, Boz helped found G.R.A.C.E. to educate and equip the faith community to correctly respond to sexual abuse disclosures, while also providing practical guidance to churches on how to protect children.
She asks him about the use of Matthew 18 in child sex abuse. I heartily recommend that the reader review his entire response. Show this to your pastors or anyone who misuses Matthew 18. Here is an excerpt from their discussion:
The scourge of child sexual abuse is not just a sin violating the 7th Commandment in Exodus 20:14 and Matthew 5:27-30, but it is also a criminal offense in all 50 States. It is not a matter which can be handled quietly between two persons or between two families, as was misguidedly done in Genesis 34 and in many churches today. It is a matter of public alarm, because of its pervasive, extensive, and expansive nature, causing a cascade of misery in countless lives. Additionally, the God-ordained civil authorities in virtually every jurisdiction mandate in some fashion that suspected child abuse be immediately reported to law enforcement.
Thus, any claim that we must follow the Matthew 18 progressive confrontation process before reporting disclosures of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities is simply wrongheaded: God’s minister’s—the civil authorities—must be informed first!
In this, child sexual abuse is like murder. Anyone who would demand that the family of a murder victim must first follow the Matthew 18 process before calling the police could be criminally charged themselves for being an accessory after the fact. What kind of twisted mind would reason that kidnapping or rape ought to be concealed from the civil authorities while a process of church discipline is pursued first?
P.S. Gentlemen, it is not "slander" to admit that C.J. Mahaney has stepped down from SGM — even he admits it…
Lydia's Corner: Judges 2:10-3:31 Luke 22:14-34 Psalm 92:1-93:5 Proverbs 14:1-2