Charles Spurgeon once made the statement, “I know some who are not half so eager to publish the gospel as to publish slander.”
It’s sad to say that this quote aptly describes of a large portion of the visible church, certainly in the social media age. Every action of a prominent Christian leader will inevitably be considered a scandal by someone, whether any wrong was done initially or not.
“I know some who are not half so eager to publish the gospel as to publish slander.” – Charles Spurgeon
Spend time browsing through blogs, Facebook groups and online forums and it won’t take long for you to discover gossip, rumors, and baseless criticisms.
“Discernment blogs are too often marked by neither truth nor love. They certainly showed very little rigor in verifying their facts about me.” He continues, “I do not believe the Bible mandates that outside the context of the local church a person must get in touch with another in order to disagree with their theology or their interpretation of facts. However, a Christian who is committed to speaking truth in love will feel at least some obligation to confirm whether details are true. Not one of these writers knows me personally or, to my knowledge, has ever met me. Not one attempted to get in touch with me or anyone connected with me to verify facts—to get, at the very least, a “no comment” (even the worst of the mainstream media would do that as a minimum!)—even though my contact information is publicly available. I am not the exception here—this is their standard operating procedure. And still these bloggers know the dollars and cents of my life, they know who my friends are, they know where my loyalties lie and, in a display of near-omniscience, they even know my motives.”
This compulsive need to make assumptions and run with them regarding people we have never met is a dangerous thing indeed. I’ve blogged consistently for about three years, and only a handful of times have I written critiques regarding public figures.
I have a few criteria that must be met before I will even consider writing such an article, posting my opinion in a Facebook group, etc.:
- I generally wait at least a week after the story comes out. This gives a window of time for the immediate falsehoods to be flushed out, and enough research to be done to ensure the veracity of everything I am wanting to write about.
- If I am writing about a teacher’s theological error, such as Jen Hatmaker’s comments about homosexuality, I must have audio, video, or written evidence that they actually hold to the position in question.
Likewise, if I am writing an article regarding a sexual abuse or a scandal within the church – which I am even more hesitant to address typically – I give as much time as possible to consider the evidence at hand. Rumors are not reason enough to post.
- It must be a topic that is relevant to my regular readers. I don’t want to write about every trending topic, I want to be selective in what I choose to blog. I think that’s my responsibility as the steward of this website.
- I look to see if the topic has been covered by someone more articulate and wise than I. More often than not, by the time I am ready to write an article, someone else has already covered it in a thorough and helpful way. If it has been addressed by someone like this, I will typically opt to direct people to their article rather than write something of my own simply because I can.
I think if more Christians were thoughtful and waited until facts became clearer before adressing a topic – certainly those regarding leaders or ministry – we would see fewer lives destroyed, churches split, and hearts broken.
To share an example – a well-known Christian organization recently announced the resignation of a certain staff member. (To keep the focus precisely on what I am trying to communicate in this article, I’d prefer not to identify them, though I’m sure the majority of my readers know who I am referring to already.)
“…if more Christians were thoughtful and waited until facts became clearer before addressing a topic, we would see fewer lives destroyed, churches split, and hearts broken.”
The statement read as such,
“Last Friday, the board of directors of MINISTRY and MINISTRY received and affirmed the resignation of STAFF MEMBER He is stepping away for personal reasons that preclude him from continuing in his duties at the ministry and the college. This was communicated by phone to his father, NAME, the founder of MINISTRY and chancellor of MINISTRY, and it was later communicated in writing to the entire board of directors of MINISTRY.
We support the STAFF MEMBER’s family and give thanks for the many edifying contributions of STAFF MEMBER over the years through his work at the ministry and the college. We believe he will be well cared for by his church during this time of transition, and we pray for him in his future endeavors.”
The article was pretty general and quite positive. The organization and elders do not indicate serious issues, there is no reason given aside from ‘personal reasons’ – a pretty common explanation – and they end mentioning that they believe he will be well cared for by his church – all while receiving their prayers for his future endeavors.
Yet, as I was browsing through a Facebook group today, I saw someone post a link to the public statement, asking everyone in the group, “What do you think?”
My heart sunk as, just three comments down from the original post, someone wrote a very damaging, critical assumption regarding what they imagined COULD have happened… this is exactly how rumors start.
I commented on the post, stating, “I don’t think we should make assumptions, and pray for the good of STAFF MEMBER and the MINISTRY.”
When we don’t know the facts, it’s best for us to refrain from forming or fueling rumors, because they will always do damage.
In closing, I refer to the closing statement of Tim Challies’ aforementioned article, where he addressed this issue more articulately than I ever could.
“There are times for bloggers to comment on pressing issues, even issues that are uncomfortable to address, and certain writers do this well. They express themselves with kindness and grace even as they disagree with people they love. Even more urgently, there are false leaders and ministries that need to be exposed. If a well-known ministry is teaching heresy and leading people to hell or systemically promoting or allowing abuse of children, I am certain we can find someone to do a real and honest investigation, to verify the facts, to talk to the people involved, and to determine if this is the case. If it is, I will join in sounding the alarm.
But I will not read any more shocking exposes built on nothing more than one side’s accusations and angry conjectures. I am not going to read about this person’s finances and that person’s leadership style. I am not going to allow people with so little integrity, with so little concern for truth and love, to violate my conscience, pollute my mind, and disrupt my love for others. And I’d encourage you to join me.”
Additional articles I’ve written on criticism: