Q. How are Christians supposed to respond when someone or an organization is accused of something bad?
Your question is a good one and fundamental to decent Christian behavior at church, the home or at work.
There are all kinds of accusations and gossip about church leaders, religious organizations, political leaders and family members. The tendency is for Christians to gossip about others before following Christ's recommendations in Matthew 18:15-17.
Let's start with some ground rules:
1. 2 or 3 Witnesses
First, "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses" (1 Timothy 5:19).
We also see "two or three witnesses" in Matthew 18:16. This idea comes from a wise and ancient law based on Deuteronomy 19:15 which provides for reconciliation between opposing persons.
Matthew 18 Procedure
Jesus clearly spells out a procedure to follow when church members have something against each other. See Matthew 18:15:
- First, we need to confront a sinning brother privately.
- If he still won't listen then take 2 or 3 witnesses with you.
- If he won't listen even after this then bring it before the church.
- If he still rebells then let him be as a "Gentile" or a "tax collector." In other words, he should be avoided.
Of course, Jesus' procedure is difficult to follow when we hear rumors or gossip about secular leaders or unbelievers. But, we can still follow the general advice of scripture in these cases.
2. Accountable for Every Word
The second ground rule is to remember that "Every careless word that people speak they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36).
This goes for Christians, too. We don't want to "shrink away from Him in shame" or lose out on part of a reward due to our careless words when we stand before Him in judgment(1 Jn 2:28; 2 Jn 1:8).
This is self evident. All of us need to use caution whenever we speak. We need to be careful how we use our words. The general advice of Scripture is to be sure there are credible sources (witnesses) behind any rumor, and we should be careful what we say in these matters.
Tools for Evil or Good
As far as public figures are concerned, we need to be aware that the internet and news media are potent tools serving either God or Satan. Randy Alcorn, author of the popular book, Heaven, warns:
"There is an inherent danger in blogs. Usually there is no editor. No checks and balances. Yet, because you have words attractively placed on a screen, there is an illusion of credible research. Often the research is minimal and limited to internet sites."
Can't "google" Truths
Continuing, Alcorn points out,
"But there are a lot of truths you can't just "Google." You've got to make the effort to go directly and privately to your brother, just like Jesus commanded us to." (Matt. 18:15-17)
"Blogs have no publisher with a legal department or wise counsel to look at potentially slanderous accusations and say, "Have you gone to them and asked them to respond?"
Mob Behavior of Blogs
Randy Alcorn concludes
…"In fact, some Christian blogs operate with a sort of mob behavior, where one person kicks somebody with a verbal cheap shot, emboldening others, and then a number gang up, using words instead of kicks and knives. Christians encourage Christians to beat up on other Christians, often without a full or accurate understanding of reality. Isn't all this a natural spawning ground for the 'careless words' Christ says we'll have to give an account of on Judgment Day? James is right - the tongue 'is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." (James 3:8).
(2006, p. 1-6)
God Forbids Gossip
We need to remember that God clearly forbids us to gossip! "Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people" (Leviticus 19:16, NLT).
Betrayal of Trust
Gossip is especially pernicious because it destroys trust in relationships. It is clearly a betrayal of trust. How many families do you know, for example, where a parent tries to turn a child against the other parent? This is infantile and destructive behavior. Often, it works to damage an entire family - and the one spreading slander causes others to mistrust him or her, too. In other words, it backfires upon the one spreading the gossip!
Unfortunately, lazy people without better things to do often spread slanderous gossip. The next time you hear someone spreading vicious rumors about church leaders or family members, remember this point: Lazy, useless people spread rumors.
1 Timothy 5:13 states, "They are likely to become lazy and spend their time gossiping from house to house, getting into other people's business and saying things they shouldn't."
It Stops with You
Let slanderous accusations stop with you. "Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops" (Proverbs 26:20, NLT).
The next time someone begins to speak negatively about others, do not respond to them. You don't need to criticize or point out the evil in spreading gossip. Just don't respond! The "fire goes out for lack of fuel…"
Promise of Blessing
1 Peter 3:10 says, "If you want a happy life and good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil, and keep your lips from telling lies."
Did you know that to "bless others" means to speak well of them? All of us need to be reminded to bless others including our persecutors. By speaking well of them we promote a happy life and good days. Maybe we should remember this the next time we are tempted to gossip.
Alcorn, Randy. 2006. Being careful with our words. Eternal Perspectives. (Spring). www.epm.org.
TouchPoints for hurting people. 2004. Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale.