Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 28, 1969
NUMBER 17, PAGE 9-10

Respectable Slander

W. W. Cassio

That's what a fellow would be inclined to call it. We might also call it "airing our dirty laundry." Slander never solved anyone's problems, it never healed any personal wounds and it shall never substitute for consideration and moderation. James, by inspiration, said the tongue was a fire a very "world of iniquity." We say that gossip and slander opens Pandora's box (some of us country boys say that gossip opens a can of worms). But, still we do it. When the ordinary man maligns another man we denounce him as being cruel and pernicious. This is right.

The Lord said that personal difficulties should be settled first by a personal encounter; if that does not avail, witnesses should be secured to judge the matter; and in the event that the erring offender does not repent, it should be taken to the church (Matt. 18:15-17; I Cor. 6:1-8). The wise man in the long ago counseled, "He that uttereth slander is a fool" (Prov. 10:18b), and "a whisperer separateth chief friends" (Prov. 16:28b). Good advice, and it makes good preaching. It keeps the church in peace and brethren happy. We should openly denounce the slanderer, and remain firm in the conviction that no one will use our mind for a garbage pail, a deposit for filth, vulgarity and malice. This policy will avert problems with our enemies and with ourselves.

William Blake, a master engraver and poet, at the turn of the Eighteenth century wrote the following lines entitled "A Poison Tree."

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I water'd it in fears,

Night and morning with my tears;

And I sunned it with smiles,

And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright;

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole

When the night had veil'd the pole:

In the morning glad I see

My foe outstretch'd beneath the tree.

Blake's peculiar problem of reconciling good and evil is seen in this poem, but his conclusion is valid. An addenda could be added to this. The poison tree kills both the enemy and the person who grows it. A person cannot verbally defame another without suffering serious character damage. Our Lord has instructed us to talk with our enemies about our personal problems, and not to talk about them to others. The term "backbiting" covers this facet of our lives — and it is listed among the soul-damning attributes of Romans the first chapter.

But, on with the article. There is a peculiar problem of slander among good churches and brethren. I choose to call it "Respectable Slander," because good men and women have been unconsciously victimized by it. It has all the appearances of soundness, and for all practical purposes purports itself to be doing God's service. It is this business of sending portfolios full of personal problems (between preachers and churches or just preachers and preachers) all over the brotherhood. The pattern is this: One day the mailman delivers a fat manila envelope addressed to the elders and preacher of the church of Christ, at Itching ears, the envelope is opened and a sheaf of closely- spaced, type-written pages is extracted that gives in detail the life and times of brother Badnews (or the church at Upsidedown), with an urgent admonition to disallow, disassociate, disfellowship and disconnect the subject of the letter (upon the grounds of the information contained in the document). Shortly thereafter another manuscript arrives via the same carrier and lo! a refutation of all said charges appears in this bulging bag, along with the real "facts of the matter." And so unsuspecting and curious christians devour the material and promptly take sides (or scratch their puzzled heads and wait until they can get more information on this problem). Some of us reach our decisions and commence an active defense of the innocent party (in our judgment), denouncing the culprits all the while.

False teachers are to be marked (Romans 16:17,18), but we have no right to air personal difficulties to the world with impunity. God will reckon with us when we take such liberties with our brethren. This is surely a source of grief aria trouble among christians. It violates every code of conduct that exists between us. It does not exemplify long-suffering. It certainly indicates no love for each other. It could hardly be classified as a "do unto others" rule. The attitude that prompts a public revelation of private problems arises from the precept, "Hatred stirreth up strifes: But love covereth all sins" (Proverbs 10:12). We cannot possibly comply with our Lord's will in seeking the good of all men when we maliciously set out to ruin a person's influence because we have had a personal falling-out. Untold harm has been done among christians because the Lord's will has been ignored during periods of violent emotional conflicts.

And then there is the problem of reconciliation. Out of the half-dozen packets that I have personally received from churches there have been at least two follow-up cancellations of prior information and accusations. These brethren have come to themselves and started trying to work out their differences. But, the more people that are involved in the original altercation, the harder it is to straighten everything out. Our dirty laundry needs to be aired in the privacy of those directly involved in the cleaning chores; both as a precaution to a violation of brotherly ethics and as a safeguard against future reconciliation barriers.

It has been said that such slander tactics as are employed via mass mailing would ruin a church or individual if unanswered. Christ has regulated our retaliation against our enemies. We bless and curse not, we take it patiently and, above all, we have our "conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Pet. 2:12). This is done so that we may "have a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ" (I Peter 3:16). We cannot respond to smear tactics in kind, for it would be tantamount to rendering "evil for evil." President Garfield was once told that his enemies were circulating harmful lies about him, and what was he going to do about it. He replied, "I am going to live so that no one will believe them"

And then there is our responsibility as recipients of gossip or slander. What are we to do with such mail? Are we at liberty to read and repeat these things? Frankly, I see no distinction between gossip in print and gossip in speech. It is simply a more permanent form of the stuff. Our disposition will regulate our reaction to it. Wisdom says "A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty (mischievous) tongue" (Prov. 17:4). Perhaps we should reexamine our curiosity in other men's personal matters. The "busy body" that is condemned in I Peter 4:15 is defined as "one who is officious in other men's matters." These are hard sayings.

There is a solution. Personal problems should be kept on an entirely personal (local) level. The cause for which we labor is far too noble to be sullied by the pettiness of men and women of shallow character. It should be the business of every christian to strive diligently to restrict personal problems to a limited area. And there should go up a thunderous objection to any man or church who circulates any dissertation of personal entanglements. Let us resolve ourselves to the conflicts of faith and quit the quibblings of opinions. The faith we labor for will grow stronger, churches will increase in peace and we can live before our God in good conscience.

— 1050 Remington Drive, Sunnyvale, California