How to Argue Like a Christian: Slander, gossip, and swimming pools

This story is told by a campus minister friend of mine.

In anticipation of fall semester, the minister wrote congregations around the state inviting students coming to attend the University of Alabama to participate in his student ministry. He pointed out the many advantages of doing so, inviting the students to come see “our pool and ping pong table.”

Well, it wasn’t long before a rather strongly worded bulletin article made the rounds pointing how his church has a “swimming pool.” The bulletin made its way to the campus minister, who was mortified, because his church has no swimming pool – never has, never will. In fact, he’d meant to write that the student center has “pool and ping pong tables.” He got one little “s” wrong and suddenly he’s being lambasted in the church periodicals.

He called the minister who’d written the article, explained the typographical error, apologized for the error and the trouble he’d caused. He assured the minister that his church has no pool. The minister who’d written the bulletin was unconvinced. The campus minister offered to buy his gas if he’d come to Tuscaloosa and see for himself that there is no pool! The minister responded, “I don’t need to come to Tuscaloosa. I already know that you have a pool”!

Perhaps it was pride that kept the bulletin-writing minister from publishing a retraction. Or maybe he’s just one of those people who likes to think the worst in others. But the man’s baptism seems not to have soaked all the way into his heart. I mean, interpreting the first letter as referring to a swimming pool is understandable. Refusing to learn the actual facts is sin of a particularly pernicious kind.

An article in the Firm Foundation illustrates a related concern. An author was concerned that Rubel Shelley and other preachers were speaking before a denominational assembly. The author declared, “I’m told that at least one of them might have even worn the robe of the hosting clergy while delivering his address.”

Was the author reporting a fact? No, he was repeating a rumor. Not even that: he quoted a rumor obviously based on rank speculation. With no evidence of any kind, he sullied the reputation of his intellectual opponent.

The Bible condemns katalalia, variously translated as slander, backbiting, and evil speaking (1 Pet. 2:1; 2 Cor. 12:20). Of course, false witness, lying, gossip, filthy language, whisperings, murmuring, and such are also condemned in the strongest of terms. And yet we sometimes feel that the truth of the gospel is so important that we are justified in these very behaviors in its defense. But you can’t, by sinning, defend freedom from sin! You can’t defend Jesus by denying what he stands for!

In fact, Church of Christ periodicals and sermons ought to be the most carefully fact-checked information on the planet. We ought to be known as a people who love, not only the truth of the Bible, but truth in general.

We can’t lie to defend the truth! Nor can we be casual or careless about the facts. We need to make every effort not to bear false witness, even unintentionally. Unintentional lies do just as much harm to their victims as intentional lies. If you feel compelled to say something negative, then follow the scriptures: be sure you have “two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1).

Jesus’ and Paul’s reference is to Deut. 19:15. Of course, the inspired authors did not intend that we allow rapists to go free if we have no witnesses but we have DNA evidence or a video tape. The point is that we must be very, very careful before we make an accusation, much less a judgment. In the immediately following verses, the Law declares that where it’s one man’s word against another’s (there aren’t two or three witnesses), the judges must “make thorough investigation” and then render judgment. “Thus v. 15 states the general requirement of the Law; vv. 16-21 attempt to provide a means of dealing with cases where circumstances might not allow the normal requirement to be met … .” P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: 1976), 276.

In other places where judges are to conduct fact-findings, the Law requires that they “must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly.” Deut. 13:14. See also Deut. 17:4. However, in the case of the death penalty, the testimony of single witness is specifically made insufficient to condemn. Deut. 17:6.

In the American criminal system, the more serious the accusation, the higher the standard of proof. Thus, a murder conviction is extremely difficult to obtain. But far too often, in the Church of Christ, we destroy reputations on a whim.

(Prov. 22:1) A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

A man who takes another man’s reputation wrongly is a thief and should be treated as such. Far too often, such men instead receive honors, obeisance, and subscription revenue. Those who aren’t honored are feared. But such men should be called to repentance.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to How to Argue Like a Christian: Slander, gossip, and swimming pools

  1. Robert Baty says:

    That reminds me how the preachers like to charge their adversaries with following the principle that

    > "once a man goes public on a matter,
    > it is unlikely he is going to change".

    I suppose we all can cite applications of such a truism.

    My favorite, of course, is how certain preachers have popularized the notion, usually in the context of more complicated errors, that there is a statue of Matthew Maury somewhere depicting Maury with a statue in "one outstretched hand".

    Despite my efforts, no credible evidence has been provided to substantiate the claims, admissions, explanations, and corrections of errors are not forthcoming, and the popular claim persists in the effort to canonize Maury.

    Within the last few days I just happened to run across the Bear Valley webpage promoting such an error, in the context of other questionable claims:
    http://www.bearvalleycofc.org/articles/Sciencehar

    I did not get a response to my inquiry to them regarding the matter.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  2. Robert Baty says:

    I made an attempt to post earlier, but there seems to have been a glitch. My apologies if a duplication appears.

    > "I already know you have a pool"

    Reminds me of how so many preachers have and continue to claim that there is, somewhere, a statue of Matthew Maury depicting Maury with a bible in "one outstretched hand".

    Despite my years of effort, the error continues, usually in the context of other false and/or misleading claims of a more serious and complex nature.

    For example, within the last few days I ran across the Bear Valley website promoting the thing:
    http://www.bearvalleycofc.org/articles/Sciencehar

    I sent an inquiry thinking they would quickly correct their error. I received no response and the claim persists.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Baty

  3. Royce says:

    Jay,

    You are exactly right, I agree with your conclusions. However, these instances you cited are only symptoms of a much larger problem. This sort of sinful nonsense arises from a glaring lack of Biblical understanding. It is clear to me that anyone who paints every denominational congregation (and the individuals in it) as anathema doesn't understand the most basic fundamentals of the Christian faith.

    Royce

  4. WesWoodell says:

    Good article – I agree with your points as well.

    Hilarious story about the campus minister too – that made me smile this morning 🙂

  5. Alan says:

    The sin is all the more evil when an entire group is anathematized for the sins(whether imagined, exaggerated, or real) of a subset of the group. That's wrong whether the target is a denomination, a progressive church of Christ, conservative churches of Christ, the ICOC, or anyone else. It is individuals, not institutions, that sin.

  6. In the church where I grew up (this was in 1964), the rumor at another church was that we had a <a href="http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/search?q=bowling+alley&quot; rel="nofollow">Church Bowling Alley.

  7. Joe Baggett says:

    Don't you know that opposing error let's you forego all the instructions in scripture. You may infer or imply you don't really have to go talk with the people that you believe are in error. You may circulate petitions. You may falsely accuse. You may dish out guilt by association. I recently asked a writer and publisher of a brotherhood publication to go visit a church he had written up as being in error. I told him that I knew the people there and that some of what he reported was inaccurate. He told me I was out of place. I personally wish to see more church bowling alleys, swimming pools and recreation. It is ok for the church to have fun! A Christian who can't loosen up and have fun will never convince anyone in today's culture of God's Joy! Of course for my parent’s generation anything that was fun had to be a sin they were not allowed to go to concerts or dances or anything that might remotely resemble something that was not pious in our white middle class culture. Just lately have I been able to get my mom and Dad to loosen up and have fun.

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