News travels fast.
It only takes days, if not minutes, for the latest downfall or scandal or resignation of that well-known person in Christian ministry to hit our ears.
We’ve all been there.
And while our world and our Facebook and Twitter feeds delight in juicy gossip and rumours, we know from Scripture that gossip and slander are serious and damaging sins (Proverbs 16:28; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20).
I think there are four possible responses when we hear rumours about our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all of them apply to every person. Not all of them are godly responses:
1. The rumour stops with me
Psalm 101:5 Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.
Whether this rumour is true or not, you see that it’s really none of your business. The fact is, you’re not really close to this person. Your ministries don’t intersect in any way. There’s simply no reason for you to get involved in any deeper way. If there are people and organisations you trust who are willing to continue to vouch for this person, then you’re content with that and give them the benefit of the doubt.
So you step back. You stop talking. You’re wise enough to know there are always two sides to the story. But you’re simply not close enough to need to do anything yourself. So you let God be judge and trust his people to do the right thing.
2. I’m close enough to talk to the person directly
Matthew 18:15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
This person’s well-being and spheres of ministry intersect with you and your ministries closely. Or they might actually be a personal friend – either now or in the past. So you do them the courtesy of making time to talk to them directly. Whatever else you’ve heard from others, you view with a healthy degree of scepticism until you speak to this person directly.
And once you do, you then make measured and wise judgements about who else you’re going to talk to. You might be content at this point to leave it. On the other hand, it may involve an unresolved conflict with other people or organisations, so you might decide to talk to them about it, to get the other side of the story.
When you’ve heard ‘the other side’, you’ve got a decision to make. To what extent do I need to make decisions about this person and justify it to others? To what extent do I need to speak further about this to others who may fall into the other three categories above and below?
The wise person would speak as minimally as possible and encourage others who have questions about this person to do what you’ve done – i.e. to talk to the person directly, or simply to stop talking and asking.
Proverbs 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
3. I’m going to talk to others based on limited information
Proverbs 18:8 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.
The rumours don’t stop with you, you become a link in the Chinese whispers chain. Whatever information you have is second-hand. The rumours are simply too salacious or scandalous to be kept to yourself. You might even talk about it with a veneer of godliness and concern, but if you’re honest with yourself, you just like gossiping.
You need to repent. You need to stop. You will need to confess and apologise to the people you’ve talked to, and perhaps (one day) to the person you’ve gossiped about.
4. I’m going to launch my own investigation so I can be the expert on these matters
Proverbs 16:28 A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.
You’re discontent with the limited information you might have heard in the rumour mill, so you decide you need to know more. But unlike person (2) above, you’re not motivated by genuine concern for the person; neither does your sphere of ministry really require you to get involved. However you decide to launch your own investigation by talking to the people or organisations you are closer to. But you’re not consistent or courageous enough to approach the person yourself.
During the course of your ‘investigations’, people turn to you for information and for your opinion on the matter. You tell yourself and others that since you’ve launched your own inquiry, you’re in a strong enough position to make a godly assessment of the situation. The truth is, of course, you’re not. But people pay attention to what you say because of that veneer of care and authority you carry.
You tell yourself that you’re doing the godly thing, but the reality is, you’re the most damaging of the lot. You should have had the wisdom of person (1) and just stopped the rumours when they hit you. You may need to repent of your idolatrous desire for power, influence, and approval. The fact of the matter is, you like being the expert; you like being ‘in the know’; you like to have people think well of you that you’ve done a great deal of ‘objective’ investigation. In reality you haven’t and all you’ve done and all you’ve become is another damaging link in the chain of rumours.
I read in the Sydney Morning Herald today a study which was done on the eating habits of children and how that has been shown to have a link towards mental health as adolescents. Basically the study concluded that bad eating has direct consequences on anxiety, depression, aggression and other aspects of a person’s mental well-being. In other words, what we do to our bodies affects our minds.
This led me to a memory of a seminar that Dudley and Elizabeth Foord used to run at Katoomba Youth Leadership Convention (now Next Generation) titled ‘The Spiritual Life of a Leader’ (or something like that). I remember thinking that I agreed with everything they said except when they mentioned the importance of fitness, good eating and exercise in the spiritual walk of a good Christian leader. Like most unhealthy teenagers who didn’t like exercising that much and enjoyed a good buffet between main meals, I thought, ‘Nah, that can’t be right! What does the physical have to do with the spiritual?!’
Why I thought of their seminar while reading the SMH article was that the article reminded me of a much neglected fact: human beings are created to be embodied beings. In biblical thought there is no dualism between body and mind, body and soul, or even body and spirit. Jesus’ bodily resurrection and the coming renewal of the created order shows us that physical matter matters. Just as the physical impinges on the mental (as per the mental health study), so also the physical impinges on the spiritual. The converse is also true too: the mental overflows onto the physical, the spiritual to the mental, the spiritual to the physical, the mental to the spiritual. We are a complex network of inside and outside, spiritual and material, and not to be finally separated (whether in this life or in eternity)!
So what does this mean? It means that I gotta keep exercising and watching my (slipping) diet. It means for a lot of uni students they have to watch the amount of rest and sleep they’re getting. (It means that Moore College students need to watch their weight!) Our mental and spiritual well-beings are linked to how well we look after our bodies. In our fight for joy and spiritual growth (and it is a fight!) let’s not neglect the physical.