Don’t Believe Everything You Hear or Read

Several years ago, Michael Hyatt (former CEO of Thomas Nelson) responded to a rumor on his blog. In the post, Michael wrote,

“According to the most recent rumor—which I’ve now heard twice—we [Thomas Nelson] are planning a layoff for June 19th … We are scheduled to close the transaction on June 12th, so, supposedly, this will happen the week following. I want to assure you that this is indeed a baseless rumor. There is absolutely no truth to it … If you hear this rumor, I would be grateful if you would help me short-circuit it. You can tell ’em it’s not true, and you heard it directly from me.”

I recall when this rumor was circulating and was saddened (and surprised) at how many Christians believed it without going straight to Michael to see if it was true or false.

Another example that’s much more national.

Late last year, I came across a website alleging a sex scandal involving President Obama. The “story” first came out in 2008 just before the primary. It was shown to be baseless and quickly faded away. Then it resurfaced again in 2010. (The original story was removed by the source after staying online for 4 years.)

Another site purports alleged “proof” that Obama is a Muslim terrorist in disguise. Again, a baseless rumor.

And another alleges that Obama is gay, has sexually harassed males, and abuses drugs. Again, baseless.

Note: I don’t agree with many of Obama’s policies. But these accusations are scurrilous, vicious, outrageous, and just plain slimy. There’s no good evidence to support any of them. That’s why they’ve never gained traction. However, because they are written intelligently, they persuade the uninformed (a characteristic of effective libel).

Earlier this year, Rick Warren was personally attacked, judged, and lied about by professing Christians.

We live in a very dark world where rumors abound. Gossip abounds. Slander abounds. Even in the “Christian” community (so-called), tragically.

Slander is a serious sin, and according to Paul, slanderers will be barred from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

I have good friends and people whom I respect who have been lied about on the Internet, and I’ve quickly come to their defense wherever I’ve seen such lies (as I did with Rick Warren).

Point: Anyone who has profound influence is going to have detractors and enemies. And some of them will go on a personal “smear” attack using distortions and fabrications.

Just look at the things Jesus and Paul were accused of during their day.

History tells us the same thing about John Wesley, Watchman Nee, T. Austin-Sparks, and just about every other servant of God who was turning the sod on important issues during their time.

Many years ago I learned a valuable lesson from a BIG mistake I made. It was a first-class screw up that still haunts me till this day.

I listened to slander about a fellow Christian and I believed it. Thankfully, I repented when I found out the truth, but I still feel remorse over it when it comes to mind.

Last year, I wrote a post about it. The post hit a chord with many people. I’m reposting it below so that those of you who are new subscribers can read it.

It’s a lesson I learned from failure that I’ll never forget.

Rule of thumb: If you read something negative about another person, especially a fellow Christian, take it with a grain of salt. Tilt toward not believing it. Just as you would want others to do if it were you being smeared (Matthew 7:12).

If you’re concerned, go to the person directly to hear their response. There are always two sides to any story (as least). And unfortunately, some people desire to defame others, usually out of jealousy, so dishonesty abounds.

Here’s the post:

I remember it well. A zealous but naïve follower of Jesus in my mid-20s. That was me.

One of my friends had been part of the church to which I belonged. He had recently moved to another city and joined another group.

He called me on the phone from the other state to unload. He told me how he had been mistreated by this other group. And he singled-out one particular person who was (according to him) the source of his pain.

As I listened to him vent, my blood began to boil. I was angry at this group . . .  and I was angry at the particular person who mistreated my friend.

Some time went by, and I was talking to another friend who knew more about the situation than I did. One thing led to another, and I found myself on the phone with the very person from that other group whom (I had thought) mistreated my friend.

As I listened to this man carefully, my blood began to boil again. But this time, I was angry at my friend. And more, I was angry at myself for drawing a conclusion based on hearing only one side of a story.

Everything became clear. I lovingly confronted my friend and the truth came out. Even though he did his best to deny it, my friend was cornered. He had slanted the entire account to his side. He was posturing himself to get others to regard him as a victim.

To protect his own ego and reputation, he was trying to turn the people he knew against a group of blood-washed, blood-bought, precious followers of Jesus and against one of its members.

But the truth was, my friend had brought a great deal of pain to others in that group, particularly one individual who was very close to him. And he didn’t repent from it (meaning, he didn’t stop oppressing this person nor recognize that what he was doing was very wrong). Instead, he justified it.

He never told me that part of the story.

Was my friend hurt? Yes. But hurt people hurt people if they haven’t tasted the cross. And he created more hurt by the way he handled the situation through gossip and slander.

His rewriting of history made himself look a victim and this other group of believers (as well as one individual who was a part of it) look like a bunch of insensitive boneheads.

My friend had poisoned my view of my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ . . . people I had no real relationship with.

(Proverbs 18:8 and 26:22 warn that listening to gossip is like ingesting choice morsels. It gets into one’s bloodstream just like poison does. And once consumed, it’s difficult to get out.)

I was ashamed. Embarrassed, even.

As I felt the egg yolk running down my face, I made a decision. I would never ever nevah evah draw a conclusion after hearing only one side of a story . . . even if that side was told to me by someone I believed I could trust.

I learned from my mistake . . . or should I say, I learned from my sin. For I was guilty of the sin of listening to and embracing gossip and slander. A very serious sin, by the way, because it is so damaging.

I painfully learned that there are always at least two sides to a story. Sometimes there are three sides or more.

And in virtually every case I’ve heard of since (the exceptions are rare), the person who goes around complaining about someone else is the one who is spinning the facts and leaving out key plot-points. Plot-points that often change the entire drama.

Proverbs 18:13 puts it perfectly:

“He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”

Indeed, before I heard the matter from all sides, I concluded, judged, and answered. And the Scripture was fulfilled: I felt foolish and ashamed after I heard the whole story.

Since my mistake, I’ve watched this same scenario play out so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve watched Christians smear their fellow brethren (often in clever and subtle ways) after getting their feelings hurt.

(Years ago, I was stunned to learn what some Christians will do when they get their feelings hurt. I can singe your ears with horror stories. I have often said, “You will know how real your relationship to Jesus really is when someone hurts your feelings. You will either get in the flesh and destroy people; or you will learn Christ and His cross and deal with it in a way that honors Him and extends love and grace to others.)

Throughout the years, I’ve watched Christians engage in gossip and slander, not ever realizing the damage they were doing. Some, in fact, would even preface their tale-bearing with the words, “This isn’t gossip because I experienced it” or “the person who told me this experienced it themselves so it’s not gossip.”

Hu? [Cough].

That’s like saying, “I just slit someone’s throat in cold blood while they were sleeping. But it isn’t murder because . . .”

The flesh is quite skilled at self justification.

If I had read it when I got that phone call from my friend years ago, I am fairly confident that I would have reacted differently. The fact is, my friend (whom I loved and still love) had no business coming to me with his issue.

He was operating in the flesh when he did, but it was subtly clothed in religious garb. And I was too biased to see it.

Once hearing what he started to say, I should have gone straight to the people he was talking about with an open heart and hear their side, believing the best. For love “thinks no evil” of others (1 Corinthians 13:5, KJV).

In short, I would have wanted this precise reaction if someone were talking about me in the same way to another person in my absence. We all would.

May God give all of us grace and mercy to live out the spirit of Proverbs 18:13 (to hear a matter from all sides before concluding and answering) . . . which is the spirit of our Lord, the One who indwells every true child of God.

February 10, 2012

The Contact Page Has Been Updated

See also:

5 Reasons to Defriend Someone on Facebook

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

Forgotten Words of Jesus

Warning: The World is Watching How We Christians Treat One Another

The Most Ignored Sin



New! Online Discipleship Course! Click the banner below for more information.

If you find this post helpful, you are free to ADD A LINK to it on your blog or website. But don’t copy and paste the post as this violates Google’s guidelines.

Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss anything. It’s free. All Email Subscribers will receive my eBook Rethinking the Will of God (Revised) free. Also, if you are interested in setting up a new blog, click here. If you’re looking for a new hosting service or you want to buy a domain name, I recommend BlueHost, hands down.

About Frank Viola

See my About page. Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Google+

  • Sarah Conners

    Thank you for this post. It’s great. My husband was once slandered by some members of our church. The pain to my family was unspeakable especially from some in the church believing it. A year later the truth came out and he was vindicated but the damage was done. Christian people shouldn’t believe what they read and go to whoever is being talked about. I’ve forwarded this article to my husband and children, I know it will be healing for them.

  • Frank Viola

    I was, but I was also mad at myself for believing the lies. I wish I could say that this never happens today. But it does, unfortunately. God bless.


    Psalm 115:1

  • Frank Viola

    Did you read the entire post? If someone is abusing someone, that should be made known to the authorities. If someone has been rebuked for sin according to Matthew 18, and witnesses (multiple) have gone to the person urging them to stop (repent) and they still keep doing it — which would include the sin of slander — then of course that should be made public per Jesus words. I’ve addressed this elsewhere.

    This particular post simply states that many things that are said about people aren’t always true. And they are often false. (Just look at the example of Jesus and Paul I gave. I also gave examples of Rick Warren and President Obama.

    The point is singular: don’t believe everything you hear or read. If you have a concern, if the person is accessible, go to them. I learned this lesson from a screw up in my own life that I talked about in the post.

  • trskms

    In other words, I think you should have been angry at your friend for LYING to you, not for sharing with you (had his accusations been true.)

  • trskms

    Hmmm … so if someone is abused by their spouse, their parent, a teacher, etc. you shouldn’t believe them if they tell you about it? Because, according to what you said, “the person who goes around complaining about someone else is the one who is spinning the facts and leaving out key plot-points.”

    And, of course, if the other side is a consummate liar? And, he/she denies the abuse/vicious treatment?

    So, then, because you don’t want to hear “gossip,” abuse (e.g. this can be emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual) goes on and on and on, because — in our Christian community — we claim that “complaining” or telling someone is “gossip” and “unChristian.”

    So, what do we get? Ministries and people who perpetrate great evil for many, many years, until it finally explodes into a huge scandal (e.g. recent pastoral resignations in a mega-church, priests and sexual abuse, teachers who’ve abused kids for years, women who’ve been battered for years, etc.)

    Or, on a smaller scale, we simply get fearful Christians who can’t tell others to avoid certain classes, schools, ministries, churches, etc. because that would be “unChristian.” So, because they were not warned, other people go and get hurt and the cycle perpetuates itself over and over again. When we don’t warn others to at least be cautious, we open them up to receiving the same poor treatment (we hid it when we knew!!), pay money they shouldn’t have paid to people who didn’t deserve it, and to think they “are the only ones” (a standard response when a concern is brought to some people), because our Christian culture doesn’t permit sharing such things.

    I cannot find a single example of Christ or the apostles being quiet about sin in leaders or in groups in the Bible. In fact, they got pretty downright feisty about it! If you follow Matthew 18, and things go unresolved, you are permitted to treat the other party as an unbeliever!

    Of course, we should show grace (no one is perfect). Of course, we should try to find out the other side when we can (Proverbs 18:17 “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”), but this idea that when you’re hurt you’re just supposed to suck it up and stay quiet because otherwise you’re a gossip and unChristian is — honestly — just opening up the door for many wolves to go rampaging through the sheep. :-(