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Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate the kind words. You show a lot of wisdom in your comment in that I think different people are more sensitive to one side of the tragedy or the other depending on their experience as you and your family well know. Abuse is reprehensible and so is being falsely accused of such things. In the coming days, I’m going to be looking at the legal documents on reporting child abuse so I’m fully educated about it. I thank my readers for all of their input and pointing out things I wasn’t aware of. The Blog Manager told me that he’s closing comments on this thread post as he’s having trouble keeping up with all the comments on the many other posts and this is one is quite old. (For newbies, I don’t moderate comments and sometimes comments aren’t approved for one of these reasons: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/rules
I hope readers will read all the comments and the updates to get the full context of everything.
Always learning, never arriving,
Thank you very much for your reply. I’m very grateful for your willingness to listen.
I would also encourage you to take a look at the Wartburg Watch blog, and their commentary on Mr. Jens’ article. It’s how I learned about this site.
Frank, I want to tell you that I’m impressed with your humility in adjusting your view based on what some of your readers have said. This is the first time I’ve seen a popular author like yourself do that. It’s refreshing and it’s caused me to respect you. My husband and I have never read any of your books, but after we saw how you handled this situation, we’ve purchased three of them from your publications page.
I want to say that my husband and I have experience on both side of this issue and that’s where some of the confusion comes from. People are sensitive to one side or the other. My husband has been falsely accused in the past. Like Sarah, we understand the tremendous pain that this brings to a family. Therefore I understand the caution about slandering people and Mr. Zens article is very good on this. I’m glad he did say that when a person hasn’t repented after they’ve been gone to privately, it’s not slander as Matthew 18 says.
I have also been the victim of abuse so those situations need to be reported to the authorities to determine if something has actually taken place or not and I am glad that you now agree with this.
Thank you for your comment. The event I spoke of happened many years ago and they didn’t come to me. They went to the elders (I wasn’t an elder). I was simply called in with a few others by the elders to discuss the situation as it was a first for everyone. But on hindsight, thinking back on that specific case, I think you are correct. That would have been wiser. Thanks for your input on this.
Ever learning, never arriving,
Sorry to tell you this, but your judgement here is entirely wrong. This is not a matter of my opinion as a Christian, but a matter of law. Neither you nor I have any capacity or training to determine whether anyone is sexually abusing children — only highly trained experts in law enforcement can do that. NO ONE else has any business even trying. The mothers you mentioned above shouldn’t have gone to you, but straight to the police, with their concerns. When you heard about it, your only job in that case was to call the authorities, and let them do their God-appointed work.
You may ask whether I would enjoy facing such an investigation, based on suspicion or malicious accusation. The answer: Of course I wouldn’t. That doesn’t matter. The law is the law, and there are very good reasons for this one. The protection of children must come before my (or anyone else’s) comfort or convenience. The best I could do in such a situation would be to trust that the authorities know their jobs, that they would discern the truth, and that I would be vindicated eventually. Complaining that “I don’t like it” would do me no good at all.
You seem to think that there are no exceptions to Matthew 18. You’re wrong. The truth is, Matthew 18 offers us no exemption from the laws of the land. Please keep this in mind if you’re serious about guarding children under your care, brother.
Frank, thank you for this comment. This is a good clarification and makes your position clearer. I had a few questions about where you stood on this issue and you answered them here. I’ve been the victim of slander myself so I really appreciated this article.
Making public the sins of others that have actually happened after there has been no repentance and that keep going on is not slander as Jon Zens pointed out. Too often people accuse others prematurely or without evidence or without carrying out the steps of Matthew 18 so this article is really needed. I really loved that other blog what you wrote about the warning, the world is watching how we Christians treat each other as we eat one another up in public. I hope this stops someday. Keep writing please.
Thanks Sarah. Unfortunately, sometimes false allegations do happen. I’ve seen cases like the one you’re describing and I’m very sorry for what you and your family went through. Child abuse is one of the most horrific things that a child and family can undergo. So yes, I believe law enforcement should be involved when there’s evidence that it has taken place. By that I mean, it has taken place. I’m no expert on the subject, except that I know that it messes a child up for life and I personally get incensed when I see child molesters walk after a few years after they’ve been convicted of a crime. As a father myself, the mere thought of the act is despicable and heinous. And adults must do all they can to protect the little ones.
In answer to your question, I only heard about SGM situation recently. I don’t know much about it, except that I read somewhere that they *allegedly* tried to hinder the police from investigating. If that’s true — and I don’t know if it is, as I don’t know much about SGM and half the stuff you read on the Internet these days isn’t based in fact — then my sense is that it’s a profound mistake to hinder the authorities in any way. Regarding the situation I described, I should have been more accurate and said that some felt he was a pedophile. Some of the mothers picked up on the fact that he wanted to spend time watching the children and seemed to get a little too friendly with them. They smelled something was off. But there was no inappropriate touching or statements that anyone could point to. We tried to check on his history to see if there were any crimes, etc. and found nothing. But when he was confronted with questions and some correction on certain things that raised eyebrows, he bolted. So there wasn’t much we could do.
If, however, there was evidence of inappropriate conduct, we would have handled it differently and most likely would have gotten law enforcement involved and definitely the child protection agency if there was a basis for doing so. Unfortunately, I’ve been involved in situations where people’s lives were clearly threatened and law enforcement did nothing about it, stating that they didn’t have “enough” to act. But that’s another story. Frustrating.
Again, I’m sorry for what you and your family went through. Harming children is despicable, but accusing someone falsely of something so horrific is also despicable.
UPDATE: This morning “Serving in Japan” made a good point about the training needed to investigate such cases. On hindsight, I think he is right. In that particular case I referred to, the elders should have called in the authorities to at least investigate. You can see my reply to him below.
Frank, I really appreciate your advice on this. My husband was once falsely accused of being a “pedophile” by one of our church friends. She was jealous of us and he was friendly with children, so she began to spread rumors about him. I cannot describe the disslusionment and pain that this brought to our family. Eventually he was vindicated and she was discredited, but the pain is something we are still getting over. I like what you said about contacting the authorities. Have you read about the SGM and what’s happening there? This post is from December, so you may not have known about it. Can you explain more about the pedophile who you all tried to correct. Was there evidence that he really was a pedophile? Thanks for a great post.
I didn’t write the article, but I think I can give an answer nonetheless. Jesus teaching in Matt. 18 doesn’t prioritize one sin above another or make exceptions. I was once part of a church where a pedophile was discovered to be among us. We went to him in private first. Eventually he was put out of the church, following Matt. 18, because he refused to accept correction. What he was doing was inappropriate, but it hadn’t gotten to the crime stage.
The NT doesn’t make an exception or an excuse for the sin of gossip, as Zens points out. Zens is appealing to the NT. If one doesn’t believe the NT, then that’s another story. The article is written to those who do. btw/ the instruction about the 2 or 3 isn’t that they have to be witnesses to the sin, but they are witnesses to the discipline process and correction. In addition, pedophilia is a crime. So going to the authorities for a crime … like murder, physical abuse, etc. . . . isn’t gossip if it’s happening.
“If someone is clearly sinning, they are to be approached in private.” Is this the case with pedophilia? Should we let the churches handle this “privately?
Someone’s “fear” or “suspicion” doesn’t make it so. If there’s a legitimate concern with clear evidence, an investigation should be done. The person should be approached directly. If it’s clear that it’s happening and will continue to happen, the authorities should be contacted for this is a serious crime. Again, just as yourself, how would I want to be treated if it were me being accused. That question answers most of these questions.
UPDATE: See my reply to “Serving in Japan” below. He makes a good point about the necessary training to detect when a suspicion is based in reality or not. So I stand with him on bringing in the proper authorities to investigate such situations. Especially if the people who suspect have good reason for doing so and they are credible people who are not known for being dishonest. Thx.
So what would you do if someone tells you they fear a child is being molested and has given their reasons for thinking so but they have no proof? How would you handle that? Would that be considered “gossip”?
What’s wrong with potato farming?
But seriously, I think this is a good and important message. “Speak evil of no man.”
And I think it’s worth mentioning that the standard is not different when applied to public figures, about whom gossip and talebearing is common.
Heh, heh. And here I thought you were going after my beloved gluttony. 😉
The indulgence of people in slander is not just directed against people in their own congregation or denomination, but also against people of different faiths. Indeed, there appear to be many pastors who claim to be teachers of the Gospel of Christ who liberally engage in telling falsehoods about the character of people who belong to other faiths. A couple of years ago, when one of the Atlanta newspapers reported that the Southern Baptist Convention was beginning to shrink in net membership, a senior pastor in the SBC noted that many Baptists have a reputation for being judgmental of others, which deters people from visiting Baptist churches. Is there a theological root of this behavior? Does emphasis on salvation without works lead to people claiming they are saved by Christ even though they are not disciples of Christ?
Gossip and slander is always a sin just like murder, theft, and lying and any other sin one names. There is never an excuse or justification for it. The examples you gave could have been resolved by following what Jesus taught in Matthew 18. If someone is clearly sinning, they are to be approached in private. If they don’t stop sinning, then others are to be taken with them to correct them. If they still don’t repent after these means are exhausted and attempts have been made in private, then it’s time to “tell it to the church.” Jesus was quite clear about this. When you’re dealing with sexual abuse, that’s criminal matter and the law should be involved. Jon mentioned all of this in his article by the way.
I think the big challenge of this is when someone suspects they are in an abusive church. For example, where I live in Maryland the Discipleship/Shepherding movement had a big impact on some local churches. They also had very strong teachings against gossip/slander. It was only when a group of people began to share with others in the church about how they felt a decade or more later that the abuse was broken. The people in the group all shared they remained silent for years for fear of gossip/slander type sins and guilt about making charges against fellow Christians. This was also an issue with Earl Paulk’s church in Atlanta and why sexual abuse was able to remain unchallenged for so long. I once had a former member of Paulk’s church tell me that he stayed so long because the women’s allegations were not seen as credible and were considered by many as slander. We have to strike a balance between gossip/slander and the exposure of truth when abuse happens.
Frank- right at the beginning of this article you quote Bob Mumford saying “The Christian army is the only one that shoots its wounded.” As an atheist, I must disagree. In my experience, people of all religions, or no religion, are about equally guilty of gossiping. And it doesn’t do any of us good.
Amen Mary!! Gossip and slander are….well, yes, the tongue can cause untold damage! Even death. What is sad is that we, Christians, who actually have the power within us to set good and healthy examples, have been doing so much of the damage. We have such a horrible problem with bullying in this country and really need Christians to stand against it and become more like Christ…instead of being counted among them.
Great post! I’ll send it to a couple of friends who work as leaders in college dormitories.
What’s really amazing to me is how much joy Christians seem to get out of both hearing and telling dirt on each other. As a pastor I know all to well the damage that this can cause, not only to those being talked about, but often the churches they belong to.
The only minor quibble I have with this article is the statement that gossip is “the most ignored sin.” The reason being is that I’ve heard many sermons and preached many sermons on this in my lifetime. It seems to me that lying is the most ignored sin, mainly because it is a sin in which so few Christians believe themselves to be guilty.
Minor quibbles aside, thanks for the article, Frank, I enjoyed it.
I never thought about it, but this is very true. Gossip and slander, no matter how harmless and innocent the intent can cause great damage to people and families. Didn’t Jesus say “Guard/tame your tongue”?
Wonderful article and certainly one of the more difficult tasks we have as believers. Getting away from gossip seems to be a process, at least it was for me. To recognize how we slip into it individually and then put the brakes on our own participation does not seem as difficult as confronting it with our beloved brothers and sisters.
Too often we worry about offending the offender – and isn’t that ridiculous when we stop and think about it? Still it takes courage to do the right thing. A few years ago I was in a situation where I had to make a very quick choice before gossip turned into a wild fire. Be courageous or be a coward – I knew I really had no choice, it was time to be brave. I confronted the individual immediately and privately. The initial reaction was anger towards me (I didn’t know this person well) but amazingly a few months later the person approached me, thanked me and repented. All in God’s time.
Our job is to be faithful to His leading, to make the right choice and trust Him with the outcome. Thanks for reminding us how destructive gossip is – especially within the body of Christ.