by Danny Bell
By Danny Bell, April 2, 2014
Have you ever heard a report that made someone else sound bad? It's easy to accept it when it confirms what we already want to believe about the one reported on. Why bother to check it out? Let’s just accept it as gospel truth, to be believed and passed on as such. Of course, if the bad report is about someone we favour or about us, we consider the reporter to be biased or guilty of reporting before all the facts are in. This is a natural way to act because it saves us from taking the time to investigate every report we come across.
At least that's what Mark Gutman said on the Adventist Today website1. But his words ring true for many who have suffered at the hands of rumour and speculation. As Gutman infers, we sometimes want to believe something about someone because we don't like what they say or an encounter with them hasn't been to our liking. This gives us licence to justify passing on judgments.
In my own experience of leaving pastoral work and going on leave for two years, some church acquaintances would comment, "We heard you were sacked." When attending different churches looking for a place to settle down after ministry, I remember looking around and catching people staring at me in a weird unfriendly way—was I being paranoid or did these people know something I didn't? Then there were the occasions where people fell all over us to the point where I asked my wife later, "Did you see that?" Most ex-pastors will know exactly what I am talking about; those who have never left ministry won’t.
Maybe we should query the next person who tells us something about someone that is negative. We may trust our friends on delivery of such information, but where did they get it from? Are we crucifying Jesus afresh when we allow ourselves to be informed by unsubstantiated reports of a person who isn't there to defend themselves? The rumours about Jesus were so many that they took on a life of their own and so people were prepared to just believe what they heard without questioning the accuracy of the reports.
Once when I was pastoring, three elders reported in a meeting that a teacher was seen smoking at the hairdressers. They wanted me to approach her and discipline her. I asked if any of them had talked to the woman first. They said they hadn't because it was the pastor’s job and besides, "God has only gifted certain people to approach offenders." Their motives just went out the window.
As chairman of many committees, I never allowed ill reports about others to come into committee meetings unless Matthew 18 had been followed. The cold reality is that when negative reports come in without the right thing being done, we can no longer assume that the welfare of the individual is at heart. Before we know it, the whole committee can be tainted and made biased to what may eventually turn out to be nothing more than hearsay.
My favourite grandma warned, "Whatever the character of the offense, this does not change the plan that God has made for the settlement of misunderstandings and personal injuries" (Colporteur Ministry, 152). The damage of unconfirmed information and judgments on people who are not present to defend themselves is a shameful, fully blown culture in the Adventist church. Too often in our executive meetings, discussions about others that expose them to speculation and rumour is permitted. It is a current phenomenon at all levels of church government and needs to be stopped or at least curtailed by those who have control and responsibility in such meetings.
Where has the redemptive process gone? I challenge the church and its leaders to put this evil practice behind us and to deal truthfully and honestly with each other. As a friend of mine once said, "If they are going to stab me, I would rather it be in the chest so I can at least see who it was."
Yours in the war,