December 12, 2017

God, Gossip and Internet Discussion Boards

by Don Johnson

Scandals come and scandals go, but internet rumour mongers abide forever. Or so it seems.

If you were a vigilant Googler (is that a word?), you could probably find a scandal a day, at least, among the many religious groups in America alone, not to mention around the world. We aren’t encouraging that kind of morbid obsession, but as an example, I just typed into the Google search box the words “sexual scandal Baptists” and found 10,300,000 hits in .29 seconds (according to Google). Surely some of these Google ‘hits’ are unrelated or duplicates or frauds or some other kind of irrelevant reference. Nevertheless, I think we are all quite aware that scandals are a regular part of life among every religious denomination under the sun. Would that it were not so, but depravity is apparently universal and total.

There is another problem that accompanies scandal, however, and that is what I’d like to address today. As soon as scandal hits the news, Internet discussion boards light up with people commenting, editorializing, pontificating, and, quite frankly, gossiping about the fallen and how “it’s just typical” and “I could have predicted” and on and on. In the buzz swirling around such scandals, someone will be sure to jump in with an “I just heard this” and add some salacious detail to the story. Sometimes these details are not even true, but the ‘reporter’ just can’t wait to get the ‘news’ out. Regardless of the truth or error of any comments, the reality is that all of it often simply amounts to gossip, a sin the Bible actually addresses quite sternly.

What is gossip? The first definition of gossip on is “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” The Bible condemns the words of the “talebearer,” the “slanderer”, the “busybody”, and the “evil speaker.” A few samples:

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD. Leviticus 19.16

One of the characteristics of the wicked is described: “Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.” Psalm 50.20

The qualifications for deacon’s (and bishop’s?) wives: “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers [translated ‘malicious gossips’ – nasb], sober, faithful in all things.” 1 Timothy 3.11

We believe it is no sin to report news. Our world is full of tragic events, and perhaps nothing is as disheartening and tragic to us as scandal among Christians. It is disheartening to us because of the shame it brings — not shame on us, but shame on the name of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. When men profess Christ, even our world knows that they are claiming an allegiance to a higher standard of purity than the world sets for itself. Scandal among Christians makes a mockery of the life-changing claims of faith. And it is no solace that we know, as the world may not, that there are such things as false professions as well as weak, failing, and stumbling brethren. Such realities are no mitigating factor and the scorn of the world is heaped on Christ and we are disheartened.

Yet such news cannot be hid and must come into the light. It is on this ground that many observers justify their endless speculation, reporting of false rumours and even their exultation over the fallen. “It’s news,” some say, and act like the fallen world in heaping scorn on the unfortunate parties to the scandal. Even worse, many occupy themselves with scouring the internet for every reported tidbit of information in a lust to be the first to express the outrage or repost the story on their own site or in their favorite chat-room. Little thought, if any, is given to fact-checking. When the news media reports false stories, the public is scandalized and those in the media publicly acknowledge their errors and adjust their stories. (At least, that is the theory; being human the media sometimes errs in its self-policing.) How often do we see this kind of humility on internet discussion boards? The guilty party simply ‘cyber-shrugs’ and says, “Well, it might not be true but I thought it had to be put out there.”

Recent scandals have seen some calls from Christian writers for humility and self-examination. None of us are immune from sin, all must answer to God for what we say and do. We would do better to consider ourselves and our own frailties than pass judgement and pontificate on the failings of others, especially on stories where we are not personally involved and cannot know all the facts. We are quick to see pride, self-righteousness and pomposity in others. And we are very glad to tell the world about our keen insight and wise adjudication. Yet we know nothing about these failures than those facts the media chooses to report to us. How can we be so arrogant as to assume that we know all there is to know about a matter and be so cock-sure as to think the world is benefited by our proclaiming our vaunted opinion? The hypocrisy on display almost every time news of some scandal emerges is a sad commentary on the state of the Christian church.

Can it be that we think that our sins are little compared to the big sin of the scandal of the day? Are we prepared to go before the holy bar of God’s justice with our petty sins in tow, just to see how things go for the really bad fellow caught in the web of deceit, betrayal, lust, ambition, and pride?

A story from the recent Olympic Games in London illustrates how well our little sins will fare before the bar of God’s justice. The Canadian relay team ran a near perfect 400 meter relay, finishing about 1 second behind the winning Jamaican squad in third place, a bronze medal, or so it seemed. Canada’s return to the track podium was prevented by one small error — the team captain, before handing off the baton to the anchor runner, had stepped on the line that marked out his lane. He hadn’t even crossed the line, just stepped on it. But the law kills. The team was stripped of its outstanding run and placed last out of eight teams with a record of DQ – disqualified.

When it comes to the things we say on the internet, are we content to judge the sins of others without really considering how much our lust for attention, our pride and self-righteousness are coming in to play in our pontificating and posturing? The comment boards of the world’s on-line newspaper articles are full of this kind of pride (and worse, of course). Should our comment boards be so similar to the world in this regard? Where is the humility that ought to mark our discourse?

Lest the readers think the writer thinks he is immune to these sins, let it be known that he is well aware that he has stepped on the line (at least) in the midst of online debate. None of us are immune from sin. Let us all be vigilant, slow to speak, slow to wrath, lest we be caught up in an ugly display of our ever present sinful flesh.

Colossians 4.6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria and serves on the FBFI board as chair of the Communications Committee which is responsible for this blog.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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