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Volume 16, Issue 1: Presbyterion

Dealing With Slander

Douglas Wilson

One of the public marks of an effective ministry is the fact that it is frequently on the receiving end of slander. Charles Spurgeon once said, "The more prominent you are in Christ's service, the more certain are you to be the butt of calumny. I have long ago said farewell to my character. I lost it in the earlier days of my ministry by being a little more zealous than suited a slumbering age. And I have never been able to regain it except in the sight of Him who judges all the earth, and in the hearts of those who love me for my work's sake." And the apostle Paul tells us that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Why should we be surprised when this actually happens?

But another mark, closely associated with the first, is that many well-meaning Christians see this happening, but do not know how to process it in their minds. As a result of this, they often raise questions in the midst of a controversy that can be singularly unhelpful. We might call these the FAQs of slander. Ministers who have gone through this sort of thing might be able to use some of the following.
"Where there's smoke there's fire."
This is often true. But it is also true that where there is smoke there is often a smoke machine. To continue the illustration, the Bible tells us that we must convict someone of sin on the basis of the fire, not the smoke—and this is because a man's enemies can always arrange for some smoke. In fact, some of them specialize in it. If we don't recognize this, we could soon find ourselves saying, "I think the apostle Paul should have been executed for taking a Gentile into the Temple. Don't you agree?" This is why, during the course of controversy, we should content ourselves with saying, "Where there's smoke, there's smoke."
"Shouldn't we acknowledge faults on both sides?"
Of course, in many controversies, there are faults on both sides. And when there are, it should be acknowledged all around. But many well-meaning Christians take the "faults on both sides" approach as an axiom to begin the process. They try to solve a problem that erupts in the church by splitting the difference between the competing claims, and not by investigating carefully in the way the Scriptures require. They confuse this with objectivity. If a minister was slanderously accused of carousing with ten prostitutes, it would not be "objective" to begin by assuming he had been with only five of them. And to say he had been with two would not be "favoring" him, or leaning to his side.
The Bible forbids one kind of partiality and requires another. Most of us are familiar with the prohibitions. "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality" (1 Tim. 5:21). Paul is very clear—"doing nothing by partiality." We are never to pervert justice because of cozy arrangements, old boy networks, the taking of bribes, and so forth." At the same time, we must note that this charge comes two verses after another verse that requires us to show partiality between two men. "Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses" (1 Tim. 5:19). A solitary accuser presents his case against an elder. The Bible tells us that we are to show favor to the accused, and we are to dismiss the case presented by the accuser. We are not to show partiality between rich and poor, cousin and stranger, Jew or Greek. We are to show partiality between the accuser and the accused. We are commanded to favor the accused. This form of partiality is called the presumption of innocence in our legal system, and it is thoroughly biblical. If the accuser and the accused ever have to play on a "level playing field," this means the refs are on the take.
"But David sinned."
The confusion here is similar to the confusion in the previous question. The issue is not whether the accused has ever sinned, or whether he is capable of sinning grievously in the future, or whether he is claiming to be sinlessly perfect. When a man is falsely accused, and he defends himself stoutly, this is not tantamount to a claim of perfection. "Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me" (Acts 24:13). Paul knew (without having conducted a private investigation himself) that the charges against him were false. He knew this because he already knew that he had not done what they said. If an innocent man is accused of murder or adultery, he does not have to "go check."
When Paul says that the accusations against him are false, he is not claiming that he has never sinned in any other respect. Paul confessed that he had been the chief of sinners. But being the chief of sinners did not mean that he had been shoplifting at Walmart, cavorting with music hall girls, or taking Gentiles into the Temple. He had not done these things, and he knew that he had not. When the charge arose, he could simply deny it.
And when protestations of innocence (on the relevant charge) are interpreted as claims to be "above sin," this is evidence that the accusers are simply looking to accuse. This being the case, each defense is made the basis of a new accusation. Once this spirit is manifest, the way to deal with it—one that I have found particularly encouraging—is through singing the Psalms. Not only did David sin—grievously—but he also was falsely accused on numerous occasions. No psalms are directed against Nathan—faithful are the wounds of a friend—but many of the psalms do deal with the hairy scalp of liars and false accusers.

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