Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Dealing with rumors
Being a pastor and community leader (I serve on the local public school board) I often hear rumors about me or my family. Many times these are so nonsensical that they become humorous (the most recent rumor is that I pulled my kids from the public school because the library contains Harry Potter books. This is interesting considering we own the entire series!). Other times the rumors can be quite vicious (such as the one that I refused to do a funeral for a grieving widow--honestly, I have never turned down a funeral in my life).
From time to time I take phone calls from concerned friends or congregants--sometimes they want clarification, other times they want me to take action to correct the rumors. Certainly there is nothing wrong with publicly responding to rumors. Some times the wisest path is to "correct a fool lest he be wise in his own eyes". Biblically speaking, there is "a time to speak". Yet there is also "a time to be silent". The same collection of proverbs that tells us to "answer a fool" also says "don't answer a fool according to his folly lest you be like him". There is a time to speak up and there is a time to simply ignore nonsense.
Rumors are nonsense. That is all they ever are. Fools speak about that which they do not know and are too lazy to find out for themselves. They speak of something as concrete fact which is nothing more than their own embellishment of a previous lie. Over time the falsehood grows bigger and bigger and then takes on a life of its own. Rumors, by their very nature, find their origin in Hell. The Devil is the father of lies and therefore a rumor is his cherish and well-clothed child.
It is for this reason that Scripture forbids believers from the practice of gossip. The writers of the New Testament mention this sin often and refuse to tolerate it. It is evil, destructive, false, and sinful--and something from which all true believers must remove (over and over again) from their lives. "How beautiful are the feet of those who share the gospel of peace", yet how wretched are the feet of those who would scandalize reputations or cause division with falsehoods.
So, how is a Christian to respond to rumors? Right or wrong, this is what I do:
1. Defend others against rumors. I aggressively seek to shut down rumors about another. Listening to a rumor without confronting the person is condoning it. When I hear someone spreading a rumor (Christian or non-Christian) I confront them and ask them to check with the individual in question first. Whether private conversation or public meeting, I firmly shut down anything that sounds like a rumor.
2. Ignore rumors about yourself. In most cases, I do nothing when I am the subject of the rumor. I do make an exception when the person spreading the rumor is a fellow believer (at least one I feel I know fairly well). Then the issue is more about loving confronting a friend. But I do not feel the need to respond to every quack who think he knows something. First off, I would be far too busy because there are far too many quacks around. Secondly, rarely does this approach work. People spread rumors because they don't like someone (have you ever heard someone spread a rumor about someone they loved and admired?). If a person chooses to have a deceitful heart there is little that I can do about it--other than to love and pray for them.
3. In the face of a rumor, live for the King. While reputation is important, godliness is much more so. I would much rather earn the pleasure of God by showing love towards someone who spreads rumors than to earn the pleasure of people by refusing to take a stand for fear of rumors. Others may serve a god of lies but believers are to serve the God of truth. Rumors may cause me difficulty but ultimately my reputation is etched in the stone of heaven. I will never fear that which cannot do me eternal harm.
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