Friday, February 18, 2011
That most inconvenient of commandments
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Exodus 20:16
The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue. Proverbs 25:23
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. James 3:6
Have you ever been drawn into the snare of a gossip, someone whose words present the temptation to listen to his backbiting tongue? Did you come away feeling as if the presence of God had departed from your life, as if He had taken His Holy Spirit from you, if only for an hour? I do not know which is more difficult, which spoils more people's fun; God's word concerning sexual morality (the commandment against adultery--whether before or after the fact of marriage, thus carrying within it a law against fornication), or God's word forbidding false witness. I do not know why gossip intrigues our sinful and fallen flesh, but it does.
It seems that among the zealous, at times even among the learned, only the finest and most "reliable" gossip is repeated, proclaimed, or even published. I have had people assert to me, with the utmost display of confidence, the most damning bits of "news" concerning various individuals. When it has been necessary for me to be informed about some matter or other, verified, documented and filed away, the exercise has proved unsavory. When it has been necessary for the common good to report unpleasant facts, that too has been an emotional drain every time. But, gossip is never reliable, and slander or libel is often tossed about in place of argument.
That is, if someone cannot win a debate, perhaps a little gossip may fill in the big empty holes of facts, logic and reason. I am not interested in the unverified sexploits of celebrities, let alone unverified legends about deacons, priests and bishops. If a man is an actual wolf in sheep's clothing, then we need to know it and put an end to his ministrations. If, however, unsubstantiated rumors and gossip can fly around about very grave matters, causing the appearance of dereliction and license, then real action against real wolves proves all the more difficult.
This is why, for example among Roman Catholics, so many practicing homosexual bishops (and here I mean only known and proved cases) were allowed to carry on under Pope John-Paul II. From his youth he had grown accustomed to the authorities in his Communist homeland spreading that same accusation falsely, so much so that he refused to hear valid complaints and warnings. He assumed it was all lies. It is all very much like the little boy who cried "Wolf!"
My method for nipping gossip in the bud can be brutal. I simply inform any gossiping party that I will ask the subject of his words about the matter and name the source of my "information" in the process, or that I will look into the matter, drawing on my skills as a former professional investigator (that came in so handily when reporting for The Christian Challenge) with the intention of taking necessary action. On too many occasions I have discovered that I had, by this method, effectively called someone's bluff.
Sadly, even among those who call themselves Continuing Anglicans, even some who feign adherence to The Affirmation of St. Louis, it has been necessary to defend doctrinal truth, to work against defection and assimilation into larger ecclesiastical venues, and to expose false claims that were leading people astray (most notably, in recent times, about the whole ordinariate and Anglicanorum Coetibus problem). Too often the response, or more accurately the reaction, has been malice seasoned with anger, creating the stage for gossip, slander and libel.
It is lamentable that so many people, even among Continuing Anglicans, have decided that the ninth commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor," is inconvenient, and that application is suspended in our time. Well, that view is wrong. Some may learn that only on the Day of Judgment.