As a child I spent a lot time at church. In fact, we even lived in or at the church facility on at least two separate occasions. Needless to say, a lot of my early memories involve church. One such memory has had a lasting impression on me. As a child of seven or eight, I was in an evening church service and a gentleman from the congregation was asked to pray. There was nothing noteworthy about that and I have no idea to this day who he was, but I remember that his prayer turned into a rant against Billy Graham. When he was done, there was some lively discussion amongst the adults that quickly bored me and I still have no idea what happened after that. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, for one reason or another, amidst all the other church moments of my childhood, that one stayed with me.
Though I didn’t realize it then, that was my first experience with a particular kind of religious infighting that plagues Christianity – attack of the public Christian figure. This is a common problem in churches, religious news outlets and especially social media where bits and pieces of information are twisted and shared in a fashion that is at best gossip and at worst outright slander. The information is often shared as a “warning”, but is generally nothing more than a disagreement over personal preference, methodology or ministry philosophy.
For those already protesting my comments, let me assure you that I am not talking about kind, scholarly and well informed works that fairly evaluate an issue or the actions of a public figure. I am not saying that there is never a time and a place to call out a false teacher or a sinning brother. I am also not saying that we should never warn fellow believers as to the particular dangers of certain teachings or teachers.
However, if we take these responsibilities upon ourselves it should be done within certain parameters. Here are some thoughts I have in regard to the public sharing of information about public figures (particularly as it relates to social media).
- We should always speak out of love. Every word that comes out of a Christian’s mouth (or keyboard) should reflect the love of Christ. We must ensure that we are demonstrating Christ-like love toward our audience, as well as toward the one who is the topic of our comments.
- We should always speak the truth. It is amazing how many times I have seen professing Christians sharing, posting or spreading information that is outright erroneous. At best, that is lazy and foolish because it is relatively easy to check the validity of stories that you hear. Be certain that you are communicating truthfully at all times. If you cannot be sure, than don’t share.
- We should be sure that our comments are profitable. Am I just venting, or do I have something constructive to add? Will my comments lead to the correction of a problem? Many times the sins of public figures are unnecessarily shared publicly because they are interesting even though there is no real value in others knowing about the sin. Sometimes it is necessary to share publically in regard to a popular teacher’s error for the sake of preventing believers from being led astray, but even this should be done in a way that is instructive to the hearer without being malicious toward the public figure himself.
- We should speak with humility. It would do us good to consider how difficult it must be to have every aspect of your spiritual life under a microscope for the world to see. Most of us would not last long under that scrutiny.
When a brother sins or fails, we should humbly acknowledge that we are just as capable of sinning and failing and never rejoice in their failings. If there is factual negative information that must be shared publically, we should do it with sadness that a fellow believer has failed.
We should also humbly admit the limitations of our own knowledge and understanding. Many times we mistakenly assume that we know how God views a certain person or activity, but the Bible often reminds us of how skewed our perspective can be. King David of the Old Testament committed adultery, orchestrated a murder and even blatantly disobeyed a direct order from God yet was by God’s own admission a man after His own heart. God certainly didn’t condone David’s sin, but He certainly viewed David from a different perspective.
- We should prioritize the Gospel. In Philippians 1:18, Paul rejoiced that the Gospel was preached even though those preaching were also trying to do him harm. Though we may not always agree with or condone the minor beliefs or actions of a public religious figure, we should be cautious about doing harm to those who are sharing the Gospel and serving the Lord in a public capacity. The thing that matters most is the advancing of the kingdom, and our slanderous behavior often does more harm to the cause of the Gospel than the issue we’re upset about.
I believe that if we considered these principles before speaking, writing or sharing about a public figure we would eliminate a great deal of the “believer bashing” that takes place among Christians. We would be well advised to spend more time praying for our fellow believers who are in the spotlight than bashing them for every perceived flaw or mistake they have. As you evaluate your own behavior toward other Christians – especially those who are public figures – consider this tragic observation one man made of the Christian church: “the Christian army is the only army that shoots its own wounded.” I pray that we can change this perception and end this trend of tearing down our brothers rather than building them up.