A number of years ago I went to a prayer meeting at the church I was attending at the time. While the meeting was open, it was primarily attended by the leaders of the church (including both staff and lay leaders). The monthly event typically saw probably 100-200 people in attendance. This particular night, one of the ministers got up and with tears confessed to some unmentioned sin and said that he was resigning from his position. Naturally this seemed pretty scandalous to me and seemed like big news. I found the elders reaction (they had previously met with this minister) to be interesting. They said that “We’re going to tell people he resigned but just not talk about it more than that.” I must admit I didn’t get it at the time. How could we not talk about it? Wasn’t this a big deal? Wouldn’t people want to know what happened? In my mind, I could see myself talking to my small group about the events of the prayer meeting and about how this minister must have done something serious enough for the elders to accept his resignation but then try to leave it at that.
Recently in my house church, we read through and discussed an article about gossip. In it there is a place where the author, Jon Zens, quotes A.W. Tozer instructing to take anything negative we hear about another brother or sister and burying it some place “out back”. I admit again I didn’t quite get it the first couple of times I read it, rather I kind of breezed over it. Take it and bury it, just simply forget about it, almost as if it didn’t exist? Don’t mention it or let it go any further than the point at which you heard it? Is that possible or reasonable?
Recently it came to light that a couple of people I know had been involved in some significant wrongs. It was shocking and disturbing to learn about. A natural reaction is to want to talk about it. However I thought about how we’d been talking about not gossiping and some things began to make more sense. While I might need to address the people involved directly and privately, I should not talk about them to other people. I should take this knowledge I discovered and go and bury it out back, as if it didn’t exist, and wouldn’t get any further than me. We sin, and those things need to be addressed, not ignored. But there is a proper way to address sin, and gossiping about people is in no way proper. When people are in the stages of repentance, it’s time to forgive and move on, not hold their mistakes against them (though that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences). I wasn’t going to put these people in a bad light to those who may not have been aware of the sins committed.
I was surprised when the incident I mentioned at the beginning of this blog blew over without any controversy that I’m aware of. People simply didn’t talk or gossip about it, and it blew over without major incident. I think now I finally see the wisdom in the elders’ decision. I respect the church for the fact that that former minister is still a part of the church (though not on staff) to this day. I don’t know if that would be possible if it weren’t for the situation surrounding his resignation having been handled wisely. I feel I have learned through these situations and plan to continue to act in accordance with their example.
Update note: There are certain actions which are crimes and need to be reported to proper authorities. Abusers have
used abused the very good and necessary virtues of forgiveness and not gossiping, strongly encouraging their victims to practice these in order that they may dodge the consequences of their actions. Discernment is needed to know when, to whom, and what appropriate action is necessary if one becomes aware of serious accusations. These can be challenging situations; just because an accusation is made doesn’t mean it’s true, but just because it is denied doesn’t mean it is false either. In cases of crime specifically, churches are generally not equipped to properly handle these; these should be reported to police. Even in these cases however, I don’t believe we have a right to go around speaking badly of the person.