Libel is not love

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2011, at 4:06 pm

One sign of the declining state of Christianity in America is the way in which believers publicly slander one another, which can do violence to love and undermine the witness of the Church to nonbelievers. A recent example occurred when a Christian blogger took offensive to a comment made by a prominent pastor, and then, sadly, the blogger's rant went viral on the internet.

Granted, the pastor, Seattle's Mark Driscoll, seems to draw controversy like a magnet, mainly because of his willingness to speak out boldly against feminism in our society and paganism in the media, his unvarnished challenges to men to "be men" instead of soft and "effeminate," his staunch defense of the inerrancy of Scripture, and his belief that the pastorate is reserved for men and that women should stay home to nurture their children.

But what stirred up the blogger was a recent Facebook post by Driscoll, who caustically asked, "So what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you've ever personally witnessed?" After receiving more than 600 comments, Driscoll deleted the post, but the cat was already out of the bag. I am not here to defend Driscoll's post and would personally challenge him over what he wrote. My concern is how Christians handle conflict with other Christians in public.

That's where Rachel Held Evans and her blog post, "Mark Driscoll is a bully. Stand up to him," come in. There is nothing loving about calling a pastor a "bully"-that is, "a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people." That is a serious charge. In her post, Evans describes why she believes Driscoll to be a bully, implying that he, his teachings, and the elders at his church are not functioning in ways consistent with Scripture. While it is more than reasonable to understand why someone would take issue with Driscoll's post, Evans' way of responding cannot and should not be encouraged. What was even more disturbing was the way in which many other believers jumped on the slander bandwagon to feed on the carnage once it went viral.

Jacob W. Ehrlich, in The Holy Bible and the Law, explains that because of the oral culture of the world of the Bible there is no difference between slander and libel in Christianity. And according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, slander in the Bible is understood as an "accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge (compare Mt 5:11); but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose (e.g., Dan 3:8, 'brought accusation against,' where Septuagint has diaballo, 'slander'; Lk 16:1, the same Greek word)."

Evans' slanderous post also represents one of the things that God finds detestable, "a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community" (Proverbs 6:19). Additionally, the Bible teaches that if someone offends us we should go to the person directly first (Matthew 18:15-20).

Christians publicly defaming the character of other Christians by name is not the way of love (1 Peter 4:8, Romans 12:9-10).

Thanks to the dissension that has now been stirred up, atheist websites are applauding Evans' response to Driscoll. What type of Christianity are we displaying before the world if slander is our response to the words of leaders we find offensive? Evans maintains that "Mark's bullying is unacceptable," and I would add that so is ungodly public speech against another Christian.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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