Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When Christian Leaders Are Accused of Something ...

In a discussion forum recently I exchanged posts with a person who claimed that a pastor of a large church in the Pacific Northwest had said something that would encourage abuse against wives and children. An alarming claim, to be sure, and awful, if true. "If" is one of the biggest words in the English language! I've learned to be reflexively skeptical of such claims until I can verify what was said, in context.

The person making the claim supplied a url for a blog post with the quote from the pastor. The quote in the blog was brief, but the blogger described the context to which the pastor had been speaking. The quote and the contextual information sufficed to show that the person who claimed this pastor had encouraged domestic abuse had misrepresented the pastor entirely. I did a very few minutes' further research, and found a video clip of that pastor addressing a congregation that he assumed included at least a few abusers. He was direct and blunt in denouncing domestic abuse!

Before accepting as true - let alone repeating - an accusation against a Christian leader about something they "said", always check: whether they said it at all; what the context was; what clarifications or retractions may have happened later. Frankly, this should be done for anyone, not just a Christian leader. But US society is becoming increasingly hostile to Christians and Christian leaders, and false accusations and misrepresentations against Christian leaders are becoming common.

Scripture addresses this kind of situation:

Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. - 1 Timothy 5:19 NAS

The phrase, "two or three witnesses," appears several times elsewhere in scripture, in contexts that point to the seriousness of the principle involved.

On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. Deuteronomy 17:6

Two or three witnesses were required to convict some one of crime where the punishment was death.
A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. Deuteronomy 19:15

Two or three witnesses were required to convict some one of a crime.
But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. Matthew 18:16

Two or three witnesses were required to throw some one out of a church.
This is the third time I am coming to you. EVERY FACT IS TO BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. 2 Corinthians 13:1

Two or three witnesses were required to throw some one out of a church.

First, these show that God is concerned about both false accusations and mistaken claims. Second, God applied the, "two or three witnesses," principle to serious situations - capital crimes, crimes and church discipline. An accusation against a church leader is a serious thing. If true, it means the leader's ministry is effectively "over" (with restoration being possible, of course). If not true - whether a malicious false accusation or a careless mistake - an innocent leader, his family and those ministered to will all be hurt.

I'd love to say Christians, even leaders, are above things like malice, jealousy and misunderstandings. Sadly that isn't the case. So Christian people need to be careful when we hear claims that a leader (or an "ordinary" follower!) has done something morally wrong or acted (or taught) contrary to the Christian faith.

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