I caught up with a friend of mine in the last couple of months, and he told me this story. It saddened me so deeply that I couldn’t help but write about it in the hopes that we — this new generation of Christians — might be different. I’ll write it in the first person for easier reading and also greater anonymity. Some details have also been changed.
“I’ve been in this city for about a year as a pastor of a church when this happened. The wife of one of my colleagues from a different job caught him with some really dodgy pornography on his computer. She freaked out and told her best friend about it. After a couple days she confronted him, but instead of owning up to it, he said that I had come over and downloaded it to his hard-drive while I was over one evening. She believed him, and in relief relayed the information to her friend, who just so happens to be married to one of my co-pastors.
“Couple moths later, they moved to a different country. Six months pass. No one told me anything.
“After that time, she came back, but he stayed abroad. A couple months later, she found out that it was actually him who had downloaded it all along. So in guilt and with much sorrow, she called me up and apologized. I wasn’t even angry, just glad that it got cleared up. I didn’t even know.
“Then she told me the rest of it. Seems that her best friend had told her husband, and he had shared this information with various missions organizations that we worked with and warned them to be careful of me. Also word had gotten around my church and that’s why some people had stopped having me around for dinner. Lastly, it seems like both wives had felt it was their duty to tell my wife about it six months ago but not tell me, which had obviously led to some complications.”
OK, obviously my friend had a ton of work he had to do to fix all of this. First, he had to reassure his wife, who, because of this, had also started believing that he was having an affair (he wasn’t). Then he had to restore his reputation within the church and eventually to their missions partners.
My question is this: Why did no one talk to him?
You’d think that if someone you loved was known to be committing sin, and thus hurting himself, that you’d talk to him, right? A pastor, a friend, your wife! Yet no one seemed to care enough to confront or even ask him about it.
The truth is that this has to stop. Yes, I know it doesn’t happen in every church (perhaps just in all the 12 that I’ve been in) and yes, I know the modern church is all about peace and unity and not wanting to offend people. But that’s not love. If my friend had actually been involved in such bondage and darkness then the loving thing to do would be to (kindly) intervene. Yet people were more worried about stepping on his toes or that he wouldn’t like them anymore than they cared about what was good for him.
And they were totally happy to talk to other people about it — which is my next point. Whether the conversation was wife to husband as a caution or as a reference in a pastoral job situation, gossip destroys the church. Sure, this is a case with some fairly extreme consequences, maybe, but people say things about others based on their own incomplete misconceptions all the time. In doing so, we poison people’s minds against their own brothers and sisters.
Now, yes, there are some situations where it’s OK to share what you know about someone with other people. References, advice on whether to date someone, or counseling situations come to mind. Yet even in those rare situations, there are two keys: 1) Share things you know, not things you’ve heard from someone else during a prayer meeting that might mean what you think it means and 2) don’t say anything that you haven’t said to that other person’s face.
What I’m trying to say is that the people of the church need to start doing our interpersonal relationships the way God tells us to do it: directly, kindly, openly and with the aim of loving one another, even those who sin against us. If we as young adults can learn this now, perhaps we can usher in a new culture into our families and our churches. Imagine a church like that.