Sunday, April 3, 2016

Allegations of Sexual Sin against Ted Cruz: A Case Study in Slander

A Slanderous Article

                As I’m sure everyone reading this already knows, a couple of weeks ago the tabloid National Enquirer published an article which strongly implies that Ted Cruz has had sex with five women who are not his wife.

                Although the article gives the “feel” and appearance of accusing Cruz, if one carefully reads it, the article does not actually say that Cruz has done anything wrong.  The article simply claims that other, unnamed, people are investigating rumors that Cruz committed adultery.  The article does not present any evidence at all, NONE, that Cruz has ever been unfaithful to his wife.

                To me, the article looks and feels like slander.  When I say “slander”, I do not mean slander or libel in the legal sense.  The tabloid was careful to word things in a way that probably protects them from a civil suit.  That does not mean it is not “slander” in the more important Biblical sense of the word.  The Enquirer may be safe from human judges, but just like you and I, they will one day have to give an account for every word (Matthew 12:36).

How Do I know the Accusations are False?

                I don’t.  I’m not claiming to somehow know whether or not Ted Cruz did any of the things implied in the article.  What I am saying is that the article looks, smells, and feels like slander.  In order for it not to be slander, all of the implied accusations would have to be completely true.  If that turns out to be the case, then instead of calling the article slander, I would call it an example of really bad, terrible reporting.

                Remember, Ted Cruz is not the only one being harmed by the article.  Although the photos of the five women were somewhat pixelated, there was enough description of them so that most of them were quickly identified in public media.  So if it turns out that 4 out of 5 are guilty (and there is NO evidence that even one is guilty), it would still be very serious slander.  What if the 5th “innocent one” was your wife, sister, or daughter?  You would rightly feel deeply hurt.  For years to come it is likely that these women will sometimes run into people who will look at them funny or treat them differently because they wonder if the article might be true.

But Isn’t It Usually True that “Where there’s Smoke there’s Fire”?

                Yes, where there is smoke there is usually fire.  But we must be careful.  The nature of the article tells me that something evil is going on.  But whether that evil consists of a campaign to falsely accuse and smear Ted Cruz with lies and innuendo, or whether there actually was adultery, or perhaps some combination of the two, we cannot tell.

So What Should We Do About Cruz?

                Until and unless there is real, concrete, sufficient evidence to show that Cruz actually did something wrong we should treat him as innocent.  I would urge people not to be influenced by these accusations when it comes time to vote.  If he is later proved guilty of adultery, I’ll be the first to drop him as my first choice among the candidates who remain in the race.  In the meantime, I continue to support Cruz.  If you don’t support Cruz, I hope it is for reasons that have nothing to do with these allegations.

                In the meantime, I want to take this occasion to share some thoughts about the nature of slander.

I’ve been a Victim of Slander

                If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of slander, you know how much damage it can cause. 

                At my first pastorate, there was a group of people who wanted to get rid of me.  Their opposition to me began even before I arrived.  One of the major reasons for their opposition was that when I described my vision for the church, that vision included making intentional efforts to reach the black community and bring more African Americans into our church.  Most churches in the area where I live are either 100% white or 100% black, or very nearly so.  I wanted to at least try to change that.

                Shortly after my family had moved to the town where the church was, the first anonymous letter was sent to the deacons.  It was the first sign of what turned into a two year campaign to get rid of me.  There was constant gossip and slander.  One of the deacons actually accused me to the other deacons of having a serious criminal record that no one previously knew about.  Thankfully, the other deacons pressed him to show his evidence.  It turned out that all he had was a publically available report of a minor traffic violation from over twenty years ago.  Unfortunately, the other deacons were not willing to put this man off the deacon board.

                As the constant conflict in the church continued to hurt me, my family, and the church, I finally decided it was best to leave.  This might not have been necessary if the church had been willing to take proper church discipline against some of the most obvious slanderers.  I left without another job lined up.  It hurt me and my family, a lot.  In fact, it is painfully true to say that so called “Christians” in North Carolina hurt me far worse in my first two years back in the US than our Muslim neighbors ever did during fourteen years of living in a Muslim majority nation.  And the main methods they used were slander and gossip.

Jesus was a Victim of Slander

                Those who wanted Jesus crucified sought out and used slander in their plotting against him.

Advice and Insight

In the rest of this post I will use a Q&A format to offer some advice and insight about slander and gossip.

How can we recognize slander and gossip?

The nature of evil, including slander and gossip, is that it hides in the dark and when it has to be seen, it attempts to disguise itself.  So how can we recognize it?  Here are six indications that it might be slander or gossip:

1. Is the accusation anonymous?  Slander and gossip often come from anonymous sources.  The Bible, ancient Roman law, and our own court system insist that the accused has a right to face their accusers (Deuteronomy 19:16-19; Acts 25:16).  Anonymous accusations should usually be completely ignored and should never be used as evidence of guilt. 

2. Is the information based on first hand testimony?  Gossip and slander are usually based on second or third hand testimony.  In fact, often gossip is worded in such a way that you cannot tell if the testimony is second or third hand or if there even is a first-hand witness.  This is the case in the National Enquirer article.  There are clearly no first hand witnesses giving testimony in the article. In fact, there isn’t even a claim that a first-hand witness exists anywhere.

3.  Is the accusation clear and specific?  Slander and gossip often consists of vague accusations.  Vague and general accusations are used by slanderers because they are nearly impossible to check up on or disprove.  If someone says, “Pastor Joe sleeps around”, that’s hard to disprove.  If someone says, “I saw Pastor Joe come out of hotel X last Thursday night with a woman in immodest clothing”, at least that can be investigated.

4.  Is there more than one source of evidence?  The Bible requires there be at least two witnesses to find someone guilty. (Deuteronomy 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19)

5.  Has the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 been followed?  Jesus instructs us to first go to the person we are accusing before sharing the accusation with others.  Gossips and slanderers consistently disobey this teaching of Jesus.  If someone begins to tell you something bad about someone else, you should immediately stop them and ask them if they have already talked with the person they are accusing.

6.  Are accusations exaggerated?  Even if someone has really done something wrong, it is not alright to exaggerate what they have done.  Accusations must be clearly limited to actual wrongdoing without exaggeration.  Slander and gossip often exaggerate relatively minor errors to make them sound like huge sins.

2.  What should you do if you hear what sounds like slander or gossip?

1.  Just as it “takes two to tango”, it also takes at least two for gossip to occur:  a gossiper and a listener. As soon as you recognize slander/gossip you should stop it. If a firm, gentle word is not enough, you should hang up the phone or walk away.  I’ve seen people who did not spread gossip themselves (that I know of), but who listened to it day after day.  It does damage to your soul.

2.  If a person continues to try to gossip or slander after you warn them, you should treat this as a serious sin because it IS a serious sin.  This may involve taking the steps of Matthew 18:15-17.  It may eventually involve taking church discipline against the gossiper.  Gossip and slander destroys churches and hurts people.  It should not be tolerated any more that you would tolerate a church member who is selling cocaine.

3.  Be very careful not to spread the gossip yourself. Be careful not to let it influence how you feel about someone.  Sometimes, you should go to the person who was accused in the gossip to clear things up and let them know what is being said about them.

3.  But, what if someone really is doing something wrong which disqualifies them from leadership or is seriously hurting other people?

1.  Accusing someone of doing wrong is not slander if the accusation is true and if it is handled in accordance with Biblical principles, including the steps given in Matthew 18:15-17.  Sometimes it is the right thing to do to confront people.  Sometimes it is even right to expose evil (Ephesians 5:11).  This is not the same as slander.

2.  Even if you are telling the truth, you must be very careful if you seek to confront someone or expose evil.  Of course you must tell the truth, but the Bible has an even higher standard for Christians.  We must also have the right motive for all that we say:

NIV  Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

4.  What should you do if you are the one being slandered?

1.  Ask yourself if the accusation might be true.  If it is, humbly confess and repent.

2.  If it really is slander, rejoice.

NIV  Matthew 5:11 "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Slander can really hurt.  Slander led to Jesus being crucified.  Slander played a part in hurting me and my family financially. So, I don’t offer this advice naively.  Nevertheless, Jesus taught us to rejoice when we are falsely accused while serving Him.  You are being treated like the true prophets, the apostles, and like our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus has promised to bless you.

3.  Bless your accusers.  Pray for them and look for opportunities to do good for them.

1Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 

4.  Sometimes you may defend yourself.  Sometimes it is best to remain silent and let others defend you or even allow yourself to be harmed.  Stay close to Jesus.  Do not become bitter.  Trust God. Be led by the Spirit.  God knows the truth and eventually the truth will come out.

5.  Finally, know that for those who do not truly repent, God will bring justice in His time.

If you want to read more about this, here are some additional Bible verses about gossip and slander:

NIV  Exodus 20:16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

ESV  Exodus 23:1 "You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.
 2 You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice,

ESV  Leviticus 19:16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

NIV  Proverbs 10:18 Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.

NIV  1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

NIV  2 Corinthians 12:20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. (2Co 12:20 NIV)

NIV  1 Peter 2:1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

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