̶ by Stephan Joubert

“Please ask Christians to be more responsible and first check the facts before they spread untruthful rumours on social media, or drag people’s names through the mud.”

I remembered these words of one of my friends a few years ago. It was shortly after an owner of a fast food giant told him that they were very upset because a plethora of religious texts, tweets, and Facebook messages were making the rounds claiming that the company had produced a blasphemous advertisement. Suddenly their products were boycotted from all quarters, though they never produced such an advertisement. Somewhere, someone had the cat by the tail and began to spread the rumours. Many church people who read these comments decided it was the truth and indiscriminately posted it on social media.

We have an ethical responsibility
When I recently saw on Facebook how people equally blindly circulated false stories about a celebrity’s death, as well as a large sinkhole in a new shopping centre in Gauteng, I wondered if we as believers understand our ethical responsibility to God and to other people to ensure that we always have the right facts. If not, we are engaged in spreading false rumours. 

Be aware of distorted facts
If you have been the target of so-called cyber trolls, who take great pleasure in casting suspicion on others on social media with distorted facts, then you will know how unpleasant that can be. So be very wary of ‘tasty facts’ that you come across on unfamiliar websites or on someone’s Facebook page, do not blindly believe it and repeat is as the truth.

Do not repay evil with evil
Any form of negative talk about other people that casts suspicion on them, or that questions their integrity, is in conflict with God’s Will. In 1 Corinthians 13 we are called to believe the best about others and to treat them in such a manner that their integrity is not harmed by ourselves or others. It is therefore our responsibility, as followers of Christ, to always check the reliability of our sources before we tell stories that could do others an injustice. Oh yes, and even when we know our sources’ facts are correct, then we are still under the obligation to act with integrity. We may never humiliate or belittle those with whom we do not agree or differ from. We should never repay evil with evil. There is really no room for spiritual street fighters or religious bullying in the Lord’s service. 

We are Jesus’ 911 emergency number for the world
I was preaching at a church a while ago and afterwards someone came to complain about their own spiritual leaders that apparently did not take action against someone who was guilty of a gross public sin. I immediately asked her if she is familiar with Matthew 18.  I then explained to her that in that passage Jesus expects us to first go and speak to those who were making a mess of things before we talk it to others. We are always the Lord’s direct line of support and help to someone else.

No, it is not in the first place the spiritual leaders that have to sort out all problems in local faith communities on our behalf; it is the duty of each of us that first became aware of the problem. We are all in unique ways Jesus’ local 911 emergency number. If we do not fulfil this responsibility to handle these issues with integrity and confidentiality, we will get caught up in spreading gossip.

Live with integrity before God
Believers should defend the good name of one another. We should come to one another’s rescue, even when we do not know one another personally. We should have each other’s back like Jesus has ours. If necessary, we should take one another aside to admonish with the necessary transparency and honesty. In this way we will stop the little foxes that destroy the Lord’s vineyard. In this way we will prevent lies and half-truths from spreading. This is how we live with integrity before God.

PROF STEPHAN JOUBERT is the founder of e-kerk, a professor of theology at the University of the Free State, North West University and Radboud University in Nijmegen. For more information: www.ekerk.org  or info@ekerk.org

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