Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Watch Your Mouth! (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 neighbour: I am the LORD.”

Leviticus 19:16

Have you ever known someone who spends a lot of their time talking about other people behind their back? Aren’t they annoying? If they’ve ever gossiped about someone in front of you, chances are they’ve gossiped about you behind your back as well. If anything, they’re more than likely projecting their own insecurities onto you or that person. As noted in the previous article in this series, this is an 8th Commandment violation. So, this article might seem redundant, but it is worth talking about again because of how often we Christians violate this command, even against our own brethren.

As also noted in the previous article, it doesn’t matter if what you or the other person is saying is true. It is worth repeating Luther, “If you do not trust yourself to stand before the proper authorities and to answer well, then hold your tongue. But if you know about it, know it for yourself and not for another. For if you tell the matter to others—although it is true—you will look like a liar, because you cannot prove it. Besides, you are acting like a rascal. We should never deprive anyone of his honour or good name unless it is first taken away from him publicly” (LC Part 1, 270). In short, keep your mouth shut. The old proverb we learn as children holds true, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Rather, we are to defend our neighbour, “speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (Small Catechism), or as it is more commonly said, “put the best construction on things.” If someone begins gossiping, counter their verbal arrows by speaking well of the person being attacked. If you know something to be a lie, call out the liar for their rubbish. If you’re unsure of what the truth is, put the best construction on things and so defend your neighbour’s honour. Whenever you hear slander, shut it down.

One thing I neglected to mention in the previous article was violating this commandment on social media, which spreads all over the internet like wildfire. Wherever there is a disagreement, you will more than likely find one person or several people launching ad hominem attacks to damage that person’s character and reputation. It’s probably happened to you, especially if you’re a conservative (i.e., orthodox) Christian. The moment someone is suspected of something terrible, the internet trolls rush to their keyboards with their grimy little fingers to slander them and accuse them of all sorts of things long before they’re publicly convicted (and in a lot of cases, they’re never publicly convicted). As a result, their reputation is ruined. And in some cases, they lose their job and can’t get another one because the people hiring believe these lies told about them, and thus their livelihood is damaged.

Even when someone doesn’t do something objectively bad or evil, some evil is assumed, and they are slandered. For example, famous actor Chris Pratt made an Instagram post about how blessed he is to have “a gorgeous healthy daughter” with his new wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger. A lot of fans immediately began trolling that Pratt purposefully meant this as a jab against his ex-wife, Anna Faris, for their son who has special needs. Was he truly passive-aggressively making a cheap shot against his ex-wife and the son they had together, or was he simply expressing the utter joy of having a beautiful, healthy child with his new wife as any good father would do? The latter is much more obvious than the former.

Rather than putting the best construction on things, explaining everything in the kindest way, and defending his honour and reputation, the sweaty trolls immediately gunned for his honour and reputation and slandered him for things that cannot be proven. Thus, the trolls show themselves to be vile liars and their own character as ugly and predacious as the mythological creature called trolls.

So, watch your mouth! You don’t know everything there is to know about a person. Even if you happen to know some facts or “all the facts,” you still don’t know everything. You don’t know what’s in their heart. That power belongs only to God. Therefore, defend your neighbour and their honour by explaining everything in the kindest way. Shut down slander wherever it occurs. Pray for the accused, that their reputation and livelihood might remain intact or that they may come before the Lord and repent in case they truly are guilty.

Terms Used

  • ad hominem: a logical fallacy that attacks the character of the person rather than directly addressing the content of their argument.
  • Troll: a person who posts inflammatory, insincere, digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (e.g., social media, a newsgroup, forum, chat room, online video game, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses or manipulating others’ perception.

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