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IX. DISCERNING SLANDER

From the Frying Pan into the Fire

"Evil Reports - How to Identify Them" is an article written by Dennis Clark. Clark has been an elder in Ames, Iowa; Dan Diego, California; Columbus, Ohio; and now in Silver Springs, Maryland. He is recognized as an "apostle" of GCI, along with Jim McCotter. Most observers, however, would emphatically state that Clark's influence on the direction and activities of GCI is virtually eclipsed by McCotter's, who is the primary spokesman and mover within the organization. Clark is a gifted musician, and has been referred to by some as GCI's "apostle of music", thereby distinguishing his apostleship and influence from McCotter's. He is also listed as the Associate Editor of The Cause.

The reader should recall that Martindale, in his article, "Slander", left us with a very unsatisfactory means of determining if someone was slandering another. According to Martindale, we would need to judge the heart of the person, or the technical procedure by which the information was communicated. Clark's article, "How to Identify Them", attempts to pull us from that morass. To do so, he shifts the focus of attention from the speaker's heart or method to the hearer's heart. We go from the proverbial "frying pan into the fire".

Most People are Slanderers

The title of the article deals with "evil reports". In the body of the piece, however, Clark only uses the term "slander". So to Clark, an evil report is slander. He leads off his article with what he claims are two facts.

"Fact number one: Most people don't recognize slander when they hear it...Fact number two: Most people engage in slander themselves. Some blatantly, some not so blatantly. Some awaringly, some not so awaringly. This is why most people don't recognize slander. They engage in it themselves."1
He states that these are facts. He doesn't bother to offer any proof that they are facts. We are expected to merely take his word for it. Of course, with him being an elder or apostle, we shouldn't question his judgement. Besides, using GCI's definition of slander, his remarks might be facts, but he still offers us no support for such bold statements.

How do these statements affect us? Once again, in GCI thinking, slander takes on an all-pervasive nature. We get the impression that it is all around us every moment, both inside and outside the church. Almost everyone is lying about others, destroying their reputations. (Actually, in Clark's mind, the lying aspect probably isn't there, since in GCI doctrine slander is merely negative information, true or false.) Though these supposed facts go unsubstantiated, they have the effect of increasing our paranoia about slander. We need to be constantly looking over our shoulders to see who is slandering who today. We must be exceedingly carefully not to hear any of this slander that is filling the air around us, for if we hear any at all, we will be affected by it, whether we believe it or not. This overemphasis on slander, which we saw early in these articles, continues unabated, and indeed, it grows worse.

Using the Mind

To lay a foundation for what he is about to propose, Clark cites Hebrews 5:14. He quotes:

"But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."
Then goes on to say:

"...We need to have our senses trained...God wants to retrain our senses. According to this verse, how is one retrained? Through practice. What we do affects our hearts and minds. If more people practiced righteous speech, they would discern unrighteous speech."2 (Emphasis mine)
A key word in this passage is the word "senses". The word is translated from the Greek word "aistheterion". Concerning its use here, Thayers Lexicon says: "a faculty of the mind for perceiving, understanding, judging".3

J. Barmby, in his exposition in the Pulpit Commentary says:

"...So in the spiritual sphere, the mental faculties, exercised at first on simple truths, should acquire by practice the power of apprehending and distinguishing between higher and more recondite ones."4
This verse, in its context (5:11 - 6:3), concerns the teaching and apprehension of biblical truth (i.e. doctrine). The emphasis in verse 14 is on the need for the mind to have been practiced in the study and apprehension of doctrine, or the truths of Scripture. While the doing or practicing of righteousness is certainly to be commended, it is not the point of this passage, as Clark erroneously suggests. The passage is not stressing the doing of righteous actions, but rather the mental practice of apprehending the marvelous doctrines of the whole gospel. This mental exercise is far from being futile or dangerous, but actually is the foundation of Christian maturity.

As we are about to see, Clark, misinterprets this passages, ignores the need to use the mind to discern and judge, and puts forth a far less reliable method.

How Does it Make Me Feel

It is at this point that GCI's doctrinal house of cards comes crashing down. Throughout the magazine the true nature of slander has been confused with negative information about someone. Here it begins to reach its unjust climax:

"What are the identifying marks of slander?...It's usually never caught red-handed...What are the fingerprints of slander? They are the effects produced in a person's life...Did it produce confidence, truth, and loyalty to that person, or did it cause you to even slightly question that person's integrity. This is the true evidence that will help expose slander - not the exact words, or the sincerity of the words, but the effect in your heart."5 (Emphases mine).
It is here in this statement that the "Joy of Justice" begins to reach it's tragically unjust climax. The only criteria we are given to "discern" slander (notice the absence of the word "judge"), is the effect it has on us emotionally (Clark says: "in your heart"). At least he has delivered us from the horns of Martindale's dilemma of having to judge motive. Now motivate is no longer an issue. Neither are the "exact words", or the truth or accuracy of an issue. The only issue is: "How does it make me feel?"

But what if the report is true? What if a Christian named John brings an accurate report of the deceitfulness of Victor to a third party, Allen? If Victor is deceitful, we have a gross injustice brewing, especially if he is an elder or church leader.

Once John has spoken to Allen about Victor's deceitfulness, then Allen examines his "heart" and finds that he has been caused to question Victor's integrity. According to Clark and GCI, John has slandered Victor, albeit with the truth, because he has caused a "slight question". Hench, John is charged with slander, and is commanded to repent. But, of course, he refuses to repent, since the charge he is bringing is true, and needs to be acted upon. Now Allen and Victor both confront John, who still refuses to repent. At this point they might bring the matter before the church, which would be obligated to accept the testimony of two witnesses, and the church would excommunicate John. However, according to GCI, Victor and Allen actually would not need to bring their charge before the church, and it would probably not be advisable to do so, since a divisive person is to be rejected after the second admonition.

However, even if it did come before the church, the church would refuse to hear John's charge, especially if Victor were an elder, because his charge against Victor would cause those in the church to slightly question Victor's integrity, obviously making John's charge slanderous. Also, they are obligated to receive the testimony of two witnesses that the charge is slanderous, therefore making it wrong for the church to hear it, even with the intent to investigate it. This is the logical result of GCI's teaching on slander. Is this the "joy of justice"?

In the example above, what should have been done? Allen should have fully heard John's charges, and initiated a satisfactory investigation of them using an impartial forum (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19). If Allen felt inadequate spiritually to do this, then he should have referred John to someone who was sufficiently spiritual to do so (Galatians 6:1). Victor most likely would be found out, and justice would be done. But all of this requires the use of mental faculty and the determination of truth or falsehood. Neither of these things are of concern to Clark or GCI.

1 Clark, Dennis, "Evil Reports - How to Identify Them", The Cause, p 19, June/July 1985.
2 Ibid.
3 Thayer, Joseph Henry, D.D., Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, Zondervan Pub. House, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1974, p 17.
4 Barmby, J. "The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews, Exposition", The Pulpit Commentary, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., 1978, p 142.
5 Clark, Op, Cit., p 19.

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