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VIII. LISTENING TO SLANDER

Listening, Accepting or Believing

"The Sin of Listening" is an article in The Cause written by David Gumlia. Gumlia is one of the earliest members of GCI. As early as 1973, when this author first met him, Gumlia was an elder in the Kansas City church. He has since been an elder in Columbia, Missouri, and now in Silver Springs, Maryland. He has grown to have influence on a national level with GCI, at times either traveling with Jim McCotter, or on his behalf.

In this article, the first of two he has in this issue, he discusses what GCI considers to be the sin of listening to slander. To demonstrate the error in listening to slander, he cites the example of a family in North Dakota which was destroyed by gossip. The wife and mother in the family had heard slanderous things about her husband, and as a result, she took her own life, and that of their two small children.

Concerning this tragic example, Gumlia draws the following conclusion:

"If she would have responded properly, the tragedy would have been averted...But instead she sinned by accepting an evil report. She was just as unrighteous as the gossip."1
Gumlia chooses a helpful word in describing her error. He says she sinned by "accepted" the evil report. Her sin, in other words, was not that she heard the report (she may have been unable to avoid it), but that she believed it without investigating to find the source, the town gossip, and to prove it true or false.

Gumlia's article creates some confusion in this area. At several points he refers to the wrong of listening and accepting.

"If we accept an evil report as true..."2

"If we hear and accept evil speech..."3

"If we accept the accusations..."4
However, at other points, the critical element of accepting gets lost. Consider, for example, the title of the article: "The Sin of Listening". It would have been much more helpful to have called it: "The Sin of Accepting", or; "The Sin of Believing". Also, he makes statements such as the following:

"...what we listen to will affect our thoughts..."5

"...if we refuse to listen to evil speech..."6
All of this serves to confuse the question as to whether it is wrong to merely listen to a false report, or if it is wrong to accept it as true. There is a significant distinction here, which Gumlia fails to address satisfactorily. However, by this point there should be little question in our minds as to what GCI's position is on this question. We can remember from our examination of Martindale's article, "Q & A", in chapter six, that the truth of a report is not particularly germane. He maintains that we are affected by slander, regardless of whether we believe it or not.

In additional, Gumlia, in this article, says absolutely nothing about our biblical obligation to investigate a report to determine if it is false or true. As we have seen clearly so far, and will see more of in the rest of the magazine, the truth or falsehood of a negative report is not relevant to GCI. What is relevant is the technique or procedure in which the accusation is made.

Obscuring the Issue

Gumlia further obscures the importance of the issue of accepting in his use of Scripture, and in his poor exegesis of those Scriptures. For example, he refers to Proverbs 17:4, of which he says:

"We need to see that in God's eyes it is just as wicked to listen and accept an evil report as it is to give it. Proverbs 17:4 says: 'A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious (destructive vicious) tongue.' If we listen to a malicious, destructive tongue, the Bible says that we are wicked and are liars."7
Listening to Slander

We can observe several problems with what Gumlia says and does here. First, although he initially uses the term "accept", he goes on to quote a verse which says nothing about accepting, and in his last remark, he also deletes the "accepting" qualifier. It appears that, to Gumlia, to hear a report is tantamount to accepting or believing it. If such were the case, a person would never be able to bring a charge against another, for it would always be wrong for anyone to ever listen to it, as to do so would constitute accepting it as true, and would make the hearer a "liar". This would effectively obstruct justice.

Second, Gumlia fails to point out that the issue in the verse he cites is not that it is wrong to listen to an evil report, but that it is wrong to listen to an evil reporter. The issue in the verse is not the report itself, but the source of the report. Gumlia indicates as much when he says: "if we listen to a...tongue." But he effectively obscures that point when he says earlier: "it is just as wicked to listen and accept an evil report". (Emphasis mine)

The point that the Holy Spirit is expressing is that wicked men are given to listening to other wicked men. It is a matter of associating with liars, not of listening to a specific report. Applying the verse then, we can see that a righteous person would be careful not to listen to men who are known liars. To do this, he would have to carefully determine if a given person was in the habit of practicing deceit, and if he was, to disassociate himself from that person.

Third, Gumlia implies that, according to this verse, one becomes wicked by listening to an evil report. However, the passage actually says that the one who is already wicked listens to other people who are deceitful, or those with evil lips. (The King James uses the phrase "false lips".) Therefore, it is men who are already evil and deceitful who pay attention to the malicious tongue.

Gumlia makes the identical mistake, of failing to distinguish between listening to an evil report and listening to an evil reporter, in his discussion of Proverbs 21:28. Since the thrust of the verse is the same as the one we have just looked at, and Gumlia's mistake is the same, we will not look at this at length.

The point of all of this is quite significant. It should be remembered that Gumlia has left us with the impression that allowing ourselves to even hear a negative report about someone constitutes accepting it, and is a sin on an equal level with slander. And we must remember, slander is the worst sin of all. Hence the one who would hear a report, with the intent to investigate its accuracy, has become "wicked" by listening, even before he investigates it or believes it. Such conclusions cannot be fairly drawn from a sound exegesis of the passages Gumlia cites, and they close the door on thorough and fair investigation of the charges.

Accusing and Defending

Gumlia's tendency to close the door on investigative justice is further exemplified in his handling of Proverbs 12:6 and I Corinthians 13:7. He says:

"It takes just one proverb to turn your life around in this vital area. For example, Proverbs 12:6 in the Living Bible says: 'The wicked accuse, the godly defend.' In other words, if you are not defending a brother, you are accusing him and are wicked! 'If you love someone...you will always stand your ground in defending him.' (I Corinthians 13:7, Living Bible)."8
It is here in this discussion and accompanying verses that Gumlia makes an unfortunate mistake of abandoning his use of the New International Version, and opts for the much less accurate Living Bible. In the NIV we find:

"The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them."9 Proverbs 12:6 NIV

"It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."10 I Corinthians 13:7 NIV
The New American Standard Version translates the verse in Proverbs nearly the same, and the one in I Corinthians 13, it translates:

"Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Neither of these verses are saying what Gumlia would have us believe: that it is always wrong to accuse someone, and it is always right to defend them. Nor do they say, as he maintains, that if you are not defending, then you are accusing. Nor do they say that if you love someone you will always defend them from accusations. It is not wrong to accuse someone who is guilty of sin, nor is it right to defend him, even if we love him deeply.

The clear meaning of the verse in Proverbs 12:6 is that the righteous will use his mouth to defend the one who is the victim of the wicked man, who is using his words to destroy his victim. The Living Bible's paraphrase is unfortunate. A more accurate paraphrase would be; "The wicked unjustly accuse, but the godly will defend the victim with his mouth."

Gumlia's teaching leaves us with the understanding that anytime we hear someone accused, we must immediately stand up in his defense. Once again we are not told to investigate the charges, or to evaluate their accuracy.

The fallacy of this mentality is obvious in many biblical examples, including Paul's confrontation of Peter, John and Diotrephes, Samuel and Eli, the Hellenistic Jews in Jerusalem and the native Jews, Moses and Aaron, Paul and Demas, etc., etc.

The further we proceed through The Cause, the more GCI makes it virtually impossible to bring a charge against someone, especially an elder.

1 Gumlia, David, "The Sin of Listening", The Cause, p 18, June/July 1985.
2 Ibid., p 18.
3 Ibid, p 19.
4 Ibid, p 19.
5 Ibid, p 18.
6 Ibid, p 19.
7 Ibid, p 18.
8 Ibid, p 19.
9 The Holy Bible, The New International Version, The New York International Bible Society, 1978.
10 Ibid.

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