Trevin Wax tells a compelling story about his Romanian father-in-law in “This is Our Time” (B&H, 2017). As a young man, his father-in-law was a Communist advocate. As many others in his national context, he was engaged in the demise of any form of organized faith. Under Communism, religious liberty experienced the boot of ideological expression.
We know from non-redacted history of Romania how the Communist Party closed humanitarian ministries, eliminated all Christian education, and spied on God’s people. The authorities questioned and unjustly condemned people of faith in both the court of public opinion and the ideologically aligned judicial system. They outlawed private group Bible study and prayer meetings.
Yet the people of God found ways to meet together. Trevin’s father-in-law was spying on a Baptist revival meeting and was gloriously redeemed as he declared that Jesus is King. Although resistant at first, his wife experienced the irresistible grace of God expressed through her transformed husband and she “heard the preaching of God’s Word, she saw herself as a sinner, and she put her faith in Jesus” (page 3).
After their new-found life in Christ began, the Communist authorities summoned him and told him how foolish he was to have a faith that was counter to the progress of the party line. They excluded him from the Communist Party, revoked his party privileges, and he became the object of suspicion.
As I read this man’s bold testimony, I was stricken by some parallels about the times we live in today. While we don’t have a single-party government that is placing its heel on the necks of those who are not compliant with current social trends or movements, we do have a court of public opinion that is quick to shame people into conformity.
It isn’t difficult to think of global leaders, or even leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention today, who are under blistering attack for real or alleged grievances, ranging from misspoken words long ago to their stand on secondary theological issues.
My point is not to take sides in these volatile issues. Rather, it is to appeal to my fellow followers of Jesus to be factual, gracious, restrained, and humble in the manner in which we escalate matters from private discussions to the court of public opinion.
In some cases, people who are vilified on social media and later exonerated are nevertheless personally destroyed by those who condemn them without substantiating facts, or even taking a deep breath before powering up the Mac.
How are the rumor mills, fake news, and malicious blog posts any different from the Romanian Communist strategies to silence dissent?
In our Baptist context, when did it become okay for people to use whatever form of media available to condemn with innuendo, hold up conjecture as if it is truth, and attack people without substantiated facts?
I have worked in the world of journalism and public policy. I know too well the adage that “if it bleeds it leads.” If you can post or print something salacious or aberrant, then your ratings go up—your market share increases.
This does not mean we should neglect to speak the truth in love. But it means we should start with the truth. Our Heavenly Father is not impressed by the way we condemn people or publish speculative stories. For Christian journalists and bloggers, if the facts are validated and the issue is newsworthy, then by all means tell the story. But do so with godly fear and trembling.
Personal attacks without validated facts, and without personal interaction, is a violation of Matthew 18 principles. Calling for an accused person’s resignation without the authority to do so has the aroma of a prideful attempt of a weak power grab.
When rumors fly on social media, it is very difficult for those in authority – board members, for example – to process the facts. In a hasty and vindictive effort to gain a pound of flesh, a single 140-character tweet could cost someone’s reputation, ruin his or her ministry, and divide that person’s family or congregation. Is it worth it be so quick or clever?
Even as I write this brief commentary, I recognize my own writing has not always been ideal. However, harnessing our tongues and guarding our words is a godly exercise that needs a revival among communities of faith. What outcome could we expect if we experienced a revival of virtuous word usage that esteems others higher than we do ourselves?
Suppressing a free press and punishing those who desired to speak the truth were fundamental errors of Romania’s Communist Party. At the same time, in our free society, rushing to judgment and appealing to the fickle court of public opinion is no less damaging to people made in the image of God
It is okay to civilly disagree and privately confront one another. But that does not give us license to communicate unbridled words in public or private.