“I’m telling you this in complete confidence, so please don’t share it with anyone.” Or, “They said…”
Do you feel under heavy moral obligation to keep this “sharing” in strict confidence just because you were told to do so? If yes, consider a few things. First, it all depends upon the nature of what was confided. If it really is a confidentially that needs to be respected—a truth confirmed—then it may be right not to break the trust. The next step would be to bring the charges (and the accuser) to those in authority and let them sort it out by means of due process.
But what if it’s just not true, a more common practice in the church today. What if, without any corroboration or witnesses, someone simply unloaded on you mere gossip—something specifically intended to damage one’s reputation? Is it really your moral duty to keep the source quiet just because they wanted you to keep it under wraps?
Not in the least.
On the contrary, you now have a moral obligation to expose the whole matter, for false witness (including slander, deceit, defamation, backbiting, or innuendo) is regarded in the Bible as one of the worst of all possible sins. That’s why it made the list of the “Big Ten.”
There is no protection, privacy rule, or confidentiality granted to such behavior.
If we hear someone using innuendo against another person in the church or accusing them of something immoral, unethical, or illegal, then the right responses are:
Have you spoken directly to the person?
Did you see or hear that directly, or was it merely relayed to you?
Are there other witnesses who are willing to come forward to verify this?
Are you prepared to stand by this and repeat it in front of our elders and pastors?
Are you willing to confront the accused in the presence of our elders or pastors?
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, then there is absolutely no reason to agree to confidentiality. If “they” are willing to tell you, then they are probably telling others as well. How many people are already involved? And if so, where is the confidentiality anyway? To protect the slanderer is to share in the sin and to guarantee that it will continue. Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated. And remember, if they’re doing it to someone else, they will also do it to you.
If specific charges can’t be brought, or if the accused has no opportunity to confront the accusers or other witnesses, then it has no place in the Christian community. In Matthew 18, Jesus laid out clearly how we are to deal with such things in the church. First, if we have something against another person we are to go to him or her and try to deal with it quietly and amicably. If that doesn’t work, then we are to take one or two others with us and try again. If that fails, then we are to bring it to the church, which in our modern context most likely means that it’s time for the appointed leaders to take up the matter. In any case, such things should always be brought into the light of day. Sunlight is still the best disinfectant.
However we choose to deal with it, there is one thing for sure: it is never, ever right to hear gossip or slander, and then to pass it on to as many people as possible before the accused or any of the leaders can deal with it. By that time too much damage has been done, perhaps beyond repair. You have not only hurt the person, but their entire family. And the body of Christ has suffered a great loss.