Sadly, we’ve seen some high profile examples of sin, bullying and abuse or of church leaders failing to handle such situations well. I’ve written occasionally about these things because I’m concerned to see healthy churches and healthy leadership.
However, not every accusation will be true. Sometimes this is because there has been a genuine misunderstanding and jumping to conclusions, sadly there will be times when the accusation is malicious. In some cases, false accusation is itself a tool used to bully and abuse someone else. The aim of the accuser is not to get to the truth and get justice but to wear down their victim under a litany of slurs in order to break their mental health and force them out.
What should we do if we are on the receiving end of false accusation? The risk is that if we respond and seek to challenge accusations then we’ll be accused of “gas-lighting”, of employing the “DARVO” method I referred to in previous posts. More importantly perhaps, what should we do when someone we know, perhaps a fellow leader in our church is falsely accused?
I suggest that the latter question is the more important because in reality the answer to the question “What can I do when falsely accused?” is sadly “not a lot.” Whatever you attempt to do or say is likely to make the situation worse and indeed if someone is maliciously accusing you then they will happily manipulate things in order to paint you as a gas lighter.
So, the immediate answer to the victim of false accusation is two-fold. First of all, find comfort in the God who hears your cry. He is the one who will ultimately vindicate. Cry out to him for justice. This is why some time back I picked up on David’s words in Psalm 109. There we see that slander is sin and David rightly pleads for God to bring justice. Ultimately the sinner must either bear the penalty themselves on judgement day or find salvation and forgiveness because Christ has borne that penalty for them.
I’ve been asked whether we shouldn’t add a step in front of this. Shouldn’t our first step be to check that this is a false accusation, to go to someone we trust to hold us accountable and to speak truth into our lives. It is possible that the accusation is true or indeed that no accusation has been made, that we have misheard.
It’s worth noting that my starting point here is on the assumption that we know the accusation to be false (by whatever means). Therefore, honest, transparent, faithful accountability within the body is crucial. However, on reflection, I would stand by this as our first response. My first port of call whenever I’m accused should be to flee to God for protection, mercy, vindication. It is ultimately God who sees and knows all things and I must be ready as I bring my plea to him for him to convict me, through the Holy Spirit of sin.
In God’s normal providence, it will be through body ministry that this work will happen. That in the context of the church, accusations will either be confirmed and I will be convicted of sin or I will be vindicated as the charges are proved false. Indeed, by first bringing my plea to God my posture is a willingness to hear his verdict.
Secondly, look to Christ as the example for how to bear with false accusation. Peter say:
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.1 Peter 2:21-23
And of course, we have the description of him in prophecy as led like a lamb silently to the slaughter. I don’t think this means that you have to simply stand there and suck up the accusations without response. There are two reasons why I say this. First, Jesus himself did respond and engage with Pilate and with the chief priests. Secondly, Paul was not afraid to point out his rights as a Roman citizen when wrongly treated in Philippi.
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.Acts 16:35-40
The point is not that you never challenge, question, correct, clarify but rather that you don’t resort to the same tactics or behaviours as your oppressors. Whilst they are willing to lie, exaggerate, manipulate, become aggressive you will not. This can be very hard when you have been put through the mill but what we are being asked to do is I think two things. First in terms of the surface response, we are being asked to keep our cool, to remain calm, gentle, patient, truthful in our response.
Secondly, if we keep thinking about how the Gospel challenges us then we must see this as a call to look at our heart response. It’s not just that I remain calm and gentle in my verbal responses and actions but that I seek to guard my heart against bitterness towards the other person. I do not revile them. I ask God to help me respond firmly and truthfully but with genuine compassion for them. Even as I am seeking to respond to the accusation my concern is not to get revenge, not to vindicate myself but to see the other person won by the Gospel and brought to a place of restoration in Christ.
However, it is unlikely if you are the one who is subject to the false accusations that you are in a position to really respond anyway. Why? Well, because false accusers are bullies and cowards and they are careful not to place themselves in a position where accusations might be challenged. So often the accusation happens not face to face with evidence and witnesses but behind your back with whispers, eye rolls and insinuations.
So, in fact, we have a responsibility towards each other in such situations. Our responsibility is to ensure that the truth is heard. You see, if we seek to pursue peace and reconciliation without first pursuing truth and justice then we will end up with neither.
For emphasis, my point is not that the victim of false accusation must simply bear it in silence. Rather that far too often, sadly their experience will be that it feels like they have no choice. So I’m not instructing/advising victims of false accusation to simply accept it. Instead I’m arguing that it really is crucial that others, especially elders in the church step forward to help.
Our responsibility as fellow leaders is to seek out the most effective and safest means by which truth can be heard. This is why, Scripture talks about the need for multiple witnesses so that we are not just acting on hearsay. It’s why we cannot allow for there to be gossiping and whisper campaigns happening in church.
So in summary:
- We look to God for vindication and cry out to him
- We refuse to play the same game as our torment
- We guard our hearts and ask God to help our response to be motivated by compassion so that we seek the restoration and forgiveness of our accusers.
- We seek to care for one another in the body. Our duty is to protect others from false accusation
Our aim should be to bring everything into the light.
 DARVO stands for Deny, Attack and Reverse Victim Order. The bully denies the accusations, attacks his victim and those seeking to support them and claims that he/she is in fact the real victim.