In my last post on false accusation, I argued that following Jesus’ example in the face of false accusation doesn’t mean that we cannot respond to lies in order to challenge, correct or clarify. Rather, I said that it means we must not play the same game. Peter says about Jesus:
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 2:22-23
So, to be like Jesus means that we must not respond to the sin of slander by sinning ourselves. We must not lie or manipulate and we must not resort to disparaging, threatening personal attacks.
I thought it might be helpful to say a little bit more about this by returning to the example of how Grace Community Church and Grace To You ministries have responded to the concerns raised about how the David and Eileen White cases was handled by John MacArthur and GCC elders.
For emphasis here, I’m not in this article assessing whether the accusations against GCC are true or false. I’m simply using this as an example of how not to respond to accusations.
Here is an example of an email sent by Phil Johnson who heads up Grace To You.
Now, let’s just suppose for a moment that it is possible that Johnson believes he has been wrongly accused. There might be two reasons why this would be a false accusation. The first might be that he considers himself unfairly implicated in the matter. He argues that he was not an elder at the time. The second might be if he considered that the complaints raised against GCC were untrue.
How then should he respond? Well, and perhaps this is already pretty obvious, not in the way that he does! You see, what he does in the email is to launch an attack on survivors and those who speak for them with these words:
“…because of all the screeching tweets from the “Survivor” community”
Notice the attempt to place doubt on the truthfulness of survivor accounts through the use of quotation marks. Notice too, the awful, pejorative and dismissive description of their concerns as “screeching”. Johnson has since retracted that description though I would suggest that his apology fails to recognise the shocking seriousness of that kind of language towards victims.
Secondly, even as Johnson rowed back on some of his comments, he doubled down in seeking to undermine Julie Roys. He writes:
So, what is happening here is that a witness is having their own character attacked in the most aggressive of language in order dismiss their evidence. This is clearly an example of reviling but I would also argue that there is an implicit threat here too. The threat is that if you challenge us then we will destroy you. We will attack and tear your reputation to shreds.
Now, let’s keep supposing, for the sake of argument here that this was a case of false accusation. What would it mean for GCC, GTY and Phil Johnson to follow Christ’s example here. Would they be required to simply accept the accusations against them? I think not.
First of all, it is reasonable for Johnson to explain that he was not an elder and not involved in decisions at the time. If the discipline decision and behaviours were wrong but he was not involved, then he is not to blame. He does however carry responsibility now as a spokesman and leader in the organisation. His responsibility is for the actions of the organisation today in seeking to respond to past failures and make amends.
Secondly, it would be absolutely correct for GCC et al to provide evidence that demonstrated the accusations to be false. In other words, can GCC demonstrate that they did not act to discipline and shame someone who was seeking their help in response to abuse.
It may also be possible that they could show that the charges against David Gray were demonstrably false, that this was obvious at time so that there was an obvious miscarriage of justice. Note that it would not be enough for them to say that as lay persons they had their doubts or that they were suspicious of the legal system.
So, it is possible then for those accused to show that the accusations are false and to seek after truth. However, what this requires is that they stick to the matter in hand. Their opinions of different people involved and even past or subsequent failings on the part of the accusers are not relevant. What matters is whether or not the accusation itself is true.
Incidentally, there is a good principle here that will help you in all kinds of situations. I refer to this as “answering the exam question set.” Often in life we end up responding to a question, challenge or accusation by saying everything we would like to say or to answer questions we believe may be implicitly linked to the original question. It is far better to stick to answering the actual question asked, as fully as possible.
So, when accused, don’t be afraid to give an answer and an account, be truthful, stick to the matter in hand. Don’t get distracted by other issues and whatever you do, don’t respond in kind when you are subject to threats, insults and personal accusations.