Confessions of a Church:Justice and Gossip

Deuteronomy 17:1-7 New American Standard Bible 1995
 1 “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to the Lord your God. 2 “If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the Lord your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, by transgressing His covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, 4 and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
We are tempted to think wrongly of God’s Law in at least two ways. One way is to think that the Law mainly dealt with obscure matters of worship that have little relevance for us today except through using those ceremonies and liturgies typologically. Another way is to believe that the commands God gave were these blunt, arbitrary commands. They were hard and fast rules that God simply decreed, and while we may not like them, we have to obey them because God commanded them.

The rule that a matter must be investigated thoroughly, and a matter established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses, not one witness, proves the lies we tell ourselves about the obscurity or arbitrariness of God’s Law. These rules still apply to how this church and our presbytery is to investigate conflict. The principles behind this law inform how our justice system investigates crime. Can you imagine how chaotic our society would be if someone could be charged and convicted of a crime on the word of just one witness, one accuser?
Actually, you can imagine such a thing because our society continues to move away from the careful and impartial standard of two or three witnesses at rapid speed. It’s become routine for the reputation of men or women to be destroyed on rumors that come from one, often malicious, witness. Carried away by emotion, accusations are believed by the public rather than carefully weighed or investigated.

I’m sure we all agree on this. Let’s bring it in for a landing. When you hear gossip about someone else, from one witness, do you believe it? Do you weigh motives? Are you credulous? The sin of gossip is often assumed to be primarily a female sin, but men are not exempt. When the guys at work start talking about “My old lady” or “My old man,” and they are the only witness, you’re only hearing one side of the story. Worse yet, do you do this? Do you complain about your wife or parents or boss in front of other people, damaging their reputation?
We must love our neighbors by not believing everything we are told, but being careful and judicious in our evaluations of others, being zealous to protect the reputation of our neighbors.

Heavenly Father,
We are beset with sin on every side, in the negative and dismissive ways we view your Law, and in the arrogant way we view ourselves. We think we are wiser and holier than everyone else, and that our view of a matter is the only view others should hear. We think only of ourselves, but not of our neighbor or his reputation. We also believe what we are told about others from one witness too easily. We are naïve and not wise. Be patient with us in our weakness, and help us to defend our neighbor’s reputation in our speech and actions. Help us to love justice and to be careful to hear both sides of a matter before judging. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son. Amen.

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