Rumors are necessary for church life. Fact is, we could never keep up with our friends and neighbors in church if someone else did not share information about them. I count on people to inform me so that I can engage in pastoral care. When the words are good and helpful, we call these rumors sharing. Yet rumors have negative connotations.
That we share is one thing. There are even implicit rules. Some things we do not share because we are sworn to privacy. Other things we choose not to share because they can damage an individual’s reputation. Some things we only share within a certain circle of friends. Sometimes we do not tell one person because the person is a word-twisting gossip. And how do we deal with this in the era of Facebook when false rumors are written down for posterity? All of which simply indicates that sharing is complicated - necessary, but filled with the complications of all communication with its potential for delivering harm and good.
I am thinking about rumors today because I am reading On Rumors (Cass R. Sunstain). I have also experienced two vicious rumors that have the potential of destroying people in the last year.
Jesus once asked some ‘teachers of the law’: “why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” It is an interesting question to consider when thinking about rumors. Fact is, some false rumors are believed. People would rather entertain what is not true than what is true. It fits better with what they choose to believe: they are suspicious - entertaining evil in their hearts about others. So I begin to wonder: how is it possible that some find it easier to believe what is not true than what is true?
As I was pondering these things, I was teaching about maturity: what it looked like and the practices that were attached to it. I was reminded of M. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled. One of the characteristics of maturity is the pursuit of truth. If this is true then believing false rumors would certainly qualify as evidence for immaturity, especially if evidence to the contrary is dismissed. Christian maturity would certainly include an ability and willingness to seek and accept truth, and the grace to deal with this lovingly.
And I remembered the words of Heidelberg Catechism on the sixth command which noted that “ I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor— not by my thoughts, my words… and I am not to be party to this in others;…. to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.”
And then I wondered about how to respond to false rumors. Ought the church put a person under official discipline if they repeatedly pass on false rumors under the adage “where there is smoke there fire”? How does repentance look when the rumors are “out there”? How do we go about the ministry of reconciliation? I don’t have good answers. But I do know that as a community we need to promote life-giving, faithful, truth-affirming conversations. Sometimes that means we need to defend against falsehood, say NO to baseless rumors and seek the good of even our enemies.
Somehow we need to embrace the ancient catechism in our Internet age.