The Doeg Culture of Slander
by Jay Gallimore
“There is a difference between kind thoughtful dialogue and nauseating contention. Could it be that the political culture of our times has infected some in the church?"
Doeg the Edomite would rate as one of the most despicable characters in the Bible. He shows up when King Saul was in a jealous rage over David’s fame. Saul’s own son, Jonathan, tried to reason with him concerning the truth of David’s innocence. But Saul’s paranoia of David was so strong that he threw his spear at Jonathan.
In running for his life, David stopped at Nob, the city of the priests. He asked Ahimelech, the High Priest, for some food. In addition, he asked for a weapon, and was allowed to have the sword of Goliath, which was stored there. When questioned by Ahimelech on why he was alone and in a hurry, David lied, leaving the priest in the dark to the real reason. Nevertheless, he would later take responsibility for inadvertently causing the death of the priests by the hand of Saul.
Watching this exchange between David and Ahimelech was Doeg the Edomite, chief herdsman for King Saul. Later, at Gibeah, surrounded by his attendants, Saul again spewed out his vile accusations against David. Then he accused his servants with conspiracy to help David. At this very tense moment, when Saul needed another Jonathan, Doeg speaks up. He said, “I saw the High Priest inquire of the Lord for David, give him food, and the sword of Goliath.” All of that was true. But it wasn’t the whole truth. Doeg used his half-truth testimony to satisfy Saul’s obsession. His fabrication vilified the priests as co-conspirators to take the throne.
When Ahimelech, the High Priest, was confronted with these accusations he elegantly pointed out his innocence. But the facts had no impact on Saul’s jealousy. He ordered his soldiers to kill all the priests of the Lord. To their credit they refused. Then Saul ordered Doeg the Edomite to kill the priests. So Doeg killed 85 priests and their wives, children, and nursing babies. Such were the results of “truth” cooked into gossip for personal gain and fed to an appetite that craved it. No doubt Doeg, in a responsible position, claimed to be a believer in Israel’s God. Yet he dared to pervert the truth about the innocent priests of God.
Since the 2015 General Conference (GC) session, the leadership of the GC has been mercilessly slandered by some online websites and internet magazines, including their gossip blogs. Cooking up a character assassination and serving it as an attractive article seems to be a specialty dish that’s in demand these days. Especially if it is about a church leader that isn’t in their “camp.”
And it is not just this decision of the GC that arouses such passion. Some of these same online magazines and/or their blogs have supported, for example, the teaching of evolution in our schools and gay marriage. In addition, just about any teaching in the church manual on Christian lifestyle is sneeringly pictured as legalism. And the world church is scorned as being inferior to western culture.
During the recent live-streamed Year-End Meetings of the North American Division (NAD), which is part of the GC structure, there was a discussion on the unity of the church over non-compliant unions. One young man stood up and begged the delegates to use their influence to stop the vilification of church leadership. What a great appeal! Character assassinations, whether in the church, school, websites, online magazines, or blogs create a satanic toxic muck that is poisonous to church life.
To be clear, discussing differences of opinion with a Christ-like attitude and civil courtesy is part of church life and should be! But there is a difference between kind thoughtful dialogue and nauseating contention. Could it be that the political culture of our times has infected some in the church? A culture of politicians and news media using uncivilized sneering, scorn and twisted slander on each other? A culture—like the Roman amphitheater with its ravenous appetite for blood—our culture has an insatiable appetite for character assassination. The secular news and blogs are filled with the gore.
When the GC session is represented as a political convention instead of the holy convocation, bathed in prayer, that it is. When its ministerial leaders are vilified and compared to Nazis and medieval popes. When the tactics of cooked up “truth” are used to intentionally malign and tarnish those who disagree. When emotional stories are woven to defeat the truth, then the Lord Himself is going to have a controversy with such people.
There is a reason why those who refuse to love the truth, are “sent” a strong delusion so that they believe a lie. Some years ago, in one of our churches there was a tragic moral failure. The pastor, who was working for this person’s redemption, was approached by a “reporter” from one of these websites. He told the pastor how he thought the minister had been pressured by the conference to do such and such. When the pastor told him that was not the case at all, he responded by saying, he “didn’t want to believe that.”
While transparency is an important leadership principle, not everything should be open for the world to see. For instance, a few years ago, I was approached by someone who wanted my help to confront a person who they believed had wronged them. However, the person who felt wronged committed those present to secrecy about their identity and the incident because they did not want to become a victim of the gossip blogs. This is not an isolated request for those of us in the ministry. There are some things, from an ethical standpoint, where silence is golden even if the silence is used against us.
Also at times leaders need some space with other leaders to work through sensitive challenges without feeding the online gossip appetites. At a recent live-streamed GC Annual Council, someone shared leaked sensitive information, without context, concerning the process that brought a particular motion to the floor. The implication was that the process had been manipulated by the president. It was patiently explained how the committee responsible for the motion, including everyone on both sides of the question, had agreed to the process. Do you think those who “spilled the beans” apologized for trying to embarrass the leadership without going to them privately and getting the rest of the story first?
Proverbs says there are seven abominable things the Lord hates. Among them are, “A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”
There is a reason that Doegs are in demand. Tragically, there is a Saul in all of our carnal hearts. Our selfishness does not want to believe the truth, but like Saul, wants to believe our obsessions. It is sinful insecurities that tempt us to tell or create negative stuff about each other. Even if it is the truth, why tell it unless it is germane to one’s duty? Why expose or delight in the failure of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Or even worse, vilify them with false information and half-truths? Even the Apostles made mistakes in leadership. But you don’t hear them sneering about each other in the New Testament. Yes, they sometimes openly shared their differences and concerns. But they used Christian principles, not the methods of Roman culture to solve them. Gossip, ridicule and slander, no matter where it takes place should be resisted and reproved. Peter teaches us that “above all” we should practice “fervent love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Jesus was the constant victim of evil surmising and gossip by politically motivated scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. His words were “cooked up.” His miracles misrepresented. His motives slandered. The Doegs of His day finally managed to accomplish the crime of the ages–the crucifixion of the Son of God. This should sober all of us.
Many years ago in a church board meeting I had an elder be verbally antagonistic to another elder. After I pushed the “pause button,” I asked him if the other elder “knew that he loved him?” He hung his head and said, “Pastor you know my background.” I said, “I know. And it’s ok to share your differences, just so the other elder knows you love him.”
I praise God for the heavenly sweetness found in our churches and schools. But we must be on guard against the sick slanderous culture of our times. May God grant us the vigor of primitive godliness and the strength of apostolic love.