How to Expose Evil (The Difference between Flashlights and Whistles)

Exposing evil isn't saying what no one else will say; it's saying what needs to be said.

Being in Christian media, I have to read a lot of Christian publications. And in my experience, Christians have made some of the worst "journalists." Not because their writing is terrible or their facts are inaccurate (although the latter is all too often true), but because their morality gets in the way.

It almost seems like they get a thrill from uncovering a scandal or secret sin that can be paraded about like some sort of macabre, dirty laundry party. They'll say that they only do it out of duty and faithfulness to God and his truth, but tabloids get published for a reason. And if gossip can be good for readership, it can't hurt one's reputation to be the bearer of juicy details.

Instead of taking tips from Star magazine, Christians ought to be more concerned with what the Bible says about exposing evil:
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible. (Ephesians 5:11-13)
Many Christians think of exposing evil like blowing a whistle. They're God's referees in the game of life and their job is to call every play they see. But Paul didn't see it that way. He wrote that darkness was exposed by light, meaning evil was exposed by good. Running around pointing fingers isn't God's way, that's the way of the world. Rather, Christians are called to set an example so pure that it makes evil look as repulsive as it truly is and thus, self-condemning.

You don't have to be a journalist to be in a position to expose evil. But as a Christian, you do have to consider whether the way you go about it is more in line with the expectations of tabloid journalism or the ethics of Scripture. So ask yourself the classic journalistic questions and determine for yourself what actually needs to be said.

Who?

If a scandal is discovered, the first question to ask is whether or not the person is a Christian. This makes all the difference because Paul is adamant in 1 Corinthians 5 that the church has no business judging the world. Some will challenge that the office of prophet is an exception and John the Baptist did so with Herod. 

However, the prophets of the Old Testament spoke directly for God in an era when his spirit didn't indwell his people. So when the greatest prophet came (Jesus Christ), the office was largely fulfilled. Also, John's testimony to Herod is not endorsed by the gospel writer; it's simply mentioned as context to explain Herod's fear of Jesus.

What?

Another important question to ask is what type of sin was committed. Not in a moral sense, but in a relational one. If it's a personal sin, don't make it public. No one is suggesting that we ignore sin within the body, but in most cases, it isn't anyone else's business. If the person is publicly defiant as in Paul's case at Corinth, then a public exchange may be unavoidable. Just remember that exposing sin exposes people. So do your best to let others be self-condemned.

This gets complicated when it involves church leaders because even private sins morph from the individual sphere to the corporate one. In fact, Paul says to publicly reprimand them in 1 Timothy 5. Not for the purpose of reconciliation (since shaming a person never accomplishes that) but to protect the church from the person's corrosive influence. Which makes it all the more remarkable that while hack journalism is common in Christian circles, church discipline is not.

Where?

This brings us to our third and possibly most important question: where is this person in relation to you? Reading their blog or following them on Twitter is not the same as knowing them. Relationships require interaction. So regardless of how personal their public thoughts are, if there's no interaction, there's no relationship. And knowing something they've said, no matter how inflammatory, isn't the same as knowing who they really are.

Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 18 when dealing with sin: first approach them one-on-one, then with a few, and finally with the entire church if needed. This clearly requires some level of personal relationship, so it follows that if the person is outside of your faith community, they're outside of your jurisdiction, as it were. It also follows that if you come across damning evidence of someone you don't know, bring it to their spiritual leader (so long as it has corporate implications).

When?

The fourth question is to ask when this particular sin or evil occurred. It's tempting to discover something in someone's past and begin to wonder if such a thing might still be going on. Political campaigns are notorious for ad hominems that dredge up an opponent's past in order to call into question the integrity of their present. It's not about suggesting that the person is currently engaged in it; it's about casting doubt on whether they're not.

Such blind aspersions have no business among the people of God, journalist of otherwise--it's just gossip. When Paul wrote that love doesn't keep a record of wrongs in 1 Corinthians 13, he wasn't writing wedding vows. The prophet, Isaiah, reminds us that God chooses to not remember our sins, so the least we can do is leave the past in the past. Even if a past sin could shed light on a current behavior, this still falls under the discernment of a spiritual leader, not you.

Why?

Few people like to ask why someone might commit a certain evil because the nature of the question implies the possibility of a positive answer. But even though evil can't have a good explanation, the question could lead you to the disheartening conclusion that there isn't, in fact, any real evil. This often happens when stories develop based on reactions to things people do, like when someone in the church leaves for undisclosed reasons. Evil is created out of assumption.

But the wisdom of Proverbs is better: "What you have seen with your eyes do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?" Breaking a story isn't worth breaking someone else's reputation. So if you've made it this far through the questions, take the time to talk to the person and to put your ego back in Pandora's box.

There's a time and place for boldness and courage. But most of the time, when no one's willing to say it, that's because it's something that doesn't need to be said. Don't play Holy Spirit and try to convict the world of sin (John 16), just be better than the world. Be a flashlight, not a whistle blower.

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