James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
Father Joseph Weitensteiner – “Father Joe” to those who know him – devoted much of his life to the service of troubled boys and young men in Spokane. Having served as the Executive Director of Morning Star Ranch in Spokane continuously since 1966, he retired in 2006 at the age of 74.
A year before his retirement, allegations were aimed at Father Joe charging him with abuse by men who lived at the Morning Star Ranch back in the 1970s. The Spokesman Review highly publicized the accusations – interviewing the accusers, getting “their side” of the story. Never mind these allegations came from inmates who failed to profit from their time at the ranch. Never mind these allegations were countered by thousands of testimonies vouching for Father Joe’s character from staff at the Ranch, from grown men whose lives had been transformed by his ministry, and from families who had been restored through his labors.
The highly publicized accusations took their toll on Father Joe’s health and were no doubt one of the factors leading to his retirement. To help expose the slander, Father Joe requested a polygraph examination from an independent agency and passed 100%. In December 2005, after the allegations came forward, Father Joe issued a statement offering “forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are making these false accusations.” “Creating a positive and safe environment at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch,” he stated, “has been one of my primary priorities for 40 years. These allegations have hurt me deeply, but I have confidence that those who know me and have worked with me throughout my career know what is real.” But sadly in many respects the damage was already done.
Last week we considered the devastating impact that gossip has on human relationships. Those who go about bearing tales separate intimate friends, introduce coldness into relationships, and undermine trust.
Closely related to gossip is slander. Gossip becomes slander when the rumor intentionally circulated is clearly false and intended to destroy. Slander has a much clearer sinister element to it – intending as it does to harm the one about whom the tale is told. While those who gossip sometimes delude themselves into thinking that they are really helping the other person or at least not harming anyone, the slanderer intentionally sets out to harm another by spreading falsehoods. He is using his tongue to destroy.
Warnings against slander are replete in the Scriptures. David complained, “For I hear the slander of many; Fear is on every side; While they take counsel together against me, They scheme to take away my life.” His son Solomon notes in Proverbs 10:18, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool.” And Paul, in the other testament, notes that in the latter days men will be “unloving, unforgiving, slanderers.”
Because of the insidious nature of slander, severe curses are called down upon the one who practices the same. The psalmist prays in Psalm 140:11, “Let not a slanderer be established in the earth; Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him.” And God Himself announces in Psalm 101:5, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, Him I will destroy.” God takes slander seriously.
Reminded once again that the tongue is a fire – able to destroy a lifetime’s, even more than a lifetime’s labor – let us kneel and confess that we have not guarded our tongues, that we have used them to evil purposes, that we have attempted to destroy others with them.