"The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell."
All of us, at one time, or another, have been guilty of gossip. Yet, it is sin. God takes gossip seriously. The Ninth Commandment is there for a very good reason.
The Bible says that:
"Whoever spreads slander is a fool…"
We are commanded:
" Brothers, do not slander one another"
Pastors are to
" remind the people …to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards all men."
To spread stories that put someone else in a bad light is the very opposite to being “peaceable and considerate.” It is also the very opposite of humility.
Pride often is the engine which drives the gossip industry. It is a desire to portray people better than us in a bad light, to lift ourselves up by pulling others down.
"Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind."
1 Peter 2:1.
Slander is inextricably linked with malice, deceit, hypocrisy and envy.
Idlers, Gossips and Busybodies
The Bible warns us of those who
"get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to"
1 Thessalonians 5:13.
"We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies."
2 Thessalonians 3:11.
" In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle…"
2 Thessalonians 3:6.
It is noteworthy that most of those engaged in a ministry of criticism have an abundance of spare time. Those who are wholeheartedly engaged in the work of the Great Commission, who are diligent in raising their children in the fear of the Lord, and have productive employment, do not have the time to be busybodies and talebearers.
Numerous of those who have commissioned themselves as professional busybodies with a ministry of criticism are retired people with government or military pensions, or an assured income of one sort or another. They may be single people who have never been married. They certainly do not have family responsibilities or children to raise. Such people would not have the time it takes to be a self-appointed investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of the targeted minister or missionary.
"He is conceited…he has an unhealthy interest in controversies and arguments that result in envy, quarrelling, malicious talk, evil suspicions."
1 Timothy 6:4.
Meddlers, Murderers and Thieves
"If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal or as a meddler." 1 Peter 4:15. It is very significant that the Bible puts meddlers in the same category as murderers and thieves. In fact, that is exactly what any obsessive antagonist becomes. They steal from other people’s time, they undermine the support bases of ministries, depriving missions of the resources needed to do the Lord's work. They endanger other people's lives. Not only undermining the health of the target of their obsession and the health of his family, but even endangering their lives.
The Law of God is clear:
" Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord."
Slander can endanger people's lives.
In Harm's Way
We have seen this in our own mission. For over 30 years I have been involved in ministering to persecuted churches, working in restricted access areas, in communist and Muslim countries, frequently war zones. The dangers in this kind of missionary work cannot be easily exaggerated. In the course of my missionary work in Africa, I have come under fire, artillery and aerial bombardment, and been arrested and imprisoned.
In 1989, shortly after being married, I was captured by communist troops in Mozambique and transported by Soviets in MI-8 HIP helicopters. At that crisis time several South African and Zimbabwean journalists published reports which aggravated the danger.
Media Hatchet Job
"Baptist Minister Most Important RENAMO Backer" screamed one headline from Harare. "Peter Hammond, a Cape Town based Baptist minister captured by FRELIMO last week, is the most important foreign RENAMO sponsor to be caught by Mozambique troops…" The article went on to relate how I was the author of "Eyewitness Testimonies of Persecution and Atrocities" which exposed FRELIMO’s campaign of church burning and massacres in Tete and Zambezi provinces. Other sensational headlines declared: "RENAMO Sponsoring Clergyman Captured" ; "Baptist Minister is FRELIMO’s Top Captive" ; "Missionaries linked to RENAMO" ; "The Curious Missionaries With Combat Experience" ; "Evangelists of the Right Preach a Gospel of Their Own" ; one headline even described us as "Mercenary Priests" .
While I was being interrogated by SNASP secret police at the notorious Machava Security Prison in Maputo, numerous irresponsible articles, most of them originating from Harare, spread speculation and slander which further jeopardised our lives.
I have a letter from the Frelimo Ministry of Justice, Department of Religious Affairs, which warned me that if I ever attempted to come back to Mozambique, they would kill me. This was signed and on an official government letterhead. The reason for this extraordinary threat was clearly stated. It was because of my writing and publishing of the Mozambique Report " Eyewitness Testimonies Of Persecution and Atrocities" (now published as In The Killing Fields of Mozambique ). The media reports, while I was incarcerated in Mozambique, eagerly reported that I was the author of these accounts. Interestingly enough, those same journalists who espouse freedom of speech and decree censorship, were quick to point out that my writings were illegal in Mozambique and openly celebrated my capture!
To Prison with Praise
When I was imprisoned in Lusaka Central Prison, in Zambia, in 1987, South Africa was in conflict with the socialist government of Kenneth Kaunda. Many of the landmines and car bombs which were killing people in South Africa at that time, were coming through Lusaka. South African military units were conducting raids on terrorist bases in Zambia, and tensions were high. Nevertheless, when I, and three other Frontline missionaries, were arrested and imprisoned, there were still those who went out of their way to ensure that the Security Police had copies of various articles which I had written against communism and communist regimes, as well as my connections with the RENAMO and UNITA anti-communist Resistance movements in neighbouring Mozambique and Angola, as well as my military connections with the South African Defence Force.
I was stripped and thrown into a stinking cell covered in human filth with a multitude of flying, crawling and biting insects, deprived of water throughout the night. Then after a sleepless night in their vile sewer of a cell I was dragged before the interrogators - only to see a variety of my writings on the table before them!
Expect to be Bombed
The dangers of ministering behind the lines in the officially Islamic Sudan, were intense. A UN security official warned me that there were helicopter gunships stationed in Juba, and if we attempted to take off with Bibles in our aircraft, we would be blown out of the sky. Much of the areas we operated in were no-go areas with a shoot-on-sight policy. The Nuba Mountains at that time were a no-fly zone . One of our teams were strafed by Mi-24 HIND helicopter gun ships on arriving in the Nuba Mountains.
At one church service my sermon was interrupted by an artillery bombardment. On another occasion, on a Sunday morning, in church, we were bombed by the Sudan Air Force. The community which included the Frontline Fellowship mission base and school was also repeatedly subject to aerial bombardment, by high flying Antanovs and low flying MiG-23s.
The Sudan government’s hostility for Christian missionaries in general, and of myself in particular, was highlighted when the official government of Sudan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, website posted an article " Why Churches In Sudan Are Not Bombed" wherein it plainly stated that " Peter Hammond should expect to be bombed when he comes to Sudan" , " he should expect to be shot on sight!" The article even gave a reason as to why I should expect this kind of special treatment: " because his writings make him an enemy of the government of Sudan."
There are Those who Would Like to Kill You
Nevertheless, there have been several Christians who have threatened to pass on information that would endanger our work there. Some have actually done just that. When Bishop Bullen Dolli and I were detained in Yei, we were informed that an ex-Frontline Fellowship missionary was behind many of the accusations. Several people, including soldiers, warned the Bishop and I not to go to Yei. They were convinced that our lives would be in jeopardy there. " You have many enemies in Yei. There are those who would like to kill you" we were told by different people in different ways.
The interrogators informed us that they had been told that Bishop Bullen and I were in touch with the Khartoum government; we were arming the Moru people to revolt against the Dinka leadership of the SPLA; to separate Moruland from the rest of the liberated new Sudan; to invite the Arabs back into Moruland and to cause a split in the SPLA.
"…he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander; then he goes out and spreads it abroad. All my enemies whisper against me; they imagine the worst…"
There were fears expressed about our safety. Security at the compound we were staying at was increased. Tribal tensions between the Dinka cattlemen and the Moru farmers was exacerbated by the incessant accusations of some foreigners.
"These accusations are coming from your people" I was told.
"What do you mean, 'my people'?" I asked.
"It's coming from white people."
"Well" I said. “Not all white people are the same. They certainly cannot be called 'my people', if they are so against missionaries.”
"These are your brothers," I was told. "These are people who call themselves Christians, even missionaries. They use to work for you!"
Every day more details of the incredible accusations and intricate plot were revealed. The interrogators told us that a disgruntled ex-Frontline Fellowship worker, whom I had dismissed, was one of the main people making these accusations.
"Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me."
Some of the church people connected with us were severely interrogated, two men, Joseph and Dominique, were whipped with over 75 lashes each.
Even when our interrogators concluded that we were innocent of all the charges, and informed us that we were free to go, we were warned that there were serious threats to assassinate the Bishop and I. There was concern that a petrol bomb or grenade would be thrown over the fence of our huts that very night, and that we would shot down while fleeing from our burning tukuls .
"For I hear the slander of many… they conspire against me and plot to take my life."
Their Main Purpose in Life is to Discredit You
We were informed: "Your accusers are tireless, it seems that their main purpose in life is to discredit you and the Bishop. Every day there are new accusations. This man that you dismissed from your mission has been in the public security office, even this morning, handing over more papers, with accusations and information to use against you. Some of your investigators are most concerned that should you be released, the threat to your life would increase. There are those Dinka commanders who have been influenced by your accusers so much that they would kill you out of hand."
"…if a foe were raising himself against me …but it is you. my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship."
"Surely we could be provided with an escort?" I asked.
"There is no escort that would be sufficient to protect you from the kind of people who are determined to have you killed," I was informed.
"Your tongue plots destruction. It is like a sharpened razor, you practise deceit. You love evil…falsehood…and grew strong by destroying others."
Perhaps you find it hard to believe that there are Christians involved in missions who would deliberately endanger the lives of fellow Christians. Yet the Bible warns us:
" Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer."
You may, like myself, wonder how this could be possible. How could a Bible believing, born-again Christian engage in such a malicious campaign as to place the lives of fellow Christians in such danger? I have been a Christian for 35 years, and I first entered fulltime missionary work 33 years ago. For the last 30 years I have been a mission leader responsible for the selection, training and supervision of missionary volunteers and for relationships with leaders of other ministries. In that time, any misconceptions that I ever had about the basic goodness of man, if not in the world then at least in missions, has been shattered. Instead I have seen enough examples, even in missions, to support the Reformation doctrine of the total depravity of man.
The Depravity of Man
I have seen several mission volunteers misappropriate mission property, even taking mission vehicles when they left. We have had volunteers not only highjacking vehicles, but even ministries and accounts. Others have utilised mission computers to access Internet pornography.
When I’ve been compelled to confront and deal with some of these outrages, it has not been uncommon to have the person concerned lie and deny, or even to explode with foul language and assault. One individual even cursed and swore, physically attacking me, declaring for the entire mission house to hear that he intended to kill me!
Some have left quietly, and taken up the role of the pathological antagonist, working like termites to undermine the support base and poison the relationships of the Mission. One such individual, who was dismissed for disgraceful conduct, actually published a newsletter where he claimed that after much prayer and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit , he had decided to leave our mission.
"Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbour."
In dealing with guests from other ministries, we have sometimes been horrified by dishonest and unethical practices and claims. Some who have merely participated on one field trip with our Mission, had gone back to make incredibly extravagant claims in their fundraising letters. One launched an entire ministry with an impressive marketing campaign based entirely on false claims and plagiarism. Pretending responsibility for the Frontline Fellowship shipments and ministry activities in Sudan, one individual, who was merely a junior member of a large team with no significant ministry role, later claimed to have been the leader of the entire operation, quoting all our statistics of the Bibles delivered, ministry conducted, flights chartered, as his own!
Another individual, who came in on one Frontline Fellowship mission trip to Sudan and participated in the first few days of one of our teacher training courses, leaving early, later claimed to have set up a couple of dozen schools in our area, requesting funds for his staff there. Needless to say, none of the teachers or pastors in the area were aware of any such activity.
Another very embarrassing situation arose when a friend in another ministry, which we had invited to participate in an upcoming conference in Zambia, widely circulated claims that they had been invited by the President of Zambia, and that the entire Zambian cabinet and Parliament would be attending this conference, at which the President and Vice-President were also going to be speaking!
As we were the ones organising this conference, I was deluged with enquiries from mutual friends and supporters wanting to know more. One person made a very astute observation: If the Zambian government has invited this ministry to conduct this conference, then why were they needing to raise funds for the venue, advertising, etc.? Indeed, why was Frontline Fellowship having to organise a conference venue, accommodation, catering, advertising, or even the programme, if this was an official government event?
On other occasions I have been approached by ministries to engage in activities which we consider unethical. One wanted me to open up an orphanage. "We are a leadership training and literature mission. Orphanages are high maintenance operations. It’s not our calling or focus" I explained. "I'll give you $10 000" he replied. "It will cost a lot more than that to run an orphanage" I responded. "Oh, you don’t need to actually run an orphanage. Just give me a picture of a crowd of children outside some building with our name on a board!"
The Slave Redemption Industry
At one time redeeming slaves in Sudan was very popular. A number of friends and colleagues of mine were involved in the Slave Redemption programme. I did not want to question their sincere and good motives. However, my position was that we could not, in good conscience, be involved in placing money into the hands of Arab slave traders, or facilitators. I am convinced that it is both unethical and counterproductive to engage in such commerce.
To give a slave trader (or intermediary) money is to provide them with the very reward they desire. Well-meaning Westerners eager to redeem slaves with money provide further impetus for slave traders to capture more slaves. Because of the laws and supply and demand, as there is an increase in demand, so too will there be an increase in supply.
There is no doubt that there has been widespread slavery in Sudan. This has been done not only with the knowledge of the National Islamic Front government of Sudan, but has in fact been encouraged by them. Slavery in Sudan has been used both as a weapon of terror to destabilise the South and as an economic incentive to induce Arab soldiers to go South to wage Jihad against the infidel. The Muslim soldiers and militias have enriched themselves with loot and with slaves.
The question we need to ask is whether, after all the many tens of thousands of slaves who have been redeemed, there is a net decrease in the number of slaves in Sudan? Are the Arab masters now doing their own work in the fields? Are the Arab madams doing their own work in the kitchens now? Are the slave harems now empty? Are Slave Redeemers actually improving the situation, or merely placing a large amount of currency in the hands of enemies of the Gospel?
Most of the slave redeemers have not spoken either Arabic or Dinka, and have been wholly dependent upon a single interpreter in country. Most have flown in for the day and did not even spend the night on site. Knowing human nature, and the inevitable temptations to corruption, it is a strong possibility that many of the well-meaning redeemers were actually being deceived. Numerous reports were received of people being redeemed who had not even been slaves in the first place, but part of a deception to separate well-meaning foreigners from their money. On other occasions slaves redeemed could have been re-captured by slave traders later.
William Wilberforce fought the slave trade for all his life, successfully, without putting money in the hands of slave traders. David Livingstone and General Charles Gordon successfully fought against the slave trade in Africa, without, in any way, rewarding slave traders.
I am convinced that we need to combat the slave trade, in every way possible, including by publications, economic and political pressure, and even direct action on the ground, without engaging in the actually commerce of putting money in the hands of any slave trader.
Well, this was a very unpopular position for Frontline Fellowship to take. We lost a significant amount of financial support over our unwillingness to engage in the Slave Redemption programme. Several ministries even used our photographs, video footage, stories and statistics, in their fundraising campaigns to support the Slave Redemption programme.
Africa's Forgotten War
When I first started working in Sudan and writing and speaking about the persecution of Christians in Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, there were very few Christian ministries involved there. Most Christians were not aware that the largest country in Africa was involved in the longest war still raging, with the oldest community of Christians in Africa suffering some of the worst persecution in the world today. Through hundreds of radio and TV programmes, scores of articles and the publication of the Faith Under Fire In Sudan book, the news blackout on the colossal conflict in Sudan started to be lifted.
As we exposed and publicised the Scorched Earth tactics, systematic terror bombings of civilian targets and research of the slave trade in Sudan numerous ministries began to get interested in this neglected field. Some lifted whole articles and photographs from our Mission and presented them to their supporters as their own. One individual even launched an entire ministry based on a video documentary on Sudan which we had helped a Christian film ministry to produce. On his website he claimed to have lead the mission trip on which he was just a guest with no specific responsibilities. Even the tons of Bibles which we had organised for almost a year he claimed had been provided by his ministry - which hadn’t even been in existence at that stage.
Even more seriously than the false claims and plagiarism on his website, by having obtained a copy of the broadcast master of the video before we had checked it, he began circulating and selling a version of the video which included numerous factual errors and serious security breaches. When I agreed to take the film producer into Sudan, it was on the basis of a written agreement that I would have the opportunity to correct any factual errors or security breaches which could endanger our Mission before the film was released.
In the wake of the premature release of this uncorrected version, every location of our Mission activity in the South identified in the video was repeatedly bombed. This included the hospital, cathedral, school, mission base, and chaplains training centre. In fact, I was leading an Evangelism Explosion training team at just one of those locations when we were bombed on Sunday morning at the church.
The community which included the Frontline Fellowship mission base, high school and chapel was bombed ten times. The Samaritans Purse Hospital and the Cathedral at Lui was also bombed ten times. Yet, repeated attempts to persuade the individual to delete the security breaches from his version of the video were unsuccessful. Instead, he started to threaten legal action against both the film producer and ourselves for using what he now considered his video.
"God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."
Another man whom we supported for many years, introducing and promoting him to many of our key supporters, adopted many of the grievances of several of these individuals mentioned and circulated these slanders to many of our supporting churches, several of which we had introduced him to.
"Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both."
Much of this falls into the category of Christian Friendly Fire . Shooting your own side. You expect to be shot at by the enemy. What you do not expect is to be targeted by your own side. In the American War Between The States, at the battle of Chancellorsville, the brilliantly successful Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was shot by his own side. When Jackson died as a result of these wounds, inflicted by friendly fire , the cause of the Confederates was doomed.
Many military historians are of the opinion that had Stonewall Jackson been alive at the critical Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates would have won. Up until that time the army of Virginia had won every battle. However, at Gettysburg, Lee’s generals failed to secure the high ground on the first day. Jackson, had he been there, would have fulfilled Lee’s orders and secured the high ground. That night the Union forces moved in and began to entrench themselves on the high ground. Even at that point, Stonewall Jackson would have moved to outflank them or retire to choose to fight on ground more favourable to them.
His successors, however, went into the same kind of trap Lee and Jackson had set for the Union forces at Fredericksburg. The devastating result of Pickett’s charge - courageous but futile - cost the South the war.
The consequences of friendly fire to this day continue to be devastating to the cause of fulfilling the Great Commission.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74
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