Monday, September 27, 2010

Evil-Speaking Historical Analysis

In the Bible, Jude has a fascinating passage concerning those who "speak evil of dignities" and "speak evil of those things which they know not". (Jude 1:8-10) When you couple these descriptions with the general counsel of Jesus to "Judge not, that ye be not judged," I think it is apparent that the worst thing about "evil-speaking history" or criticism of religious leaders is that generally it is undertaken and compiled in a spirit of belittling rather than understanding.

All of us are fallen and come short of the glory of God, so it isn't necessary to focus or dwell on the proof of that fact - particularly if all it accomplishes is to dull our appreciation for the wonderful things some have done. Does knowing Winston Churchill was a rude drunk make any difference in the grand scheme of things? Perhaps so, if it is used to point out his greatness despite his weakness and encourage greatness from us despite our weakness, but if it is used purely to denigrate him, of what use is it?


ji said...

There are so many scripture citations that tell us to love and sustain and respect those of our friends who are called to serve as our leaders. Evil speaking of those persons is counseled against throughout the scriptures. They are our brothers, after all. They have weighty callings to magnify. How so very unkind it is to criticize and point the finger at these brothers. I believe my own sanctification and exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our God can occur only if I adopt a spirit of sustaining and supporting and holding up my church leaders. Just as I am commanded to honor my father and mother, even though they are human and might fall short of perfection as I judge it, it is also important that I honor my Church fathers (and brothers and sisters). I appreciate your thoughts.

Patty said...

I absolutely love how you phrased this: "if it is used to point out his greatness despite his weakness and encourage greatness from us despite our weakness."
Wouldn't we all be better off if we looked for the good that comes in spite of weaknesses rather than the other way around? Just think of how many more friends we could make if we approached everyone this way!
Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

The problem is that an attitude of refusing to criticize bad judgments can sometimes lead to horrific results.

The worst example was the Mountain Meadows Massacre where many faithful saints followed their leaders' direction to murder many.

On the other extreme, many criticize just to do so, without purpose. Such just creates disharmony.

My point is that this is not a black or white issue. It is one of balance.

ji said...

No. 3, Surely you know we're talking about sustaining others as they faithfully serve and magnify their callings, and giving the benefit of the doubt wherever possible. This is a correct principle.

Papa D said...

I spoke last month in Sacrament Meeting about how recognizing, understanding and following the Holy Ghost can asist in sustaining and supporting leaders. I talked about the balance that is necessary to take these two ideals that can compete - about how we can't gravitate to either extreme, neither of which is good in isolation.

"I will do what I feel I should do without regard to organizational leaders" is selfish and uncharitable - and it is even more destructive when followed by a "leader" than a "follower". (Hence, the last part of D&C 121 - and the inclusion of "almost all men".)

However, "I will do anything I'm told to do by leaders without any thought or consideration simply because they are leaders" is just as destructive - largely because it gives to those leaders absolute power, which corupts absolutely.

Refusing to acknowledge and "criticize" bad judgment is not a good thing, and often it flows from either fear or a false sense of loyalty.

I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT IN THIS POST, as ji pointed out. I'm talking here about the attitude that motivates actions - of a mindset to speak evil "of dignities" (not necessarily just dignataries, and I should have made that clearer in the original post) and "of things they know not".

This does manifest itself in how people can speak of leaders, but it applies every bit as often (if not more often) of "things" people simply don't understand fully - principals, practices, customs, doctrine, culture, revelation, etc. This general issue is MUCH more complex than I addressed in this post - but the foundational attitude is quite simple. One sees differences (particularly differences one does not understand or with which one doesn't agree), and one either looks initially for a way to understand charitibly or one looks first for a way to dismiss, diminish or reject.

That habitual reaction - that core attitude - is what constitutes "evil speaking", imo. Iow, it's not whether or not one criticizes; it's the nature of one's approach to criticism.

Anonymous said...

Does this apply to secular leaders as well?

Papa D said...

I used a secular leader in the post (Winston Churchill).

I am bothered greatly by the general lack of civility and the strong tone of "evil speaking" that pervades political pronouncements and conversation. I try very hard, for example, to avoid calling ANY President of the United States by just a last name (like "Reagan" or "Carter" or "Bush" or "Obama"), just as I don't use just "Monson" or "Uchtdorf" or "Eyring" or "Beck" when referring to worldwide church leaders. I also don't lke referring to "President Guffey" (a former Stake President of mine) while simultaneously referring to "Sister Beck" (the current LDS Church Relief Society President). They both are presidents, and, in the performance of their responsibilities in formal settings, they both should be addressed with reference to their titles - President Guffey and President Beck. This is true, particularly, since President Beck leads a MUCH larger group of people than President Guffey.

I am not hung up on calling everyone "Brother X" or "Sister Y" (and I go by my personal name as much as I can in as many situations as I can), but I do believe in the "dignity" of certain responsibilities - and the last name only usage almost always is done by those disparaging the person to whom they are referring. It might be subtle evil-speaking, but it is evil-speaking nonetheless, imo.