There is a temptation which we all face from time to time in our conversations. When someone mentions a third party to us, many memories surface about that person. Some of these memories are good memories, and some are not. It is often easy to share these memories, since they are true.
Whenever we discuss a person who is not present, we need to be aware of the danger of detraction. As Children of the Light, we should bear in mind that God does not expect us to repeat everything we know. Even when we are sure that what we are saying is true, it may be detraction to say it.
What Is Detraction?
Many people are willing to share memories about someone else. Sharing a story about another person is not necessarily the same as detraction. If we are sharing incidents which cause the listener to value the third party more, we are free from detraction. When we cross the line and share negative information, we smear the reputation of the other person and have entered into detraction.
Is Detraction Really That Bad?
It is hard to keep a secret. Many times when we talk about someone else, that person will find out. Often the other person will feel betrayed and angry. The friendship has been hurt. We can sense something is wrong but not know how to make things right. The two people then become more alienated from each other. It can be difficult to restore a friendship that has been destroyed by detraction. How can I trust someone who repeats everything or does not know when to keep something in confidence?
Detraction destroys relationships among groups of people as well. During the grievous times of separations among Friends during the nineteenth century, there was one instance in which an entire Yearly Meeting broke off relations with another, simply on the basis of second-hand reports. It took fifty years and much intervisitation between the two yearly meetings before they opened the lines of communication again.
“A whisperer separateth [the best] of friends.”
Keeping Our Tongues From Evil
King David wrote, “Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it” Psalm 34:13-14. Most of us know someone who repeats everything, often with a new negative spin on the story. Some people repeat stories about another’s shortcomings decades after the person has changed his behavior. If we don’t appreciate this habit in other people, we should also be careful not to have it ourselves.
There are people who do not repeat stories about other people. These people are called confidantes because they keep information confidential. Confidantes make good friends because they have discovered the value of friendships. They appreciate people with other gifts and want to learn about life with others rather than alone. Good friends are hard to find.
Religious leaders can fall into the trap of repeating too much negative news. Some of them are remembered for their harsh words and negative attitude rather than for their ability to convey the Good News. We can all forget that in Jesus is Yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of the Father.
Bless, and Curse Not
The Apostle James was concerned with the failure of some early Christians to guard their tongues: “If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain …
“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us, and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things … “For every kind of beast … hath been tamed of mankind; but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” James 1:26, 3:5-8.
“A wholesome tongue is a tree of life”
A New and Living Way
William Penn wrote that early Friends were changed themselves before they set out to change others. They had a fresh encounter with God and knew they could trust in the Light of Christ for guidance. They also were quick to warn against detraction. When someone discovers that a person claiming to be a disciple of Jesus has been careless in repeating stories, the result is particularly bad. What kind of God would direct His follower to behave like that?
Jesus wants us to step out of the patterns of those living around us. Christians try to follow His example by seeking to have peace with all other people insofar as it is possible. John wrote that we cannot love the LORD if we hate our brother, and that if we walk in the Light as He is in the Light the blood of Jesus will cleanse us and we can have fellowship one with another.
“Every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Romans 14:12-13
Resolution of Difficulties
Jesus referred to Himself as the Great Physician. He healed thousands of people during His ministry on earth. He wants to heal our relationships with other people and to give us opportunities to heal relationships among others, which Paul called the ministry of reconciliation.
Rather than allowing differences to simmer in our hearts, Christ Jesus gave us directions for finding peace with another person (Matthew 18): “if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” Rather than spreading unkind news, Jesus wants us to go to that person in the hopes that He can draw the two parties into a closer walk with Him.
Jesus realized that not everyone would be ready to heal the relationship when the one person asked for forgiveness. If this attempt to resolve the difficulty fails, the person should go again and take a third person to observe. If the person still will not hear, Jesus said the person should ask the church for help. The church should send people in an effort to bring healing to the two people and end the troubles.
Jesus offers us abundant life and inward communion with Him. Once we encounter His peace, love, and joy, we have an inner drive to share this new life with others. We learn to guard against temptations which tarnish our souls, and we are especially careful in situations which can harm someone else’s spiritual life. We have good news to share – that Jesus came to heal us, not to condemn us (John 3:17). We have seen how detraction can separate best friends and how God wants us to learn to use our tongues to bless others. Detraction and holiness are incompatible.
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger and clamour, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” Eph. 4:29-32.