This post is not about any one thing in particular. And at the same time, it is about a great many things that take place on the internet. Here’s the Bible passage I want us to reflect on for a few minutes:

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit” (Exodus 23:1-3).

I see at least four prohibitions in these verses.

1. Do not spread false reports. Obviously, this means we should not lie about other people or tell tales we know to be untrue. But it also means we should be careful not to spread false reports even if we honestly thought they were true. It is terrible thing to ruin someone’s reputation. Doing so by an honest mistake may make us feel better about ourselves, but it does nothing to help the rest of the world feel better about the person they now despise. Unintentional sins are still sins. Of course, we all make mistakes. We may later find out that the report we spread was not the truth we thought it to be. But in those unfortunate cases, will we make the announcement that we aired as widespread as the initial dissemination of the error? Take twenty minutes some evening and watch the ESPN Film Judging Jewel. It will make you think twice before you jump to conclusions and pass along reports you really know nothing about.

2. Do not be a malicious witness. Even if your think the person you are attacking is a right awful nasty oaf, the ends do not justify the means. There are a great number of indignant truth-tellers–and just as many weeping prophets for the weak and wounded–who would do well to consider whether their real passion is to spite, to malign, to seek vengeance, to devour and destroy more than it is to seek the things that make for unity, purity, and peace. How many “champions of the truth” and “champions for the marginalized” have won their lofty titles by take-downs more than uplift?

3. Do not assume the majority is always right. God warns us against siding with the many just because they are many. What do you do when everyone knows that the athlete is on performance enhancing drugs, the politician is a crook, the pastor is a bully, the celebrity is an addict, the friend is a fake, and the business owner is a bigot? Well, if you don’t actually know the details, then the best course of action is probably to keep your mouth shut. Go watch Pride and Prejudice (the really long version your wife wants you to see) and think about the character Mr. Darcy. People are not always what they seem–often for the worse, but sometimes for the better. It’s easy to assume the worst about those on the “other side.” We instinctively just know that Hillary is a loser or Ted Cruz is a jerk. We are sure that the negative information we just saw tweeted about the cop must be true, because we know better than to trust cops. We don’t hesitate to pass along the latest scoop about the shooting victim’s past, because we’ve already sized up those kind of people. Too many of us have sides drawn up nice and neat. We have a mental list of bad guys and good guys. We read the events of the day with a powerful narrative already in place. But the majority is not always right, least of all the majority of “what everyone knows” according to the maze of our minds.

4. Do not assume the little guy is always right. God also warns us against siding with the poor just because they’re poor. Your version of cosmic justice is no excuse for perpetuating a local injustice. This is where the Age of Internet Outrage makes things unbelievably difficult. Here’s the scene that plays itself out over and over: It is alleged that Powerful Person/Organization/Institution A has done something terrible to Oppressed Person/Organization/Institution B. The charges sound really bad. If true, they demand cries of anger and recrimination. But what if it is not yet clear that the alleged crimes or offenses took place? What if there is another side to the story that has not been heard? What if–as in the case of the charges against UVA–the real story is no real story at all? Doesn’t wisdom dictate caution and patience? But of course, caution and patience in such situations are often pilloried as siding with the powerful or adding to the victim’s pain. And thus we are forced to decry alleged criminals lest we be deemed guilty of supporting the crimes themselves. To be sure, the preferential treatment of the powerful is despicable. But that does not make the preferential treatment of the poor any less dishonorable.

Please, please, please, let us be more careful with our words. Let our blogs be based on knowledge and our tweets be founded on facts. Let us be among the last to speak our minds if we are not one of the first to know the truth. Let us not confuse a social media scroll with actual research. Hearing a report is not the same as the right to speak.

Every blogger, every tweeter, every Christian in this digital age would do well to pray through the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the ninth commandment:

God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God’s intense anger. I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name. (Q/A 112)

Sounds right to me. Sounds a lot like the Law of Moses in Exodus 23. Sounds like Jesus too. Lord help us show the world a better way.

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119 thoughts on “The God of Justice Hates False Reports”

  1. A. Amos Love says:

    anonymous mother of a molested 5 yr old

    Wow – What a wonderful, reasonable, revealing, kind, educational, response…
    To an incredibly careless, hurtful, insensitive, comment.

    You have my utmost respect.

    “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

    I have to admit, forgiveness was NOT in my thoughts yesterday.
    I was angry, and hurting for you and your daughter to have to hear that.
    Revenge, retaliation, name calling, was in the forefront of what I wanted to say.

    Eventually, after some ugly thoughts, I decided to just “Ignore” that comment yesterday.

    Then this morning – Thank you Jesus – Your response…
    After rereading it a few times – And seeing your heart…
    I wanted to forgive… And NOT hurt someone in return….

    “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

    Thank you so much anonymous mother of a molested 5 yr old.

    I’m so glad you had the courage to explain about your pain…
    And your fears that, “this thread is not a safe place to be vulnerable.”
    And why others who are abused remain silent.

    I’m glad you did NOT remain silent.
    You helped me, if NO one else.

    “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”


    “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever
    human beings endure suffering and humiliation.
    We must always take sides.
    Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
    Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

    Elie Wiesel – Holocaust concentration camp survivor,
    1986 Nobel Peace prize winner, political activist,
    humanitarian and award winning author.

  2. Cody says:

    I was just attacked by a grizzly bear. I may never be able to move my fingers again so I’m dictating this. You all have to believe me now because no one on the internet lies.

  3. anonymous mother of a molested 5 yr old says:

    Serving Kids and A. Amos, thank you for your kindness and compassion. It means a great deal to hear what you two have expressed. I appreciate it even more at this moment than I would have yesterday or the day before, unfortunately, by contrast. I now know what it is to be believed by strangers and the strength and encouragement that comes from being trusted. Thank you.

  4. anonymous mother of a molested 5 yr old says:

    My husband shared this article with me last night. It speaks directly to the discussion here on this thread earlier.

    “A recent video of a sexual assault — on a crowded Florida beach, in broad daylight — raises a question: Why didn’t one of the hundreds of bystanders step in to help the victim?
    Though perplexing, the phenomenon — known as the “bystander effect” — is common, experts said.
    “There’s this kind of paradoxical relationship, where the more people [there are who] observe an incident, the less likely any single individual is to help,” said Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.”

    Sexual assault in public is not unheard of. Especially worldwide. It is deplorable and should not be so, but it happens.

  5. Cody says:

    I just thought I’d say if anyone is still reading what I say (and not just ignoring it in a self righteous snit) if I met Anonymous Mother in person I bet I would have believed her immediately. It is only in the context of this discussion that her story strikes me as mighty convenient for some people. I’ve come to dislike giving examples from experience on the anonymity of an internet board. It strikes me as manipulative.

  6. Serving Kids in Japan says:

    I’ve come to dislike giving examples from experience on the anonymity of an internet board. It strikes me as manipulative.

    Some people have no choice, Cody. Many victims of abuse (whether sexual, spiritual or otherwise) are denied a voice in their own communities. And if they turn to the Internet for support, they often don’t feel safe identifying themselves — whether due to fear of reprisal where they live, or for other reasons. For such people, their options are 1) tell their stories anonymously, or 2) don’t tell their stories at all.

    As for Anon Mother, her little girl has the right to privacy. Identifying herself by name would deny her daughter that right. I hope you understand that.

  7. Cody says:

    What support can she get on the internet when her Church has been trying so hard to help her? How can she have no choice given what she has told you? Why do you think I want to know the name of her unfortunate daughter? I argued that she shouldn’t have mentioned her daughter to us at all, not that she should have proved her daughter to us. (I’m sorry if this comment sounds cranky. I’m hungry right now. I probably should wait till I’m in a better mood to talk. But since I haven’t been here recently, it is at this time four days since you commented and I thought you’d waited long enough.)

  8. Serving Kids in Japan says:


    My apologies for not responding to your latest comment until now. I’ve been busy in real life, and elsewhere online. Also, I kind of assumed we were finished here.

    In the first paragraph of my last comment, I wasn’t referring to Anon Mother. There are many other people who’ve been stomped on (in more ways than one) and need the Internet and its anonymity to have any kind of voice. One such commenter goes by the handle “100pinkapples”, and has participated occasionally at Spiritual Sounding Board. Her tales of abuse are positively sickening, and even though her primary tormentors seem to be dead and gone, I imagine she might still face backlash in her community for using her name. Should we all discount her horrific story simply on the grounds that she’s telling it anonymously? If so, what recourse does she have?

    I argued that [Anonymous Mother] shouldn’t have mentioned her daughter to us at all, not that she should have proved her daughter to us.

    Then how else was she to refute Kamilla’s claim, that it’s unlikely a pedophile would ever molest a child in public? Kamilla made an assertion that Anon Mother knew to be false. Should she have just held her tongue meekly and let it stand? I get the feeling that’s not her style. I know it’s not mine.

  9. Cody says:

    Don’t feel bad about not responding sooner. 100pinkapples could definitely be telling the truth about her miserable life. Or she could just easily be some sicko who enjoys inventing stories about having a miserable past. Sadly both are very believable scenarios.
    Just so you know I would never fault someone for keeping their anonymity on the internet. (How many english speaking Codies with access to the internet do you think there are?)
    I think Anon Mother (unintentionally) is bullying Kamilla. Now Kamilla can’t express what may very well be legitimate objections (hard as this may be for you to comprehend) without people booing her or saying that she is insensitive.
    I don’t see how I’m being more excessively suspicious than you are with your paranoid “sentence first, verdict afterwards” mentality.

  10. mark ashley says:

    Thanks a lot for the blog article.Thanks Again. Awesome.

  11. Serving Kids in Japan says:

    Cody, you think that Anonymous Mother is bullying Kamilla? Now that is some seriously topsy-turvy thinking. May I ask what colour the sky is in your world? ;)

    Whatever people think of Kamilla has nothing to do with Anon Mother, and can’t possibly be blamed on her. I considered her to be insensitive, and strident and ignorant to boot, long before Anon Mother showed up. That’s all on Kamilla, and no one else.

    I don’t see how I’m being more excessively suspicious than you are with your paranoid “sentence first, verdict afterwards” mentality.

    I’ve never advocated “sentence first, verdict afterwards”, on this board or anywhere else. My concern is that accusations of sexual abuse be taken as seriously as they should be. Grown-ups involved have to believe a child’s accusations, report to law enforcement so that a proper investigation can be done, and take the necessary steps to protect any children who could be affected. All this before being afraid of “spreading a false report”.

    I’m advocating nothing more than Boz Tchividjian does in (for example) this article: This comes from a man who has been a prosecutor for 8 years, working mainly in cases of child abuse, and who has spent many more years equipping and training others to deal with accusations of these crimes properly. On this subject, I’ll take his advice over Kamilla’s or DeYoung’s any day.

    Wouldn’t you? Or do you think that Boz is paranoid as well?

  12. Serving Kids in Japan says:

    Oops, I copied the link wrong. Sorry about that. Here it is.

  13. Cody says:

    What color the sky is depends on the time of day and the weather. I’m not going to bother reading the article you posted since I’m not involved in any cases involving child abuse. I don’t think the advice in it would be relevant to me at this point in my life. Personally, I don’t think this blogpost is about parents or teachers not believing accusations of children. I think it’s about neigbors, TV watchers, newspaper readers, etc. But I could be wrong.
    BTW I actually anonymous mother might be you under a different name, trying to give your argument credibility. Perhaps I was being paranoid myself. BEFORE YOU GET MAD keep in mind I don’t find AM’s story particularly implausible. (I do know about bystander effect myself.) It just seemed to fit in too nicely with what you were saying. Now that she has mentioned that her Church did all they could to help, I’m less inclined to suspect this. that wouldn’t fit in with your worldview.
    Sorry if this comment is too short and shallow. I don’t really feel like talking at the moment. Just trying to be polite.

  14. Serving Kids in Japan says:

    Hi, Cody. I hope you’ve had a good week.

    Personally, I don’t think this blogpost is about parents or teachers not believing accusations of children. I think it’s about neigbors, TV watchers, newspaper readers, etc. But I could be wrong.

    Well, I can’t imagine it’s directed at pastors and elders of churches. It seems they’re allowed to spread all the false reports that they like. DeYoung still hasn’t retracted the statement he signed with two other bigwigs long ago. And now there’s the whole debacle with The Village Church, and how the elders there circulated falsehoods about Karen Hinkley to 6000 “covenant members”. If DeYoung has called out Chandler and the rest of the men at TVC over that, I’d sure like to know.

    BTW I actually anonymous mother might be you under a different name, trying to give your argument credibility…. BEFORE YOU GET MAD keep in mind…

    Why would I get angry over something so patently ridiculous and amusing?

    Now that she has mentioned that her Church did all they could to help, I’m less inclined to suspect this. That wouldn’t fit in with your worldview.

    Pardon my asking, but what do you think my worldview is? And why wouldn’t Anon Mother’s comments fit in with it?

  15. Cody says:

    -My week has been rather stressful.

    -Maybe Kevin DeYoung doesn’t believe the reports are false.

    -I thought you might get mad at me because I was accusing you of lying (albeit the lie was similar to other experiences you’ve heard of) in order to garner sympathy for your pet cause. (We all have pet causes. There isn’t anything wrong with that.)

    -Maybe worldview was the wrong word to use. If you had been making up a fake case in order to spread awareness of problems you feel people aren’t aware of enough, you would’ve been sure to include the main problem: unhelpful and unsympathetic evangelicals.

    -Now I have a question. Did you believe me when I posted my comment about the grizzly bear? If so why? And if not why not?

  16. I cannot thank you enough for the article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Cool.

  17. Serving Kids in Japan says:

    Dear Cody,

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been going through a difficult time lately. You’ve been in my prayers since last week, and I hope that you have people nearby to talk to and help you through things.

    And no, I didn’t believe that silly comment about the bear. Mainly because you made it glaringly obvious (especially with the final sentence) that you were being facetious. That’s why I ignored that particular comment of yours, and it might be why everyone else did, too. There’s not much point in responding to someone when he’s acting like a wise guy.

  18. Cody says:

    The reason you didn’t believe my comment was because you looked at the context. You also came to the conclusion that Kevin DeYoung was implying that the accusations against the SGM guy (can’t remember his name at this point in the discussion) were false by looking at the context. How did I come to the conclusions I did about Anonymous Mother? Same way.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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