SOTRU ESSAY #6 – “PSST … THIS IS ‘CONFIDENTIAL’”
How Leaders Use Slander – And Why It Must Stop – and How To Stop It
SECTION 1: THE PROBLEM NAMED
There is no such thing as a Biblically-justifiable confidential slander.
Anyone who speaks harm to the reputation of another is responsible for the content; and, the harmed party has the right to know everything said about him or her, and have the right to respond. ( Deuteronomy 19:15, Proverbs 18:17) This is the commandment set of Scripture, and global standard of Judeo-Christian ethics, and the standard of all non-tyrannical civilizations. As such, it is commanded further by Scripture to be obeyed (Romans 12:17b, 2Corinthians 8:21). The Bill Of Rights in the United States Constitution tells us, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property (including reputation or standing) without due process of law.” This is the standard Scripture commands us to enfranchise within reach of our arms.
Yet – the “this is confidential” pattern of slander is rampant throughout the Messianic Jewish world’s top echelon operations and power-retention tactics.
1. An enfranchised leader tells someone, “This is confidential.”
2. That leader then says things harming the reputation and standing of another leader or citizen, insisting the target never be told what was said.
3. Proof of the slander is only offered from the harm-doer and others within his or her circle, with the admonition that the listener not tell anyone what was said or by whom.
4. The listener is exhorted to cooperate with the harm-doer by reducing or destroying the good name or standing of the target.
In this way in my lifetime alone, countless modern Messianics have had their careers and social standings eroded or destroyed – and many having had no idea how it happened. They simply awaken one day to find their world is smaller than it was yesterday, less people like, love, or admire them than previously – and there is no trail of how it happened. They never know the names or agendas of their assassins.
It has driven some of the targets to near-madness and near-suicide.
It has made the slanderers rich, and kept them in power.
This must stop.
SECTION 2: TWO SPECIFIC FIRST-HAND EXAMPLES
Let me humanize this reality with two first-hand stories.
These are not anecdotes I have heard: they are episodes I have lived.
I have personally rescued at least two still-practicing members of the clergy who would no longer have their careers – and one of whom would likely have his very life (because he was on the declared brink of suicide) – from the ravages of “this is confidential” slanders directed at them by top echelon leaders with an agenda.
One of these leaders (I am not speaking of myself in third person, this is someone other than me) was simply amassing too much influence in the MJAA, and his theological and praxis views were beginning to gain traction in MJAA conference events in a way that was not only not affirmative of the highest echelon’s focus, but also in an arena in which the top echelon had minimal competence. It was decided – in nearly these very words, “(So-and-So) needs not to be the focus at these services. He can’t be in charge. We need to replace him with others and not let him be seen as this important.” This was said, not because he was incompetent or heretical or any other such charge brought into the open and proven through due process: this was said and done because the man was, in the words of another credentialed theologian, “shining a little too brightly.” He was shoved to the margins of the very events of which he had been chief influencer in bringing about, and a man from the inner circle who could not find his way around these events with both hands and a flashlight was put in charge. What ensued during services led by the inner cabal’s choice was a disgrace of incompetence; all being done in the presence of the leader who was never told directly by anyone why he was being shoved aside. I know why because I was closer to the inner circles than he was in this season, and I was present when this deliberate and unjustified harm was being done. I had to rush to where this leader lived in the middle of the night once, because his wife phoned me to say she feared he was about to kill himself that night, out of despair at the way his career and reputation were mysteriously being destroyed by unseen and unknown forces being allowed to ruin all he had built and become. I was able to rescue him by speaking to one of the top members of the innermost ruling cabal, and point out the unjustified nature of the attacks on my colleague, and the way to fix the growing situation of open discontent building in regard to his ruin and deflection. The top echelon guy apparently heeded my advice, because the attacks soon suddenly stopped, and the leader was allowed to continue his successful theological and praxis influencing – albeit, with the inner cabal dogging his every step, looking for ways to insert themselves so as to appear to be part of the inspired and inspiring source of the innovations being created.
The “this is confidential” in-the-shadows slander campaign to diminish the charismatic and influential actual leader nearly drove him mad, as he watched his career tanking with no source of harm having the integrity or courage to attack in the open with anything of substance. There was no substance on the slanderers’ side: there was only fear of loss of power and status. The more this innovator had, the less gloried a focus the others had – and the others saw themselves as the only rightful repositories of inspiration or focus or high-standing.
Another leader in another part of the USA was being ruined from the shadows for monetary and political reasons. He led a new congregation in which the largest financial donor was what we New Yorkers call “a snowbird.” He lived during the warm seasons in Manhattan, and in the the cold seasons in Southeast Florida. I was the man’s rabbi when he was in Manhattan, because he attended my synagogue, Congregation Beth El of Manhattan (see www.bethelnyc.org). One day, I got an email from one of the most influential leaders in all of Messianic Judaism, asking me to direct my snowbird congregant not to attend the new synagogue being formed by a close friend of the congregant’s. I was told by this influential leader that the new synagogue was formed out of order, and the leader did not even have “real” credentials for a pastoral role of any kind. The only “proof” of the statements he offered was his own word and the word of the local rabbi whose congregation would keep the high donor if that donor was deflected from joining his friend’s newly-formed congregation.
If I had done what was being asked of me, it would have financially killed the new congregation in its infancy, depriving it of its largest source of financial support; and, it would have killed the leader’s career from that point forward, because he would be tagged as a fomenter of out-of-order creation of a congregation, and as defiant to sound process.
What I did next was kindergarten level spirituality. (Proverbs 18:17)
I contacted the besmirched leader and told him what was said to me about him – and I asked for his side of the story.
He instantly denied both charges, and eagerly offered documentary and witness proofs. He sent me copies of his ordination certificates, with the phone numbers and emails of the seminary and officials having issued them; and he outlined his process of forming his new congregation, all of which was perfectly in accord with Biblical order and his association’s constitution.
The reason for the slanders was simple.
The slandering leader was the top tier leader of a congregational association; and a local congregation that was a member of his association in that area of Florida would lose a wealthy member and donor (my snowbird) if that member migrated to the new Florida congregation. The local Florida leader had apparently asked the top tier national association leader for help; and the help the top tier leader chose to give was to slander the new group’s leader to me, hoping I would use my influence as the snowbird’s Northern rabbi to deflect him from joining the new group, and influence him to stay in the older congregation – which financially and politically benefited his association organization.
When the documents and witnesses to this matter were all collected, the top tier leader was proven to have slandered the new group’s leader without basis: he was forced to retract, and issue a printed apology. This literally saved the congregation and career of the newer leader – I have a letter from him, gratefully saying so for the record.
That top tier leader still hates me to the present day, insisting “the whole problem (his being called to account and embarrassed) would never have happened if Bruce had just kept the things I told him confidential, which is what he should have done.” The slanderer blames me for his troubles resulting from his having slandered an innocent man in a way that would have ruined the poor fellow without him ever knowing how or why; or, if the snowbird had told him that I was the source of the influence that ruined him, I would have have been left “holding the bag” with my only justification for ruining him being, “So-and-So asked me to, so I did, without ever checking the slander for accuracy, or letting the harmed party know what was said about him, and allowing him to respond (as Scripture commands per Prov. 18:17, etc.).
The above two real-life cases I experienced first-hand are only a few snowflakes on the tip of a huge iceberg. This pattern is a massive presence in how the modern Messianic Jewish world is governed at present. I know too many first hand stories to tell them all here.
The only people allowed to shine are those who consider themselves “the chosen” leadership.
The only people who are kept safe are people in a “crew” – in the manner the Mafia protects its own.
This pattern must change.
SECTION 3: HOW TO FIX THE PROBLEM
The changes needed are simple – their implementation will take time and great effort, because that process will require underlings “speak truth to power” – always a risky endeavor.
Firstly – it must be clear – there is NO SUCH THING AS a “confidential” slander. It does not matter who the speaker of the harm to another’s reputation or standing is. The Biblically-REQUIRED conduct of the listener is:
1. Stop the speaker as soon as his or her intent becomes clear, and direct them to speak only to the parties involved in the matter, and in line with due process as per Matt. 18:15-17 in regard to confinement of the matter to the smallest possible number of involved parties.
2. Inform the speaker that anything already heard which has harmed the reputation of anyone will result in the listener going to the other party to hear their side of the story. (Proverbs 18:17)
3. Insist the Biblical demands for such harm to a person’s reputation be fulfilled.
(A) No one will suffer any harm unless any and all charges are supported by two or more qualified, unbiased witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15, 1Tim. 5:21) and all evidence is verified (2Corinthians 13:1).
(B) the matter will be confined to the smallest possible circle of involved parties necessary for handling toward resolution (Matthew 18:15-17)
(C) No “tale-bearing” (spreading one side of a conflict) of any kind will be permitted, no matter who wants to do it. (Leviticus 19:16)
(D) No passive allowance of known harm-speaking is permitted. The believer realm has an “honor code” commanded by God, in which we all share responsibility for harm done by harm-speaking. (Leviticus 5:1) As it is said here in New York City, expressive of our shared responsibility for the security of our town from terrorism, “If you see something or hear something – say something!” Beyond this, famed ethicist Nissim Taleb wrote, “If you see fraud, and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” Leviticus 5:1 declares the one who knows of a slander and does not bring to the relevant authorities what he or she knows, is as guilty of the harms done by the false words as the speaker of those words.
CLOSING: JUST SAY “NO”
The primary fix is needed at the most crucial point, and requires courage: when a highly enfranchised leader approaches a less enfranchised person and seeks to speak harm about another, saying “This is confidential” – the hearer needs to do what Nancy Reagan advised about drugs: “Just say no.”
- There is no such thing as a Biblically-justifiable confidential slander: not for anyone’s use.
- Refuse to assist or enact harm to anyone outside Biblical due process.
- Direct the speaker to go only to the directly involved parties.
- Notify any harmed parties of what is being spoken about them, and by whom.
- Notify any relevant governing or accountability authorities if speaker or target are members of an association with any ethics accountability standards.
So – let’s fulfill Yeshua the Messiah’s directive, and show ourselves to be members of His crew, and God’s family. (Matthew 12:50, John 14:15)
And by so doing – let’s save a lot of lives, and quality-of-life, now and in the times to come.
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
25 May 2017