Several people have asked me variations of the same question: Is it ever ok to share information about someone else? The short answer (in my opinion) is yes, but only with the right heart, for the right reason, in the right circumstances. For example:
- Let's say you know that your co-worker is doing something unethical or illegal while on the job. Shouldn't you tell the boss?
- A friend mentions, "I was thinking about using Judy as a babysitter," but you used Judy to keep your own kids and you know that she's not responsible.
- You get a call requesting a job reference for someone you know, and the relevant information you have is not positive.
- You know that a genuine friend in your small group is participating in destructive behavior and you will need help from another group member in order to intervene. Should you tell them what you know?
When I say "I don't talk about someone else when they are not around to defend themselves" I am talking about malicious or negative conversation that has no other good purpose than to simply gossip about them. The examples above are some of the instances when there is a often a clear and good purpose for sharing information.
By the way, I've been in circumstances that resemble each of these examples.
- Once when I worked for a large corporation, I knew that a coworker was massively violating company policy with very large amounts of cash entrusted to her.
- I've been asked about babysitters that we've used who were unreliable or didn't care well for my kids.
- While most of the people I've employed have had high character, competency and chemistry with other team members, there are a couple who I wouldn't hire again or recommend to other churches.
- I once had a very good friend in a small group many years ago (in another church) who was dangerously close to having an affair. The other 4 men in the group (including me) collaborated and formed a plan to physically remove him from her presence.
So, when I call to check references, I sure hope the person on the phone shares honestly about a potential hire's character. And when I ask a friend if they had a good experience with a babysitter (assuming I need a babysitter), I sure hope they tell me the truth. And if I'm about to mess up my marriage, I sure hope my friends talk to formulate a plan to rescue me from my own stupidity. And, for the record, everyone on PCC's staff has heard me say that if they have some reason to believe I've run off with the church's money, they should go straight to the Steering Team (my boss) and tell them.
These things are not malicious or intentionally hurtful...they are speaking the truth, surrounded by love. Ephesians 4:15 says "God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love..." (The Message). A few years ago, I did an entire teaching about being truthful and doing so surrounded in love.
If you are spreading information about someone - even when it's true - with malicious intent or no good purpose, that's truth...but not truth in love.
On the other hand, genuine love doesn't ignore the truth, even if sharing it at appropriate moments has uncomfortable or painful consequences.
We should always think before we say something about someone else. Often, we'll determine that we should just keep our mouth shut. But telling the truth in love is always the right thing to do.