Many Christians brandish the word "slander" in a way that can confuse rather than clarify a set of issues. While the authors of the document linked to above are at liberty to use whatever working definition of slander they wish to use the choice of the word may be problematic. Normally "slander" and "libel" are understood as divisions of defamation more generally. The simplest distinction to be made was summed up by J. K. Simmons in Sam Raimi's first Spiderman film. "Slander is spoken. In print it's libel."
But there is a further element that should be considered, that in order to be slander the statement would have to be public in some sense. It might be difficult to convince a leadership culture at Mars Hill that has already shown an eagerness to rally behind the executive elders in general and Mark Driscoll in particular that the evidence for the formal charge involving slander ever actually involved slander. It might be said that the cumulative examples alluded to but not as yet clearly described don't generally measure up to what outsiders would call slander. No one outside the walls of Mars Hill may have heard any of the things that are alleged to have been said by Mark Driscoll. That the quotes attributed to Driscoll sound rather like him may still be a matter for discussion and debate, but even if all those things attributed to him were actually said it would seem that this would not substantiate that Driscoll slandered in a normal publicly accepted sense of the word "slander". It would, however, potentially go some distance in alleging that Mark Driscoll was a gossip.
Gossip is a thing that has been addressed by Mark Driscoll (or a suitable proxy since many of the blogs in this series have gone up while Mark was technically on vacation) in a recent series on spiritual warfare.
Scheme 3: the Devil
The Bible speaks of Satan’s work in what can commonly be understood as the ordinary demonic and the extraordinary demonic.
Ordinary demonic work entices us to sexual sin, marriage between Christians and non-Christians, false religion with false teaching about a false Jesus, unforgiving bitterness, foolishness and drunkenness, idle gossiping and busy-bodying, lying, idolatry, attacking our identity through false and condemning thoughts, demonic dreams and night terrors.
Extraordinary demonic work includes torment, physical injury, counterfeit miracles, accusation, death, and interaction with demons.
For a more general overview of Driscoll on gossip or slander ...
Malicious and often false information used to inflict harm is slander (spoken form) or libel (written form). Leviticus 19:16 makes it clear that, “You shall not go around as a slanderer.”
Case-builders collect information like stones to throw at somebody—just waiting for the right opportunity to impugn and attack someone’s character and integrity. If you’re a case-builder, you’ve decided that someone is your enemy and then justify sinful slander as righteous aggression.
In our day, we have an opportunity to slander people more immediately and effectively than ever in the history of the world through technology. Before you post, remember Jesus’ words: “On the day of judgment, people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt. 12:36).
Uh-oh. Did you know that Jesus has Internet access? Imagine you die and stand before Jesus and he pulls up all your social media accounts and already has your smartphone in his hand. Would he find anything that is harmful or destructive against others? Even if what you you’ve communicated is factual truth, your motives are untrue if the purpose in communicating is to harm your neighbor rather than bring glory to God and good for your neighbor.
That second paragraph is quite a generalization. We have an opportunity to slander people more immediately and effectively than ever in the history of the world through technology? That might be the case but the use of the royal "we" seemed like Driscoll deploying the first person plural more for the literary effect of including "you" the reader in the charge rather than admitting to anything with respect to himself. The Lawrence played by Peter O'Toole could have heard those words "in our day ... "said and ask, "Do you speak from experience?" How would Driscoll know that in our day we have opportunity to slander people more immediately and effectively than ever before?
Now nobody is probably going to "want" to apply an "NSA test" here but perhaps you could run with the idea that if you wouldn't want it kept as evidence by a government Big Brother office it might be best not to say. The analogy, of course, is bound to be imperfect.
Then there's Driscoll on gossip:
Just in case I haven’t pinned you to the mat yet with points 1–4, let’s talk about gossip. First Timothy 5:13 specifically calls out “gossips and busybodies” for “saying what they should not.”
If you’re the person everybody comes to for disclosing secrets, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Just like toilets flush and send everything to the sewage plant, you may be the spiritual version. The Christian’s temptation is to sanitize this information by calling it “prayer requests.” But you can’t throw a Christian word in with a non-Christian deed and expect to fool anyone. If Sally wants people to pray for her because her husband committed adultery, let Sally tell the group herself.
Sometimes gossips say things that are untrue, but more often they’re simply “saying what they should not.” Telling other people about somebody else’s business is no way to love your neighbor. In fact, gossip is often sharing damaging information with the intent of murdering someone’s reputation. Murder can be physical death, but gossips commit a form of murder that destroys a person, emotionally or psychologically.
And then there are the websites and magazines that have turned celebrity gossip into a business model. Just because someone is famous doesn’t mean you need to know what they eat, where they live, or what their kids look like. That’s called stalking.
Who do you need to stop following? The information you’re getting may not be untrue, but what’s your motive?
There are a lot of reasons why we lie, and we're all in the guilty bucket together.
With Driscoll's ministry in a "difficult season" and with charges having recently been announced, it will be a season for discussing what "we" mean by these varying terms. To the extent that Driscoll's comments about others behind closed doors have not been brought to light to the public it would be difficult for those comments to be understood as slander. On the other hand, within the leadership culture of Mars Hill and Mars Hill history, it's conceivable a case could be made that the anecdotes related in the formal charges could be considered gossip.
Another matter to consider is that Driscoll has said and written enough about the history of Mars Hill and its leaders and history over the years that concerns could be raised about his leadership approach based simply on things that have been available for the public record (though much of that material has been purged this year). That Driscoll has a history of touching on behind-the-scenes events or controversies from the pulpit is actually pretty easily established. That might be best saved for another post.