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https://www.xenos.org/about-xenos/faq/confidentiality

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13 Apr 2016 - 8 Nov 2017 2015

Home Groups at Xenos - Concerns about Confidentiality

We looked at the touchy issue of church discipline (/web/20160816113810/https://www.xenos.org/about- xenos/faq/church-discipline). We considered why most situations are delegated to the care of home group leaders (who themselves are subject to even higher standards of conduct). This whole topic raises the question of confidentiality, which we'll look at in this issue.

Much of this article was abstracted from the article “Confidentiality, Gossip, and Openness in the Body of Christ (https://web.archive.org/web/20160816113810/http://media.xenos.org/classes/christian- servanthood/CS2/CS2w5.pdf)” by Gary DeLashmutt and Dennis McCallum.

Tricky Questions

Christians are called on to disclose their problems to one another (Galatians 6:2; James 5:16). But is it ever right to discuss another person's problem with a third party? What about leadership teams who need to decide what to do with a member?

And what about a friend who knows something serious about another friend, but the other friend won't agree to disclose the problem? Or what about a friend who says, "I've got something to share, but you have to promise not to tell anyone," or "By the way, what I told you was in confidence."?

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The Biblical Position—A Contradiction?

At first glance, the Bible seems to contradict itself in this area. On the one hand, it speaks strongly against gossip. Proverbs 20:19 says, ". . .do not associate with a gossip." Other passages like 1 Timothy 5:13 and 2 Thessalonians 3:11 condemn "busybodies" who "speak about things not proper to mention."

Likewise, some passages defend the idea of confidentiality. Proverbs 11:13 says, "He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter." Matthew 18:15 says, "If your brother sins, go and reprove him in private. . ." This implies the desirability of leaving the issue alone if it's satisfactorily resolved.

Christians should relate to each other on the basis of responsible trust. If you trust someone enough to confide in them, you also should trust them enough to handle the information in the most helpful way.

We all have seen wreckage gossip can cause: hurt feelings, destroyed trust and ruined relationships. Above all, gossip can create mistrust and fear of opening up because what is shared will be broadcast all over the place. Also, people may not open up about serious problems, or may sanitize their versions of those problems unless we can offer them the safety of confidentiality.

On the other hand, the Bible sometimes speaks strongly about the need to tell others about someone else's problems. Matthew 18:16,17—the same passage that recommends resolving it in private—commands making it public if necessary. And 1 Timothy 5:20 states that the elder who “continues in sin” should be rebuked “in the presence of all.” We can conclude from passages like these that when we sin, we don't have the right to insist other Christians cover for us.

Other passages indicate that discussing others' sins may be necessary for the healthy working of the local church:

One reason for the high character qualifications of leaders ("not double-tongued") is so they can be trusted to handle this kind of knowledge responsibly. Passages requiring leaders to be "above reproach" (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) imply that a Christian should come forward if they know that leader or would-be leader is under reproach.

The metaphors of the church as a body and a family argue powerfully for the openness of Christians both with one another and about one
another. Members are a
ffected by those in need (1 Corinthians 12:26); they should help those in need (Romans 12:15), but they cannot help if they are not told of the need.

The "one another" passages (Galatians 6:2; James 5:16) are in the plural. They are to be understood not only in the individual sense (i.e. counselor/client session), but also as a family helping each other.

Rotten Cultural Influences

In Western culture, autonomous individualism is prized as a virtue, and the "right of individual privacy" is stressed at the expense of individual responsibility to and need for the community. People rarely share their problems with another, and when they do, it's almost exclusively in a client/counselor setting where strict confidentiality is expressly stated and strictly enforced. The idea that "My life is my business alone and only those I wish to tell" denies both the individual's inability to be objective about their own life and his relationship to the rest of the community.

This is a classic area of the church's conformity to the world (Romans 12:2). The Western church has largely capitulated to this unbiblical view. In the name of avoiding gossip and "upholding confidentiality," Christians in most evangelical churches are taught to live as islands. Not only are they not encouraged to be open with each other; they are also encouraged to not let those they have shared with or anyone else know about their problems. The unbiblical concept of the single clergy or priest—who alone hears confession and is bound to tell no one else —makes the priesthood of all believers (who also can know and help) a dead letter.

The idea that confessing to a priest who you don't know—who is bound not to tell anyone else no matter what—as a provision for body life is ridiculous.
The result is as ugly as a church riddled by gossip: no true community, no church discipline, and people wrestling with sin problems alone instead of being helped by Christian friends.

Gossip versus Conferral

This is not a contradiction, but rather a tension Christians need to live within. There are times when it is best to keep "shared" information to yourself, and there are times to bring it to the attention of others.

One key to understanding this tension is to determine the reason for talking about someone else: Are you acting as a family member, spiritual helper, or as a busybody? The Bible condemns and prohibits gossip for the sake of tearing down. It commends and at times even commands conferral for the sake of building up. Here are a few helpful contrasts between conferral and gossip:

Conferral

Desires to help the person and the Christian community;
confers only with responsible people who can help;
confers only about live issues;
occurs in addition to talking to the person, if needed;
carefully explains context of the problem to the conferee;
promotes more trust, openness and less gossip in the Christian community.

Gossip

Lacks concern for and may desire to hurt the person and exalt self; talks to whoever they please without regard for the effect on them; talks about past, resolved and purely personal issues;
occurs instead of talking directly to the person when needed; neglects or distorts the context of the problem;

promotes fear of openness and more gossip in the Christian community. Although there are no strict rules, here are considerations about conferral:

Is your silence injuring another person or the witness of the Christian community?
What is the person's role in the church?
What concrete thing do you want to confer about?
What is your own tendency in this area? What do other mature Christians say? Lean against it. “What about legal liability?”

Two Attitudes to Resist

We should vigorously resist gossip in the Christian community. We should learn to judge our own attitudes before we gossip and apologize when we do it. Cultivate constructive concern for the other person. Learn to ask yourself, “Why do I want to talk to others about this person's situation?” We should be unsympathetic (but not self- righteous) with gossip on the part of others.

Resist the unqualified “right to privacy” attitude. If someone says, “Don't tell anyone” as a condition before confessing, refuse to be put into this position. Say you can't help unless they trust you to handle the information responsibly. If they don't trust you that much, they should go to someone they can.

Christians should relate to each other on the basis of responsible trust. If you trust someone enough to confide in them, you also should trust them to handle the information in the most helpful way. The person who says, “I am open with God, but not Christians” is fooling himself.

 

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