A Case Against Online Public Shaming

Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  

James 3:3-9

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Proverbs 18:21

The question of public shaming is especially pertinent in the age of the Internet. Unlike previous times, if someone is the target of some shaming behaviour, then they could usually escape the reputation-damaging effects entirely or partially by moving to a different town or relying on social forgetfulness. Even if the shaming was reported in a newspaper, past editions of the newspaper are thrown away and forgotten and without photograph technology, it will be difficult recognize a person you read about in the paper, even if they happen to remember the entire list of names of people who received public beatings. After all, people often have similar names. So, someone who underwent a public shaming in those times could probably start a new life somewhere else. However, in the age of the Internet, if your shaming took place on the internet or it was reported on the internet ( which all news outlets do these days) it becomes impossible to escape no matter how far you go. It is only a google search away, often with colour photos to confirm identity. So the question of when something should be made public is more pressing because the consequences are more dire and permanent. I will try to give a few reasons to not publicly shame people on the internet and to avoid making moral wrongdoing public unless there is good reason to do so (shaming someone not being among those good reasons, as I hope we shall see). Moral wrongdoing can and in most cases should be held accountable locally or privately ,unless there is good reason to reveal it to the general public.

What is Public Shaming?

I thought I had a good idea about what public shaming is until I tried to define it. There are also very different types of public shaming. What is the difference between public moral criticism and shaming? Is all public criticism public shaming? For example, say you criticize someone who has done or said something and, before you know it, lots of people are reviling them. Have you just participated in a public shaming? This is more difficult to answer in the age of the internet, because someone making a good-natured criticism may not realize what else is being said or will be said about that person. They are not then aware they are part of a mob and it only becomes clear in hindsight. I do not want to target any and every form of public shaming but merely the online shaming, driven by social and news media online, that has become typical in our time. I do not think every form of group moral criticism or accountability is wrong, as long as it conducts itself in a certain way, as we will see later on. What distinguishes bad public shaming from potentially legitimate public shaming? I think one answer to that is online media (which determines that it has a permanent and irreversible effect and unpredictable consequences) combined with a malevolent public response. So there are two elements to a morally culpable public shaming: the revelation of it in online media, whether news media or social media, and the response of the public to that information.

I think there is a particular spirit and attitude to modern public shaming that distinguishes it from mere bona fide moral criticism. I think that this spirit can be most aptly identified by the word reviling. To revile another is to criticize them malevolently, with deliberate intention to hurt and destroy. Moral reviling usually says or implies that the person is beyond the pale morally; that they are a villain through and through. This can be to accuse someone of being a psychopath or sociopath which has become the secular equivalent of calling someone a devil. Gossiping and backbiting I think are also important elements of modern public shaming. Gossiping is talking about the private matters of other people, usually embarrassing factoids or rumours about them, without good reason to talk about it. Backbiting is malevolent gossip or gossip that is deliberately intended to destroy and hurt someone and will often contain at least some slander (although it need not be slander in order to qualify as backbiting). Another quality that online public shaming and many other mob-driven public shamings have can be identified by the word clamor, which is a lot of people shouting vehemently about something. Finally, I think the sin of injustice is also part of this problem. Many people today think of justice as primarily a property of systems or societies, but it is first and foremost an individual virtue. What does it mean to be just? It means being fair-minded, not being quick to think people are guilty, giving them the benefit of the doubt, not making any judgments that are not fully warranted by the evidence, not listening to gossip or allowing your opinion to be informed by it, being impartial ( not just listening to your initial impressions or impulses regarding something). I think being just also avoids making wholesale judgments about someone’s moral character. It is common nowadays to force every conflict into a victim/victimizer model. I think this is unjust for two reasons. One, because it makes the roles of the people in that particular event into their identities as people, and so dehumanizes them. It doesn’t just dehumanize the wrongdoer. It also dehumanizes the wronged. Secondly, it is unjust because it makes the locus of consideration the moral characters of the people involved and not the actions of that particular event. We don’t even have good enough information about the people living with us in the same house to make accurate judgments about their moral character. We don’t see most of what is morally relevant about a person, including their motivations, intentions, and the broader patterns of their behaviour. In order to be just, we should focus on judging the action, not the person. The former has a much greater likelihood of being accurate. It is not a perfect dichotomy, but it helps to focus our attention on the relevant aspect of the case. I believe this is what Jesus had in mind when he said the following (Matthew 7:1):

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Other New Testament passages in the same vein include Romans 2:1 and James 4:11.

Therefore, I want to criticize the following elements of modern online public shaming, without which they arguably cannot take place.

  • Revealing information that is embarrassing or damaging to someone’s reputation in media with the consequent permanent and irreversible effect and unpredictable consequences, when the primary reason is to disadvantage that person, or to make money, or for vague reasons ( like the “public has a right to know” or if it’s regarded as newsworthy).
  • Reviling that person when the information comes to light, including gossiping and backbiting about them, or otherwise engaging in “vigilante justice” against them.
  • It is emotionally driven, anarchic and driven by self-appointed groups. It is not instigated, overseen and ended by an authority. If it’s online it’s course cannot be controlled and it’s usually irreversible.

Good Reasons to Make Wrongdoing Public

Let’s start with some good reasons to make wrongdoing public ( whether immoral or illegal).

  • The wrongdoing was itself public and/or affects an indefinite number of people. This will include cases of plagiarism and public dishonesty or wrongdoing related to government, or corporate and organizational wrongdoing that affects many customers. (This does not include the private lives of politicians and public figures; only wrongdoing they have committed in the course of their duties as public officials).
  • Severe wrongdoing that is taking place or has taken place and it is not being addressed by the relevant authorities, particularly if it’s illegal.

Bad Reasons to Make Wrongdoing Public

  • “The public has a right to know.” You can always argue that someone’s wrongdoing should be made public so that people in future can be warned about this person and can avoid them or simply take measures not to make themselves vulnerable to this person. Take, for example, the case of Joseph and Mary in the Nativity story of Matthew’s Gospel. Joseph found out that Mary was carrying a child and we are told that he “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19) This was before he believed that Mary was carrying the Son of God. He could have thought that if this woman is sleeping around while she is engaged, then every man in that community should know, so that they can protect themselves from the clutches of an adulteress. You can make a similar argument for almost every type of wrong. If you don’t want to live in a world where all moral wrongs must by moral necessity be aired for all to hear, you should not easily believe that the “public has a right to know.” Unless you want to claim that you are morally perfect, you have probably done some quite immoral things, things that can be made to look from bad to worse especially if the requisite spin is put on it and it plays into some cultural narrative. If you believe that all wrongdoing must be made public for a healthy society, then you must confess all your own wrongdoing ( and those of everyone you know) to social and news media. Second, the vast majority of people who read or hear about these wrongs will never encounter that person themselves. So it is not clear what risks are being mitigated by making the information available on the world wide web. Often, making some private dispute or wrongdoing public in news media and social media is to involve a great deal of people for whom the information is not relevant or important and who will probably never come into contact with this person. The only purpose then is gossip and media company profits, or opportunistic character assassination. Third, a community can turn against someone for illegitimate reasons with or without an initial provocation, or for trivial provocations. I don’t think this is rare. Or, alternatively, that community simply didn’t really bother to find out the truth, or had an investigation of some sort but it wasn’t up to par as far as fairness is concerned. It is unjust to tarnish someone’s reputation forever simply because a group of people or an organization has decided that they are guilty of something. Fourth behaviour where there is truly a risk of serious harm is normally illegal. If that person’s behaviour is not illegal, then it is unlikely that what they are doing is going to seriously harm people. Fifth, it assumes that they will continue to do it if they did it once before, which is uncharitable to assume, especially if they have already been held accountable.
  • Revealing the wrongdoing primarily to disadvantage someone, as an accountability practice, or out of vindictive motivation. We will look in the next section why making immoral behaviour public in the era of online media, primarily as an accountability practice, is wrong. This can also be called “permanent reputation destruction as a punishment.”
  • Character assassination. This involves revealing wrongdoing to make someone out to be a hypocrite or immoral as a way to discredit their public endeavors. Everybody who tries to live according a robust set of moral principles will sometimes fail to live up to them. If the wrongdoing is not related to their public endeavour in a clear way, it does not make sense to reveal it. Journalists have engaged in what is essentially professional backbiting for so long that they do not even try to hide it anymore. They try to dig up dirt on individuals they disagree with politically and culturally to destroy their reputations and careers. In any other context, we would recognize such behaviour as severely immoral and Machiavellian.

Reasons To Avoid Online Public Shaming

  1. Online public shaming encourages and usually involves mob justice, which is immoral.
  2. Online public shaming is necessarily unjust ( both for the first reason above and for the ones that follow.) There is no way to keep track of it or how much negative effect has already been suffered. It is impossible to predict what consequences it will have, which can be severe, and you also cannot stop it once initiated. It is also irreversible and permanent. (In order to reverse it you will have to convince every news site or blog, and social media users, who talked about it to take their posts down, which is not feasible). When you make some alleged wrongdoing public on the internet, you are handing over the reigns of accountability to an indefinite number of people of unknown character who will often either not bother to familiarize themselves with the facts or simply won’t have it available to them. Given that it’s irreversible, it’s course cannot be controlled, and it has consequences of unpredictable severity, it cannot be regarded as a just and fair accountability practice. In addition, the public consciousness is often occupied with certain ideas and concerns and certain vices are regarded with more severity in some ages than in others. Thus, if your alleged wrongdoing is revealed and it plays into the concerns and narratives of the time, then you will receive a greater and more vociferous condemnation. This is like a socio-historical Russian Roulette and it is not just. In addition to this, such online public shaming inflicts undeserved strain and suffering on the family and friends of the person in question, more so than other accountability practices.
  3. Online public shaming conflates the embarrassing with the immoral. It is often based as much on the fact that something is embarrassing as on the fact that it is immoral (which is why sexual matters are often the subjects of public shaming). In this way, these campaigns are similar to bullying campaigns which are motivated by an attempt to humiliate and embarrass the target. Like online public shaming, bullying campaigns involve a group of people ganging up on a single individual and it is driven by emotions. It seems to me that online public shaming legitimizes and reinforces bullying and arguably provides a moral veneer for a practice which satisfies the same immoral impulses as bullying. Bullying is also instigated by a consciousness of “wrong.” Something in the target is identified as wrong. Also, this type of media shaming teaches children in the society that this is an appropriate way to handle conflict and disagreement with others. It is interesting how we accept as a matter of course behaviour from journalists, politicians and political activists that we would consider monstrously Machiavellian and severely immoral in any other context. Do you think that a conflict or disagreement with another person justifies trying to poison others against them by digging up dirt on them, or by gossiping about them? Why then do we accept this behaviour when it is clearly and blatantly done by journalists and political activists against their opponents as a result of political disagreement?
  4. Online public shaming usually encourages and tempts people to commit sins en masse, some already covered.  This includes (with some scripture verses about them):
    • Gossiping and backbiting (2 Corinthians 12:20, Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, 1 Timothy 5:13, Proverbs 26:20, Romans 1:29)
    • Reviling (1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Peter 3:9, Romans 3:12-14, Psalm 64)
    • Betrayal (Proverbs 25:9, Matthew 24:10, Matthew 7:12)
    • Unforgiveness (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 18:33, Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 32:35, Proverbs 20:22, Romans 12:17, Proverbs, 19:11, Proverbs 12:16, Proverbs 17:9)
    • Injustice ( Micah 6:9, Amos 5:14, Psalm 112:5, Leviticus 19:15, James 2:1)
  5. Online public shaming derives its force and legitimacy from lies. The lie is that most people’s private lives are in sync with their public lives and that most people in society are better than the person being reviled. Online public shaming events rely on a pretense of impeccable virtue in the rest of society. In order for an online public shaming to be fair, it needs to be the case that everyone’s sins are written on their social media page. The lie is that what is publicly available is reality, rather than simulation and carefully calculated artifice and half-truth, not only of what people reveal about themselves but also what media reveals about the person in question. The lie is that what is revealed is enough to make a competent judgment about someone’s moral character. One can see that online public shaming events are based on these lies by noting how quickly the force or feeling of legitimacy of a public shaming event dissolves by imagining that you can press a button that reveals every sin of all the revilers, including all of the journalists reporting on it, have ever done. Even if those things are not as bad as what the accused person has done, it still has a deflating effect on the whole thing. This means that public shaming events in the media derive their force and conviction from a lie. The scandals themselves should reveal to people how simulated public information is, yet it always seems to increase confidence in public information. For example, people who are caught in lies are sometimes reviled a great deal, yet the vast majority of people on this earth have lied at least once and many will do so many more times than once. Even if the lie should be made public ( because it was public) it is not public opinion and news media that should think it their job to punish someone. It is interesting to me that public shaming events these days seem to focus on mild to moderate wrongs that are not illegal, or inhabit some grey area of legality. Twitter does not explode as a result of reported murders and armed robberies. They do not start reviling the murderers and robbers. Why not?
  6. Public opinion, news media and social media are not the appropriate arenas for moral justice.
  7. Online public shaming makes deception inevitable. Everybody is more likely to lie. If your goal is truth then making a conflict or dispute public is one of the worst things you can do and is certain to muddy the waters. As soon as you make it public, the stakes are much higher for everyone. They get scared and then they lie. The accused party is obviously more likely to lie and to minimize what they’ve done, if anything. The accuser(s) are more likely to lie because they will want to protect themselves from public scrutiny and so will be more likely to exaggerate what happened to protect their own reputations. The organizations and institutions involved are more likely to lie. They’ll want to protect their brand, profits or funding from damage and may throw someone under the bus to do so. If the event is seen as culturally or politically significant, you will involve all sorts of powerful interests that muddy the waters further. Journalists and media companies come into play as well, who are often corrupt and politically opportunistic with the events in people’s personal lives.

The Role of Journalism and News Media

Journalists tend to defend themselves by saying they are reporting things or reporting the events. But they know that this is not all they’re doing. They decide how to report it and they decide whether to report it at all. They decide whether it is “newsworthy” and they decide how they’re going to tell the story. They decide what to emphasize and what to leave out, how to frame it, and how to slant it, whether and how to connect it to wider trends and narratives. They do all of this routinely. Journalistic ethics mostly concerns how things should be reported and almost nothing on what should be reported. Any concern about content seems mostly to boil down to being “aware” that your coverage might cause harm, which is half-hearted as an ethics guideline. Other content restrictions seems mostly to protect victims, children and their sources, which is good as far as they go, but not enough. In short, unless the journalists themselves are comfortable with all the details of their private lives being on front page news, they should not report the equivalent in other people’s lives. Many media companies have celebrity gossip sections, which are unethical. Nobody’s private life is a free for all and gossip is not entertainment or justice. It is right to view the action of reporting on people’s private lives as unethical and those who do it should be criticized. We do not normally accept strangers prying and meddling in the personal and private affairs of other people for profit and gossip. Why do we accept this immoral behaviour from journalists and the journalism profession?

Christian Excommunication and Public Shaming

Isn’t Christian excommunication a form a public shaming? Yes technically it is. However, there are some important differences to the community sanction recommended in the Bible for certain false teachers and those who are impenitently immoral, and the online public shaming in our time. It should also be mentioned that Christians have practiced excommunication in different ways. In scanning the online resources available, I was surprised at how few good Protestant resources there are that are readily available and give guidance on excommunication. In fact, I couldn’t find any apart from the odd blog post or church website. This is a problem, because it means that, when there is conflict in the church or in Christian communities, the “scripts” for dealing with it will come from the world, not from God. The effect of this lack of teaching and guidance will be that it is either never practiced or it is practiced too severely, or it is used as a justification or excuse to be vindictive toward someone whenever there has been some conflict or provocation, or simply a souring of relationships over time. I will focus here on the Biblical passages that teach excommunication. First we’ll look at some ways where Christian or biblical excommunication differs from online public shaming of our time.

  1. It is controlled. Christian excommunication is initiated, overseen and ended by an authority ( the elders and leaders of the church). It is not instigated by an emotional mob of revilers. It is authoritarian, not anarchic.
  2. It is community-specific. By this I mean it is an action or penalty imposed just by the relevant Christian community. It does not involve attempts at permanent reputation destruction, especially not beyond the community itself. For example, when Paul told the Corinthians to put an adulterer out of fellowship, he did not include in the penalty a directive to put notices all over the Corinthian marketplace, or every metropolitan center in the Mediterranean world, that “so-and-so is an adulterer. Don’t trust him around your wives.” (1 Corinthians 5:2) That is, of course, what you are doing when you put it on the internet. Putting it on the internet is worse than putting up notices all over the city that someone is guilty of something, because it is world wide. Christian excommunication should not include such attempts at reputation destruction. This is another reason why megachurches may not be biblical, because they make it very difficult to deal with issues like this as a community.
  3. It is compassionate. Christian excommunication begins with reprimands. It is not immediately put into effect after finding out that someone is guilty of something. It gives someone two to three chances to change their behaviour (Titus 3:10, Matthew 18:15). Second, excommunication ends with repentance. We are not told that the adulterer who was excommunicated at Corinth repented, but nevertheless, Paul writes to them in 2 Corinthians 2:7: “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm you love for him.” This is another reason why putting the information on the internet, or doing something that could reasonably be expected to cause that eventuality, is against Biblical excommunication, because it involves imposing a penalty that cannot be removed when the person has repented. One may claim that online public shaming can be justified through 1 Timothy 5:20: “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” First, Paul’s entire letter here is telling Timothy how to manage a church community. So the “all” here can reasonably be taken to be delimited by the church community ( i.e. “all in the church community.”). Second, it is quite clear I think that Paul does not mean “all” to mean everyone outside the church community as well as inside, because I don’t think he would be under any illusions that the non-Christian pagan community would “stand in fear” at the rebuke of a Christian community that had no cultural power or social influence outside itself. Also, he specifically says, in the passage about excommunication in 1 Corinthians 5:12: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” So I think we can confidently say that Paul meant here a rebuke before the church, not every single person. This would have the ridiculous implication that you are to travel to different parts of the world to rebuke the guilty party in front of everybody on earth. Third, a single verse should not be taken as support for a whole doctrine or practice, especially one as grave as this with severe consequences. Fourth, there was no online media in that time.
  4. It aims at redemption. Christian excommunication does not aim to punish the wrongdoer, but to discipline them. It is redemptive, not retributive:”…hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5). That is why the motive of the leaders and community should be benevolent. They should be motivated by the excommunicate’s advantage, not disadvantage. This can be seen from the fact that Paul says the appropriate response of the community to this sin within it is “mourning” (1 Corinthians 5:2) not anger and clamor. Therefore, Christian excommunication should not be a reason to revile the individual and certainly not gossiping and backbiting about them, and it should not be driven by emotion. In other words, just because we excommunicate someone doesn’t mean we should forget all the directives Paul gives about how to be gentle (Titus 3:2, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, James 3:17, Ephesians 4:2, 1 Timothy 3:3, Galatians 5:22) and how to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31). Also relevant is Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

What does Biblical Excommunication Involve?

First, it should be said that it is not crystal clear what social action the community has to take against the excommunicate from the Biblical passages that deal with it. The wording of “removing from your midst” in 1 Corinthians 5 doesn’t give much clue as to what was done to him, or how exactly he was removed. 2 Thessalonians 3:14 may help:

Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

The greek word for associate here can also mean to “mix with” or “keep company with.” 1 Corinthians 5 includes the exhortation not even to “eat” with believers who are clearly habitual sinners in some respects ( listed there). Similarly, in 2 John 1:10, we receive the following instruction which he presented as a response to Gnostic heresy that denied the Incarnation and the teaching of Christ:

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them.

Like the passage in Corinthians, this is a situation-specific injunction. This was advice to a particular household in a particular circumstance. I don’t believe, however, we should allow this verse to “cancel out” the rest of the New Testament’s teaching on the importance of hospitality (Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:14, Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9, Titus 1:8, 1 Timothy 5:10, Hebrews 13:2, Romans 12:20). And certainly, the rules about excommunication should not be taken to mean a refusal to care for someone who is in need, whether they are excommunicated or not. The event of excommunication should not be considered a reason to ignore the rest of the Bible’s moral teaching when dealing with the disciplined person. I think among the worst crimes and injustices that Christians commit in the name of God comes by focusing in on a particular verse or passage and ignoring the weight of Biblical moral teaching.

Titus 3:10 tells us:

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

The relevant Greek word here is paraitou which can also mean “reject” or “refuse.”

Another excommunication passage in Matthew 18:15 says:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The directive at the end here has caused confusion, since Jesus himself was kind to Gentiles and tax collectors. For example, Jesus ate with the tax collector Zacchaeus ( Luke 19:1) So did Jesus mean to recommend with approval the attitude of Jews at the time (who would have avoided the Gentiles and tax collectors and regarded them with contempt), even though he did not have this attitude himself? Did he have in mind his own attitude toward them or does he imagine a combination of his own attitude and those of the other Jews?

None of these passages gives a clear picture ( to me, at least) of what specific action excommunication is to involve. I think the directive in Matthew 18 at least means that someone no longer has your confidence as a fellow believer and that you do not trust them in contexts where this is relevant. For example, if they were involved in any way in the ministry of the church ( such as being a volunteer), they would no longer be involved in that. The passages in the epistles seem to indicate a social rejection and refusing social engagements ( not eating with them), not “associating”, “mixing” with them, though I don’t think this means completely breaking off contact. They will have to be able to make contact if they are to repent, so there should be lines of communication open. But to conclude this section, perhaps there is a reason it is left mysterious exactly what sort of action was taken or should be taken in such a case. The leadership of the individual church should decide what type of action is appropriate, whether a milder or more severe discipline is necessary, while doing it all in a way that concords with the rest of New Testament moral teaching, in a spirit of mourning and not of anger.

When Should Biblical Excommunication be Practiced?

There are many unanswered questions in the Bible about when and for which sins excommunication should be put into effect. We are told about some sins and heresies which are specifically given as reasons for excommunication or for a behavior that seems something like excommunication, like “don’t even eat with them” (1 Corinthians 5:11). However, we are not given an exhaustive list. Presumably, many people within a church has some sins they are struggling to overcome. So, when should excommunication be applied? We can perhaps draw the following lessons from the excommunication passage in 1 Corinthians 5, for additional guidance.

  • It is blatant and well-known. Paul clearly believes that the church and its leadership are well aware of this man’s sin because he scolds them for being spiritually arrogant even though they know about this unaddressed sin among them. There is a quality of shamelessness. This is perhaps why Paul believes this is so damaging to the moral and spiritual community there, because it is well known and unaddressed. People will start to think that it is acceptable or that if it is wrong, it is not a severe wrong. In this way, the fact that it is well known and unaddressed damages the consciences of the whole community.
  • It is severe. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” (1 Corinthians 5:1). This was a sin Paul regarded as especially bad. In general, if a church feels the need to practice excommunication regularly, my suspicion would be that there is something wrong in the leadership of that church. In 1 Peter 5:3, there’s an exhortation to church leadership: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples in the flock.”


It is important for people, and especially for Christian communities, to be careful what they put on the internet and to make more effort for information to stay within local communities. Moral wrongdoing is best dealt with locally, and those local communities can keep it within themselves, without needing to air their dirty laundry on the world wide web. The idea that you need to give information to journalists in order for something to be properly held accountable is a lie. Media companies, journalists and public opinion are not appropriate arbiters of moral justice.  Also, churches especially should know that it is the church community that is the locus of community accountability, not news media, online media or secular opinion.

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