In an earlier article I expressed my heart-felt opinion that “the Lord’s anointed” was a much larger group than just the Prophet or the Church’s General Authorities, but at least includes those who have been anointed in the temple. I also advocated that we consider “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed” as a serious sin and the breaking of our covenants.
In the Law of the Church (D&C 42) the Lord commanded, “Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor, nor do him any harm” (verse 27).
The commandment to us is clear, but what do we do when someone else speaks evil of others in our presence? This often puts us in an awkward position. Do we nod in agreement to “keep the peace”? Do we speak up against the wrongdoer and chance creating contention or picking a fight? Do we stay silent and just choose not to participate in the hurtful remarks?
I have some suggestions born of having made all of these mistakes myself.
Don’t remain silent. Whether the conversation is just between the two of you or is in a group, don’t go quiet. In this situation silence is not golden, it’s agreement. When we don’t speak up, we show our support for the person doing the badmouthing. In a way, it’s like not saying anything when someone is being bullied. If you don’t help, you’re complicit.
Don’t get bogged down in defining for yourself whether the remarks are true. The degree of truthfulness is not the issue. Nothing is as vicious as the truth used with malice. The issue is, are the remarks helpful or hurtful? Are the comments one hundred percent respectful with the intent to help, not hurt? Or, do they fall into the category of censure, severe judgment and faultfinding? The latter category is surely evil speaking.
When deciding what to do, ask yourself, “What do I really want?”
There are at least three good options depending on the following desired outcomes.
1.Do I primarily want to stop the evil speaking?
2.Do I want to deeply understand the thoughts and feelings behind the speaker’s comments?
3.Do I want to help the speaker problem-solve the issue?
First, offer a prayer asking what the Lord would have you do. If you can obtain inspiration, follow it with courage. If you’re not exactly sure, conduct yourself in a way that invites the Spirit.
In some situations, the best thing to do is stop the attack. Be loyal to the person being verbally assaulted. Some of the things you could say include:
“I’m a friend of Mary and I’ve found her to be caring and thoughtful.”
“I’m sure her intention was not to offend.”
“Could this be a misunderstanding”?
You could also address the situation as follows:
“It doesn’t feel right to talk about Mary without her present.”
“Before we continue, I’d like to get Mary’s perspective.”
Sometimes the best approach is to deeply understand the speaker’s feelings and view.
It could be the remarks are emotionally charged because of some underlying personal issue, and the speaker’s intent is not to personally attack others. It could be that empathy and listening would be most helpful. The danger with this approach is you don’t want to add an accelerant to the fire, nor be seen as joining in the evil speaking. Rather, you want to understand his or her experience. You want to understand how he or she is seeing things. Start with broad questions:
“What are you thinking?”
“How do you feel about it?”
Don’t editorialize. Don’t lecture. Listen.
This can often help the evil speaker think through his or her experience and understand his or her feelings. It often gives you a better understanding of him or her and how to be of help. Don’t give the impression that you are agreeing with the evil speaking, but do make sure the speaker knows you care about him or her.
It may be that the speaker is stuck in a blaming reactive mode and the best way to handle the situation is to help him or her problem-solve. Some possibilities include:
“Have you talked to Mary about this? Does she know how you feel?”
“Do you have the whole picture? Have you talked to the people involved?”
“Let’s think this through. Why would Mary do that?”
“Could she have misunderstood?”
“Does she have all the information? Do you think she was just having a bad day?”
“Have you prayed about this? Have you studied it out?”
“Is there someone we could talk to who has expertise we can trust?”
Often, as we help someone engage in a proactive process that engages the mind, the person can escape circular, negative self-talk and come up with a helpful course forward.
Consider a real example. I’ve changed the names, but the story is true. Kevin was concerned about his older sister, Lisa. She no longer attended Church meetings and didn’t have any close friends who were LDS.
Kevin paid her a surprise visit and after a fun evening of pizza and a movie, they talked.
He asked her how she felt about the Church. She began by vaguely describing her disinterest, but then opened up about her concerns, lambasting Church leaders.
He asked her about her personal experiences with the problem and she described it as a general feeling rather than any specific offense.
He shared a touching story from his mission that illustrated a different perspective on the topic.
He then asked her if she would go with him to the Institute of Religion adjacent to the university to attend a fireside. He told her he thought she would really like the speaker. She said, “Why not?”
The speaker was a faculty member who Kevin admired. The topic had nothing to do with Lisa’s concerns but the talk was uplifting and the Spirit was strong. Kevin asked Lisa if she would be willing to have a sit-down with the fireside speaker and let him respond to her concerns about the Church.
They had an enlightening first meeting and then over the next month, several more.
Kevin tracked down Lisa’s ward and Bishop and took her to a few activities.
Over the next few months Lisa got reacquainted with the Church and the Spirit and returned to full activity.
Kevin’s heart had been bruised when he heard Lisa speak evil of the Lord’s anointed. She hadn’t just shared her feelings; she judged and accused the Church leaders of having evil intent and action.
Kevin’s response was not to go silent and write her off in his heart. He did not respond with anger and chastisement. He listened. He tried to understand. But he didn’t leave it there; he also shared his view and experience, which differed greatly from hers. He then engaged in problem-solving by proposing a path forward to access someone with expertise and try to invite the Spirit into her life.
The act of standing up for the Church and your beliefs in the face of evil speaking requires courage, but the best way is not to stand on a chair and “call the sinner to repentance,” nor to go silent and cause others to wonder if you agree.
Seek the Spirit and speak up; keeping in mind that sometimes the best way to speak up begins with listening.