Written by 11:30 pm Blog • One Comment

Should We Call Out People in Public?

I don’t often do this, but here’s the tl;dr answer: occasionally and far less than we see happening.

Now, if you’re here for the nuance, let’s carry on. I’m painting a huge bullseye on my back by addressing this. Not for any particular reason, except this. I have over 2500 Facebook friends, and at any given moment and handful of them are airing a grievance into the public social media sphere. If you see this, the answer is no. No, I am not responding to your post. I do not have you in mind.

My focus isn’t so singular. Instead, I have all of us in mind. Especially us who profess to be Christians.

Look, I’m nobody important, so you can dismiss my ramblings on this if you like. However, I’m not offering an opinion piece on this subject. I’m a nobody declaring what the LORD has said on this matter. Here’s a fair question. Am I guilty of the very thing that I’m criticizing by writing this public article that calls out people who call people out publicly? I suppose, but I’m not claiming a moral high ground and I’m not interested in pointing out specific people, but instead, call all of us to something better.

Big Picture/Broad Brush Stuff

Conflict is part of the human condition. We are fallen from our Creator and in the absence of that life-giving and life-sustaining connection, we are doomed to trust our own resources for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Usually, that comes at the expense of someone else’s life, liberty, and happiness. Left to ourselves, we only know selfishness. I’m not saying every act of human beings is utterly selfish. Because we’re imagers of God, we’re actually capable of incredible acts of kindness and compassion. But, those acts of kindness and compassion happen mainly when the threat to our own happiness is low. Also, depending on your culture, altruism might be valued by your community in a way that actually turns selfless acts into veiled acts of self-preservation. You do selfless things to maintain a reputation, which is a kind of self-centered selflessness. Manipulation is the game, and if being on top requires some altruism, then we do those selfless things that help us get to the top and stay there. It looks like you’re all about other people, but the manipulation is that you’re actually more concerned with preserving an image that serves your own goals and initiatives.

Don’t feel triggered by any of that. That’s the human condition. We’re all in that together to varying degrees. Humanity is on a brokenness spectrum, and we all find ourselves on it somewhere.

This separation from God is what necessitated Christ’s first coming, death, and resurrection. When Jesus Christ was resurrected, He began a new humanity. This new humanity doesn’t look all that different on the outside. If you line up a dozen random individuals, you wouldn’t be able to pick out the new humans from the old ones. That’s because the new humans are renewed on the inside first. Eventually, we get new outsides, but that’s for another article. The inner person is reborn. People who experience this rebirth are given new life from the LORD and can enjoy that life-giving, life-sustaining connection with our Creator once again. They no longer must rely on their own intuition and understanding for how to pursue life, liberty, and happiness because they receive all of those things freely in Christ. If you already have it, why would you ever need to step on or rob someone else’s?

Particular Stuff

What does the Bible have to say about conflict resolution? It’s rather simple. If you are the offender, do this.

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
– Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

If you are the offended, do this.

15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
– Matthew 18:15 (ESV)

I hope it’s plain. Whether you are the offender or the offended, you have a responsibility to seek reconciliation. But notice – it’s done privately. Both scenarios are two individuals working it out with one goal: reconciliation. By the way, reconciliation isn’t building things back the way they were. The way things were is what created the circumstances for the offense to happen. Reconciliation is making it new. It’s relationship 2.0. You’re not back to business as usual. You’re back to something better than it was.

Now, clearly, one-on-one doesn’t always bear the fruit we hope for. So, Matthew 18 has more instructions for us.

16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
-Matthew 18:16-17 (ESV)

Jesus gave us a clear path to walk when someone refuses to repent from a sin they’ve committed. That path has a few stops. When a one-on-one talk fails, meet again and bring a couple of others with you. Why? So that there won’t be a bunch of he-said-she-said. So that there are witnesses to what is done and said. If that fails, you bring it to the church. Now in this step, Jesus isn’t saying tell everyone in the church. He means bring it to the pastors and elders of your church. Then if there’s no repentance after that step, the pastors inform the church body that they are expelled from fellowship.

The public aspect of this whole process is at the end, after many private attempts at reconciliation have happened. And by the way, this is the baseline model. You don’t have to speed through these steps, giving each one a single attempt. Have a few one-on-one attempts. Have a few attempts at each stop in the process. Don’t rush to disfellowship and public shame.

Be At Peace

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
-Romans 12:18 (ESV)

Here lies the answer when things don’t go as hoped. When you are faithful to do what has been commanded, be at peace. Don’t let it eat your lunch when reconciliation is elusive. If you have a clear conscience before the LORD that you’ve done all that He commanded us to do and that you’ve given reconciliation a more than fair shot, be at peace. This is the part to which many want to fast-forward. Can we just get to the part where I’ve forgiven them but don’t have to be friends? Clearly, there are some offenses that make reconciliation nearly impossible on this side of heaven. I would never counsel a person to rebuild that relationship with the person who once abused them. But in most cases, it’s more about not wanting to love harder-to-love people.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Well, we’re commanded to make time for that. But, there does come a day where after many attempts, and a long-suffering heart for reconciliation, a line should be drawn. But contrary to popular psychology, that line isn’t for you. It’s for them. Paul calls it handing them over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh. That line is there to say, that until there’s repentance, this relationship isn’t moving forward. You draw the line and be at peace that you did everything you could to not draw it.

Does Anything Qualify for Public Rebuke?

Yes. Paul didn’t have Facebook, but he wasn’t shy to do a public rebuke.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
– Galatians 2:11-12 (ESV)

The nature of Cephas (Peter’s) sin was public and it caused the Gentile believers to stumble. So Paul called him out in front of everyone. Here’s another.

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
– 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (ESV)

A sin was tolerated in the Corinthian church that would cause even the lost in their community to stumble. Do you see the pattern? Sins that are committed in the public eye which cause many to stumble qualify for a public rebuke. So, rather than putting someone on blast as the first, second, or third response to an offense, consider if that thing you feel wronged over qualifies biblically. Did you go through all the steps above? Have you been generous in your efforts to reconcile? Is the severity of the offense something that could cause many to stumble away from Christ?

What Shall We Do?

Walk in long-suffering patience and love for people. Remember the patience and kindness that the LORD extends to you every day. Remember how often you have needed grace from the LORD and from others. Honestly put yourself in the the shoes of the person you want to humiliate. Walk through the steps that Jesus gave us, and do it with compassion and endurance.

Do I do this perfectly? Of course not. None of us do. But, if we are being renewed by the Word and led by the Spirit, this will be something that steadily improves. Public call-outs are at the end of a lengthy process of reconciliation attempts. And honestly, not best done on Facebook, but in real life within the circles of friends and family who are affected.

Do all that you can to reconcile, break fellowship only if you must, and only make it public if it’s harming the name of Christ in the larger community.

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Last modified: October 20, 2023