David didn’t want Israel’s enemies to know when King Saul died, so we shouldn’t want the enemies of the Church informed when evils are committed within the church. So we shouldn’t mention these events in public, but in private.
Surely David knew that the Philistines, the enemies of Israel, would eventually find out about the death of the Israelite king. But he admonished his own people not to exult about it, even though Saul had been a bad king.
This Scripture has nothing to do with telling about shameful sins among the leaders of God’s people in public. After all, the prophets, John the Baptist, Paul, and even Jesus Christ Himself did this. If Christians refuse to acknowledge that shameful activities have taken place among their leaders, then those who don’t acknowledge Jesus Christ will think that all of us excuse the shameful activity.
Rather, the appropriate application of this Scripture would say that when leaders fall who have brought shame on the name of God (as Saul did), those who love God shouldn’t rejoice about their downfall. Rather, they should feel grief and speak of these things in redemptive ways that instruct the faithful and encourage the fallen to repent. To say that we mustn’t address the sin in our midst would be a little bit like telling pastors in the days of slavery that they shouldn’t preach against it, because people in their congregations held slaves.
Obviously the verse is taken out of context and misapplied. But there appears to be a larger problem here. When people quote this verse to us, it appears that they’re thinking that if we just don’t talk publicly about the sins in our midst, people outside our churches won’t know about them. But this is far from the case. People who have been victimized by sexual abuse, when they see their Christian organizations covering for perpetrators and shaming and blaming the victims, have often left Christianity altogether. They have spoken “in the world” -–that is, to non-Christians-—about their treatment at the hands of Christians.
Is it possible to then believe that the non-Christians should receive only silence from us because we’re afraid that they’ll gloat at the fall of a leader? This is absolutely wrong thinking.
We urge our brothers and sisters who love Jesus not to draw such a hard line between “us” and “them.” We are Light Shiners. We are Truth-and-Love Proclaimers. We are Water Givers. We want to do this for the oppressed and abused in our midst (and they are most definitely in our midst!) and for any who have withdrawn from Christianity, and for those who associate with the ones who have withdrawn. It’s by our words of Love and Truth, by the Light that we shine, by the Water of Life that we offer that souls will be won to Jesus and the wounded hearts will be bound up.