A Yardstick for Slander By Paul Swamidass - CLA (2023)

A Yardstick for Slander By Paul Swamidass - CLA (1)

The Biblical Yardstick for Slander

A Biblical yardstick is needed for slander otherwise it destroys trust within organizations. It causes the members of an organization become wary of each other. It harshly cuts down its victim. And finally, the Bible says, slander is ungodly sin, again and again. If not controlled in Christian organizations, it may eventually weaken or end the ministry altogether.

No wonder, the Bible has several explicit warnings about this sin:

“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? …The one whose walk is blameless…whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others.” (Psalm 15:3)

Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees.” (Psalm 119:23)

For out of heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:19-20)

Get rid ofall bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)

King David was a victim of it, and this is what we learn from him about it:

  • Several Psalms bear witness to the pain he endured (Psalm 41:6; 54:5; 119.23).
  • David recognizes that rulers, or those in authority, when they get together, may indulge in slander. (Psalm 119:23)
  • He records that it is an act perpetrated by one’s enemies and, once they begin to slander, they do not cease from it (Psalm 35:15).

United States Law

United States (US) law on defamation (including slander) may confuse Christians. Unlike the Bible, US law defines slander/defamation in the context of truth and untruth. If slanderous words are true, it does not come under the legal definition of slander/defamation. According to Emily Doskow, an Attorney[1],

“’Defamation’ is the catch-all term for any statement that hurts someone’s reputation [emphasis added]. Written defamation is called ‘libel,’ and spoken defamation is called, ‘slander.’” Further, she says, “A defamatory statement must be false—otherwise it’s not considered damaging. Even terribly mean or disparaging things are not defamatory if the shoe fits. Most opinions don’t count as defamation [i.e. slander] because they can’t be proved to be objectively false. For instance, when a reviewer says, “That was the worst book I’ve read all year,” she’s not defaming the author, because the statement can’t be proven to be false [emphasis added].”

Once slander/defamation based on untrue statements is established, US law allows for damages to be recovered from the slanderer/defamer through the courts system.

In the above legal definition, carefully note the exceptions such as: “statements can’t be proven to be false.”

In contrast, the Bible has numerous passages prohibiting slander outright, without exceptions, whatsoever. Any derogatory statement, true or untrue, to diminish and/or harm another person, intentionally or unintentionally, could be considered slander according to the Bible.

Consider this verse:

“Therefore, rid yourselvesof all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2:1)

“Slander of every kind” is an exceptions-free definition of slander in the Bible—it is much broader than the narrow legal definition for defamation/slander limited to only untrue statements.

The Biblical Yardstick

We are surrounded by a culture of slander magnified by the media and now, the social media. There is little to stop this corrosive culture from seeping unhindered into churches and Christian organizations. However, clear teaching and explicit policies of Christian organizations against Biblical slander could help prevent unintended slander and/or slander born out of ignorance.

Given the conflicting definitions under US law and in the Bible, Christian organizations will be wise to adopt short and simple guidelines that set a superior, Bible-based, yardstick for slander. Here is a sample:

A sample policy:

We teach and practice that “all forms of slander” with or without malice is prohibited in the Bible as exemplified in 1 Peter 2:1. Further, in order to remove any confusion, we explicitly state that, even the legally defensible slander/defamation “based on facts” or “that which cannot be proven to be false,” are prohibited in the Bible.

I was once asked by a Christian leader,

“Is it slander, when our ‘fact-finding’ committee of our Christian organization invited a witness to describe in detail his complaint concerning an absent Christian’s alleged misconduct that was unknown to others?”

According to the above sample policy,

“Yes, the Bible would consider it slander.”

What did Jesus teach us?

“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” (Matt 18: 15; NIV).

In the above verse, the words of Jesus, “just between the two of you,” is the blessed initial step for killing slander before it can take root.

We have two choices, legal or Biblical; choose the Biblical yardstick, slander is slander, no ifs or buts.



The author is grateful to a retired judge and a sitting judge, both Christians, who read an earlier draft of this blog and concurred on the matters concerning US law. However, any errors concerning US law that remain in this blog are entirely the responsibility of the author. This blog is not a legal document or legal advice. Consult an attorney, if a specific or general legal opinion or guidance is needed. The goal of this blog is to alert Christian leaders to the stringent expectations of the Bible concerning slander, and it is unwise to bend the Biblical yardstick for slander using US law.


[1] http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/defamation-law-made-simple-29718.html April 30, 2016.

Paul Swamidass, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus, Harbert College of Business, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA. He retired from Auburn University in 2016 after teaching there for 24 years. He was an industrial manager with an engineering degree before graduate education in business administration and a university career as a faculty member lasting 33 years.

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A Yardstick for Slander By Paul Swamidass - CLA (2)

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What is the biblical meaning of slander? ›

Slander is the sharing of speculation and hearsay about someone that results in a negative depiction of another person and a decline in their reputation. This can result in broken friendships, divided families, and fractures among a local church.

What is the true meaning of slander? ›

Slander is communicated verbally with the intent to defame the subject of the statements. Put simply, slander is a legal term used to describe defamation or the act of harming a person or business's reputation by telling one or more people something that is untrue and damaging about them.

What does the Bible say about gossiping? ›

On the one hand, Scripture speaks strongly against gossip. Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20 – Both differentiate gossip from slander and condemn it as the result of a depraved mind, unfitting for Christians. 1 Timothy 5:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:11 – Both condemn “busybodies” who “speak about things not proper to mention.”

What are the two types of slander? ›

Slander, like libel, is divided into two categories: slander and slander per se. Slander per se is the spoken word version of libel per se—a false statement that is so obviously harmful that damage to a plaintiff's reputation is presumed.

What are the 5 elements of slander? ›

In order to prove a libel or slander claim, the employee must prove: (1) false communication; (2) unprivileged statement of fact (not opinion); (3) it was made about the plaintiff; (4) published to a third party; and (5) caused damage to the plaintiff.

What causes slander? ›

To prove prima facie defamation, a plaintiff must show four things: 1) a false statement purporting to be fact; 2) publication or communication of that statement to a third person; 3) fault amounting to at least negligence; and 4) damages, or some harm caused to the reputation of the person or entity who is the subject ...

Why is slander important? ›

Libel and slander laws were created to offer legal recourse for someone whose name is essentially being unjustly dragged through the mud, not just to protect someone's reputation.

What is the difference between slander and gossip? ›

Both refer to how we judge someone and what we say behind their backs. However, 'gossip' is not something serious and it is just spreading some information about someone, but 'slander' is used when someone intentionally wants to ruin another person's reputation.

What is the root of gossip? ›

The word is from Old English godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for the godparents of one's child or the parents of one's godchild, generally very close friends. In the 16th century, the word assumed the meaning of a person, mostly a woman, one who delights in idle talk, a newsmonger, a tattler.

What are the evil effects of gossip? ›

Negative gossip erodes trust. Those who engage in the practice are likely to wonder if the group members are gossiping about them behind their backs. And it's expected that the person who is its target will find out about it and will probably never be able to trust their colleagues again.

Is it slander if no names are mentioned? ›

Elements of Defamation

For statement to be considered defamation, it must be about the plaintiff. Even if the statement does not mention him or her by name, it can be actionable on grounds of defamation if a reasonable person would understand the communication as referring to the plaintiff.

What is the punishment for slander? ›

A person will not go to jail. However, it is a “tort” or civil wrong. This means that if a person/organization makes defamatory statements, the person affected may seek compensation for their damages as a result of the defamation, through a personal injury lawsuit.

What are the 3 elements of defamation? ›

Any person can sue for defamation. As discussed earlier, the principle elements of the cause of action are: (1) the communication has been published to a third person; (2) the communication identifies (or is about) that person; and (3) the communication is defamatory.

How do you deal with someone slandering you? ›

If you're confident that you are indeed dealing with an instance of online defamation, there are several steps you can take to remedy the situation.
  1. Do Nothing. ...
  2. Collect Evidence. ...
  3. Get a Lawyer. ...
  4. Send a Cease and Desist Letter. ...
  5. Publish Your Own Statement. ...
  6. Sue for Defamation.

What can you do if someone is slandering you? ›

Remedies in slander cases

If someone has slandered you, you can claim damages and other remedies from them. If you issue proceedings, the court can order your opponent to pay damages to you, and impose an injunction, which could mean your opponent is sent to prison if they repeat the slander again in future.

How hard is it to prove slander? ›

It can be difficult to win a slander lawsuit because you must prove you were damaged by a spoken statement. Proving injury can be more difficult than in a libel claim, which is the type of lawsuit you would file if you were slandered in writing.

What is the best defense against slander? ›

The most common defenses to defamation are: 1) truth; 2) consent; 3) privilege; and 4) the statute of limitations. Perhaps the most distinct aspect of the defamation cause of action is that falsity is required. In other words, the statement publicized about the plaintiff must be false in order to prove defamation.

What are the four pillars of defamation? ›

What do you know about the four pillars of defamation?
  • Untrue. The first pillar of defamation is the written or spoken statement must be untrue. ...
  • Published. ...
  • Unprivileged. ...
  • Injurious.
Sep 2, 2021

What's the difference between slander and defamation? ›

Libel and slander are both types of defamation. Libel is an untrue defamatory statement that is made in writing. Slander is an untrue defamatory statement that is spoken orally. The difference between defamation and slander is that a defamatory statement can be made in any medium.

Can you still sue someone for slander? ›

In order to successfully sue someone for slander, you must prove: The defendant made a verbal statement to at least one other party. The verbal statement was a false statement of fact. The defendant knew the statement was false or acted improperly in determining whether the statement was true or not.

What are examples of slander? ›

The most common examples of slander per se are:
  • Accusing the plaintiff of criminal actions.
  • Stating that the plaintiff has certain infectious diseases.
  • Making harmful statements about the plaintiff's business or occupation.
Jan 1, 2023

Is slander a crime? ›

However, slander is a civil wrong (tort). Therefore, a slanderer will be held liable for their actions, and the victim will have the right to take legal action against them and gain compensation for any losses.

Is slander freedom of speech? ›

Defamation has always acted as a limit on both the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of the press. There is no such thing as a false opinion or idea – however, there can be a false fact, and these are not protected under the First Amendment.

Is slander a lie? ›

Webster's Dictionary defines slander as “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another's reputation.” Basically, slander is spoken – a lie or damaging comment told to someone about a third party.

Does slander have to be spoken? ›

Though many people use 'slander' and 'libel' interchangeably, the words have distinct meanings—libel is written, while slander is spoken.

Is defamation worse than slander? ›

Libel and slander are types of defamatory statements. Libel is a defamatory statement that is written. Slander is a defamatory statement that is oral. At common law, libel and slander were analyzed under different sets of standards, with libel recognized as the more serious wrong.

What is malicious gossip? ›

Definitions of malicious gossip. disgraceful gossip about the private lives of other people. synonyms: dirt, scandal. type of: comment, gossip, scuttlebutt. a report (often malicious) about the behavior of other people.

Is slander a form of harassment? ›

In many cases, the harassment remains verbal. However, as long as the victim faces disruption to their ability to work safely, any action could fall under the category of harassment. Needless to say, rumors and slander attack the reputation of an individual and can make it difficult or even impossible to work safely.

What does gossiping say about a person? ›

Gossip typically centers on the negative aspects of a person's personal appearance, personal achievements, or personal behaviors. A less benign form of gossip is when people discuss information about celebrities or other people highlighted in tabloids or social media.

What do you call a person who always gossip? ›

blabbermouth, talebearer, taleteller, tattler, tattletale, telltale. someone who gossips indiscreetly.

How do I shut down gossip? ›

If someone comes to you with some kind of gossip or rumor or toxic talk, a very simple, “I have absolutely no opinion about that at all,” is an easy way to stop the conversation in it's tracks. It's a refusal to engage. Boom, done, that's it. And don't respond otherwise.

What is the biggest cause of gossip? ›

The root cause of gossip is almost always, without fail, jealousy. The more successful you are, the more attractive, the more kind, the more self-assured, the more people will gossip. They do it to try and bring you down.

Is gossip a mental health issue? ›

Gossiping can also bring on exhaustion, anxiety, or depression. Experts also warn that gossiping can cause long-term physical and mental issues like panic attacks, guilt, and in extreme cases, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Is gossiping toxic behavior? ›

Think Before You Speak. Gossiping is a toxic behavior that breeds distrust and bitterness, so steer clear and avoid it. Before you share a hurtful story or critical thoughts, ask yourself why you are sharing these things with this particular person.

What is the difference between gossip and slander? ›

Both refer to how we judge someone and what we say behind their backs. However, 'gossip' is not something serious and it is just spreading some information about someone, but 'slander' is used when someone intentionally wants to ruin another person's reputation.

Is slander a mortal sin? ›

A serious, grave or mortal sin is the knowing and willful violation of God's law in a serious matter, for example, idolatry, adultery, murder, slander. These are all things gravely contrary to the love we owe God and, because of Him, our neighbor.

What is the meaning of slandering and backbiting? ›

Backbiting is to make mention of something in your brother that he in fact possesses. Imputation is to mention what has reached you about him. Slander is to say of him what is not in him.

How do you win a slander case? ›

In order to be successful in a defamation lawsuit, you must prove: The defendant made a false statement of fact. It must be objectively untrue and it must be presented as a fact rather than as an opinion. The statement was communicated to a third party.

How do you deal with someone who gossips about you? ›

Here are three things to do when someone else is gossiping about you.
  1. Don't listen if you can't act. I adopted an ethic years ago that I always use to set a boundary with those who want to pass along information about another person. ...
  2. Address the right issue first. ...
  3. Discuss the process problem.
Aug 26, 2022

Is it slander if you are telling the truth? ›

Only false statements of fact can be defamatory. Even terribly mean or disparaging statements aren't defamatory if they are true.

Why is slander not protected? ›

When in written form it is often called 'libel'. Defamation has always acted as a limit on both the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of the press. There is no such thing as a false opinion or idea – however, there can be a false fact, and these are not protected under the First Amendment.

How is slander punished? ›

Understanding slander

A person will not go to jail. However, it is a “tort” or civil wrong. This means that if a person/organization makes defamatory statements, the person affected may seek compensation for their damages as a result of the defamation, through a personal injury lawsuit.

What to do if someone slanders you? ›

Gather evidence to prove defamation. File a slander case against the defendant's insurer or in civil court, whichever is necessary. Serve as your legal representation in court. Demand a public apology from the guilty party.

What are the 4 mortal sins? ›

These sins are vices and are defined as contrary to the Christian virtues of holiness. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth (acedia).

What is a person who backbites called? ›

backbiters. Definitions of backbiter. one who attacks the reputation of another by slander or libel. synonyms: defamer, libeler, maligner, slanderer, traducer, vilifier. type of: depreciator, detractor, disparager, knocker.

What did the Prophet say about backbiting? ›

O Aba Dharr, be away from backbiting, for backbiting is worse than fornication, I said: And why that, O Messenger of Allah? He said: “Because a man commits adultery, and he repents to God, then God repents for him, while backbiting is not forgiven until his companion forgives it.

How do you stop someone from backbiting? ›

3-Step Guide to Avoid Backbiting at Work
  1. Set a zero-tolerance policy of gossiping, bullying, or offensive language. ...
  2. Enforce your zero-tolerance policy. ...
  3. Allow employees (not just managers) to resolve conflict.

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