By Elizabeth Prata
Acts 6:10-14, the pivotal moment after Stephen delivered his sermon, says:
“they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.”
The bottom line was, they didn’t like the words he was speaking. The wisdom in Stephen’s words cut them to the core and they could not cope. Stephen challenged their stranglehold on the community, their status quo, their popularity, and their worldview. So they set about doing something about it. What did they do and how did they do it?
First, they “secretly induced men” to lie about what Stephen had said. Stephen’s opponents ‘secretly induced men’ to spread lies and rumors. These are known as whisper campaigns. The word campaign gives away the fact that these aren’t offhand gossips spreading haphazardly. They are pointed and deliberate campaigns of lies, designed to take someone down.
God hates slander, lies, hypocrisy in religion, and gossip. These men who enacted a whisper campaign are surely judged harshly now. Meanwhile, whisper campaigns are extremely effective. You can’t ever find a source. You can’t ever accuse someone with certainty because it’s all so ephemeral, and the stirring up activities can’t really be traced back to a solid source. Here is Wikipedia on whisper campaigns:
“A whispering campaign or whisper campaign is a method of persuasion in which damaging rumors or innuendo are spread about the target, while the source of the rumors seeks to avoid being detected while spreading them. For example, a political campaign might distribute anonymous flyers attacking the other candidate. It is generally considered unethical in open societies, particularly in matters of public policy. The speed and anonymity of communication made possible by modern technologies like the Internet has increased public awareness of whisper campaigns and their ability to succeed.”
Secondly, when the match of the whisper campaign was ignited, they followed up by ‘stirring up’ the people. You notice in Acts 19 Demetrius also stirred up a riot. People are easily led, fickle, and it’s easy to spark a riot. There are myriad ways to do it. Once emotions run high due to the lies of the whisper campaign, which had raised tensions and anger, it’s easy to stir people up further because they become unthinking, unreasoning animals instead of thoughtful reasonable men.
Third, they obtained false witnesses to say what they wanted said. People all have agendas. With Christians, our only agenda is (or should be) the glory of Christ. With pagans and heathens and liars, their agenda could be anything, but it all boils down to one thing: greed. Bad men are greedy- for money, for personal comfort, for status, they want something and they will do anything to get it. Given the number of times in the Bible false witnesses are brought forward, (See: Jesus’ trial) false witnesses can be found quite easily. Tantalize a greedy man with what he wants and he will even make a deal with the devil. See: Judas.
Fourth: their lies were aimed at the status quo. They twisted what Stephen had said, and they claimed he was going to tear down their customs. Whisper campaigns are hard to defeat not only because tracing to the source is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall, but because they always pair something truthful with the lie. They twist something someone actually said, which makes it harder to sort out. Why? Because unreasoning animals in a rush of a herd riot won’t listen. People get agitated thinking that what they have always known will be gone and something new and thus unpredictable will replace it. At some point they don’t care that it’s only half-true.
And they were off and running. These methods were used throughout the Bible and have been used successfully ever since. Another thing to note is the obvious: people who stir up riots or enact whisper campaigns or induce men to lie in court are unethical. They ignore all the rules of morals and ethics in order to achieve their end goal. It usually surprises ethical people that satan’s allies will go to these lengths to get what they want, hurting many in the process, but they do. They do it without a second thought, easily, with impunity, and some even do so gleefully. It’s shocking, but it is always so. Don’t underestimate the ends to which bad men will go to achieve their dastardly ends.
Its frustrating in the extreme to watch it happen. It is agonizing when it’s happening to you. The most that Christians can do is rely on the Providence of God and His perfect plan. We maintain purity in thought and attitude, never resorting to their tactics. We trust that the Advocate will adjudicate for us in His court and we will be left standing in purity on the Last Day. Stephen was so trusting of Jesus that as he died his face shone with God’s glory coursing through Him. May we all reflect His glory outwardly as we face darkness, lies, slander, and whispering campaigns.
On the last day, every careless word will be addressed and the person uttering them will be held accountable. Let our own tongues withstand the temptation to whisper back, and only loudly proclaim the holiness and purity of our Savior Jesus Christ.