In Defense of Defending Friends
Someone once asked Dr. Hyles, “What should I do when a friend is accused?”
Dr. Hyles’ response was, “Defend your friend.”
They went on to ask, “What about if I feel that the accusation is true?”
Dr. Hyles said, “Defend your friend.”
This person went on to ask, How can I defend my friend if I think they may be wrong?”
Dr. Hyles replied, “I always assume the innocence of a friend. I assume my friend did nothing wrong until it is proven otherwise.”
“So how do you handle it in the interim?” They asked.
Dr. Hyles said, “By letting my friend know that I am assuming their innocence, and that I do not believe that he would do anything such as this. I will ask why he thinks someone is saying these things. Inevitably,” he said, “they will either tell me the truth or ask me to help them arrive at a solution.”
When someone is accused they want a person in their corner who doesn’t believe the worst. A friend assumes innocence and then asks questions based upon the assumption of innocence. If the law assumes innocence until guilt is proved then why shouldn't Christians? As long as I knew him, Dr. Hyles continually handled situations in this manner. He always gave the benefit of the doubt.
Recently I was accused of handing a situation in a manner of which I was totally innocent. I was accused of taking a church to court, which of course I did not do. Some attacked me, but not one personally spoke to me about it. Some assumed it to be true. Someone very near and dear to my heart called and rebuked me, assuming my guilt. They did not ask if what they heard was true. They assumed it was.
Later I discovered that there was a misunderstanding created by a third party about which I knew nothing. Unfortunately, some had already assumed my guilt without ever asking me. People posted untruths on the Internet and said there was proof, but I knew nothing about it. They assumed the worst of me. They did not look at the over four decades of faithful service and assume my innocence. Instead, they deemed me guilty. Friends who defended me were attacked because there was so-called “proof.” I knew nothing about it, so my friends knew nothing about it.
Finally, on a public forum, someone told me that I had been misrepresented. I was able to correct it immediately. But, why did it take so long for someone to assume my innocence and ask me a question so the misunderstanding could be resolved? I don't understand. Well, I guess I do understand. We love to believe the worst about people, even people who we claim to love and respect.
A simple question of "Is this true?" could prevent a lot of needless speculation and hurt. When you say to someone "Why are you doing this?" there is NO open door for a sane conversation about what you think happened. Perception may not be reality and many can be hurt by pontificating perception.
Here is a step-by-step process that will help you avoid a lot of conflict. These are the principles taught to me by Dr. Hyles.
1. When someone is accused to you immediately assume their innocence. When my friend, Dr. Hyles, many years ago was accused by Evangelist Robert Sumner, I immediately assumed Brother Hyles’ innocence. It is a shame that those who are supposed to know the Scriptures do not respond scripturally. Matthew chapter 18 makes it clear the progression of events in order to arrive at a scriptural conclusion.
I, along with two other men of God, confronted Robert Sumner in his office. We asked for those witnesses and for proof against Brother Hyles. None was offered, but in extreme bitterness he raised his voice to me and said, “I will shut down Pastors’ School and your Soul Winning Clinic when I’m through.”
Many times over the years I have people deal with me in a manner which was not scriptural. Not one incident was handled scripturally. When an elder or layman is not allowed to “respond” treachery awaits, as an injustice on one is an injustice on all. It is always scriptural to assume innocence.
2. There should be two or three witnesses before you entertain the accusation. Uh, this is scriptural. It is amazing how we do not care about that. By the way, a witness is not someone who heard something second or third hand. First of all, no one should ever be accused without two or three witnesses. Even the accused is allowed to answer. Strange, but in the Old Testament the party put on trial were the “accusers” not the “accused.” It is best to assume innocence. Someone's good name can be ruined in a matter of seconds when the accused does not have his day in court. There are always THREE sides to every story. Yours, theirs, and the truth!
3. If someone provides some proof, continue to assume their innocence until the person is proven to be guilty. Assume that there must be extenuating circumstances. Assume there could be something wrong with the information. Let the person be innocent until proven guilty. While working for Dr. Hyles, dozens of accusations arose where we later discovered there was vendata at play. Brother Hyles was wise enough to patiently look into situations without jumping to so-called logical decisions. Logical decision-making may not be Biblical decision-making.
4. If the accusation appears serious, say something to them. Something like, “I respect and admire you. I know you have always tried to do the right thing. Someone has said that you have taken an action that they feel is unscriptural. I want you to know that I am defending you to these people. Is there anything that I can do to help you?” The dialogue is then open. It is far better to assume this position than to be on the attack and defeat the opportunity to defend.
5. Do not talk about this to anyone else. I cannot tell you how many people last year talked about something of which I was totally unaware, but did not talk to me. There were preacher friends of mine who said they had seen proof, yet who did not take the time to tell or ask me about it. By assuming my innocence this could have been corrected sooner. I am old enough in my ministry to move on, but some who are much younger could be deeply damaged by not assuming innocence. I am accustomed to betrayal, but some cannot handle it or respond properly. Give everyone an opportunity by not talking to anyone else, except the person involved.
6. Do not assume that those who were talking talk about it publicly have good motives. How can you tell whether someone is accusing with the right motive? Let me give you a hint. If they talked about it publicly, their motives are suspect. That is simple enough. If they are out and out accusing, then they do not have good motives. I have had friends throughout these many years who read or heard accusations and never called me.
7. Mind your own business and let the situation run its course. Do not assume that you need to stick your nose into a questionable situation. One preacher said to one of my friends who recently defended me with an issue that hit the Internet, “Keep your nose out of it, it is a church issue.” That is astounding, because what was his nose doing listening to church members in the first place? Do yourself a favor and always keep your nose out of it.
8. Do not attack a friend. You might learn something from a recent situation in my ministry. Be a friend to your friends. I now know who my friends are. My friends are the ones who contact me assuming my innocence. They are those who want to know the truth. By the way, in this recent situation, the minute I found out that I had been misrepresented by a third party, I contacted the friends who defended me to inform them. Not one of them regretted defending me. In fact they said, “Dr. Gray, I defended you because I believe in you and I knew there had to be something more to this situation.” Obviously there was, and because they assumed the best about me they showed their friendship.
9. Fight the tendency to believe the worst. Why are we so quick to accept the worst about others? Why do we want to believe accusations against others? Why do we not defend our friends? If there was anything about Dr. Hyles that was consistent above all else, it was his friendship. He paid a price for defending his friends which is one reason why he had so many friends defend him when he was falsely accused. I never went to Dr. Hyles and said, “Dr. Hyles, I need to know if the accusations against you are true.” I went to him and said, “You are my friend and you have been my friend through the worst of times. I am your friend and I believe in you.”
10. Never forget the one who sticketh closer than a brother. By the way, there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. That is the friend who not only does not assume the worst about us, but, when the worst is true, still cares about us enough not to want to hurt us. Had every accusation against Dr. Hyles been true, I would like to think that he would have had a friend in Bob Gray, Sr. who would not have forsaken him. I question the kind of friendship that forsakes a friend when there is an accusation even if it is true. What kind of friend is that?
Satan often comes before God and accuses me. Sad to say, sometimes the accusations are true. However, never once does my Heavenly Father accept those accusations against me because He has all already made me righteous in Christ. He has already proven His faithfulness. Oh that we would be more evenhanded in the way we deal with accusations against those we claim as friends.