What Mo Farah can teach us about entertaining accusations based on inference

Mo Farah’s Wikipedia entry reads thusly:

He is the most decorated athlete in British athletics history, with ten global titles, and was the first British athlete to win two gold medals at the same world championships, although Dame Kelly Holmes had achieved the feat at an Olympic Games. His five gold medals at the European Athletics Championships make him the most successful individual athlete in championships history. He has won the European Athlete of the Year award and the British Athletics Writers Association British Athlete of the Year award more than any other athlete, three times and six times respectively. Farah was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2013 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to athletics.

This week, Farah announced his retirement from track racing. He still intends to run marathons and road races, but his track career is now over.

In his final press interview announcing his retirement from track racing, Farah had this to say:

The Guardian report:

As the exchanges grew more heated, Farah asked why some journalists kept bringing up his relationship with Salazar, who helped turn him from a very good athlete into a great one after he joined the coach’s Nike Oregon Project training group in late 2010. Salazar has been under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency for the past two years but has always vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

In his most pointed comment, Farah stated:

There’s nothing else to be said. Sometimes I find it bizarre how certain people write certain things to suit how they want to sell the story. You guys [The Mainstream Media] get to me – you never write the facts. The fact is, over the years, I have achieved a lot through hard work and pain.

So many times, you guys have been unfair to me. I know that. But say it how it is. I want you to write the truth about what’s out there and educate people out there. But be honest with them. If you say Mo Farah has done something wrong‚ prove it.

There it is in black and white, if you say (or, insinuate, as has generally been the case for Farah) that he has done something wrong, prove it.

All too often, the press are willing to print accusations, or make insinuations, without really having any credible proof of their claims. Rather than withholding the story until there is anything to corroborate it, or keeping quiet on the grounds that there isn’t anything there to sustain the implication, a drip-drip of circumstantial evidence and highly speculative comments are thrust together to imply wrongdoing when there is scant reason to believe it. People in the public eye are particularly prone to this sort of thing.

In the church, elders are particular prone to such insinuations too. Just like Mo Farah, if there is any evidence of wrongdoing, it is incumbent on the accuser to prove it. Paul recognises this when he states, ‘Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses’ (1 Tim 5:19). Matthew Henry insists that this verse necessitates a clear accusation with a certain and specific charge, not some vague statement of unspecified wrongdoing. Also, the accusation must be supported by two or three witnesses so as to grant a level of certainty in the accusation.

The issue is clear enough, reputation is an important thing. Just as drug cheats in the athletics world will receive no offers of advertising endorsements because they are bringing their sport into disrepute, so the church elder in open sin will receive little support from his congregation (or others) because they bring the gospel into disrepute. In the public eye, even the accusation of wrongdoing will tarnish a reputation and often lead to a ‘no smoke without fire’ assessment. So too, the minister of the word, will bear reputational damage even if the accusation proves to be false (or so vague as to not constitute a charge at all). For this reason, we are told to not even listen to a charge against an elder unless it can be clearly stated and is corroborated by two or three witnesses.

Just as Farah laid down the charge, ‘if I’ve done something wrong, prove it’, so too the Bible lays down the same challenge to those who would accuse their own leaders. If they are in sin, then prove it. Without the evidence of two or three corroborating witnesses, the accusation shouldn’t even be entertained. The power of insinuation is great indeed. Let us not use it to tarnish the reputations of those committed to your good in their role as elders and undershepherds in Jesus’ church.