A subtle form of slander

2. Stigmatisation by Naming as the Manipulation of ‘Persuasive Definition’

The second give-away of a subconscious ‘parent-child’ model of authority is a way of labelling that has attached to it a strongly negative emotive content. We could call this ‘stigmatisation by naming’, a phrase coined by one of my wise friends with social work experience.

Arguably, if I labelled somebody a Swansea ‘Jack’, somebody from Swansea could take it as a compliment. If I labelled somebody as a ‘criminal’, however, then I could create a very negative emotional reaction in others about somebody who, as it happened, had only got caught stealing a Mars bar. I would be using the negative emotional connotation of the word ‘criminal’ as a way of taking revenge by causing others to reject somebody.

This is a subtle form of slander, which adds a negative value-judgement to mere false testimony. It is also a potentially disguised slander in that only a single word has been used. That is, by using a certain name or term, it is easy to stigmatise somebody without looking like you are doing so.

In philosophy, this is known as a certain form of manipulation called ‘persuasive definition’, and A.C. Thiselton, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, argues that Paul is attacking this kind of thing at Corinth. In a traditionalist context, then, by merely using the term ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’, I could potentially be implicitly judging an entire stratum of persons negatively because of the ways in which these words are often used in these contexts. Before I even began a dialogue on ‘homosexuality’, I could be stigmatising the other, which would be slander in certain contexts. A situation could be envisaged in which a self-designated celibate homosexual could rightly judge somebody who used persuasive definition to stigmatise ‘those gays’. For Jesus said, ‘out of the heart come… sexual immorality… [and] false testimony, slander’ (Matthew 15:19).

So then, if a man repents of what he believes is sexual immorality (though homosexuality cannot be reduced to this), but a leader still stigmatises him by labelling him, then the leader remains unclean before God, not the man, since the leader has not repented of his false testimony. He is still the proud ‘parent’ who is ‘more mature’ in his own eyes. By contrast, the man has humbled himself and repented of what he considered to be his sexual immorality (though homosexuality cannot be reduced to this), and will go home justified before God.

part 2 of 3

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