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16 March 2009

When is it Okay to Withhold Information?

I'd like your input. I have to preface this post with the statement that there is not a situation I'm thinking about specifically. Nothing in the fellowship at Wall Highway, nothing in the national news media, no situations with friends -- nothing. This is all simply hypothetical. I promise.

I was having a discussion with a friend the other day and this question came up: is it ever okay to selectively withhold information? We were speaking about matters in the Church, so that's the way I'm leaning in asking for input.

With children and parents, sometimes situations get to the point of answering,"Because I told you so," because eventually a parent just doesn't want to hear the child argue with him (again) and knows that it will happen if he presents the legitimate reason. Or sometimes we may withhold information either because it's not necessary for the child to know, or it would be harmful for him to know it.

That's a parallel that sounds very reasonable. But once we're all grown up and when we apply it to the Church, does it still hold water?

In what situations would it fall in line with Christ-like character to withhold information? And is there some sort of precedent or principle that we can typically apply to know when it's okay to do so?

If we reveal only bits and pieces of something because we think that someone wouldn't understand, isn't that making an assumption about them that we're often not qualified to make, and doesn't that make us place our own position or understanding higher than that of others?

11 comments:

Christy said...

That's a broad hypothetical question. There are so many factors that could change any particular situation. What came to my immediately, however, was something that our former pastor, Sonny, said. I only wish I could remember all of it. What I do remember him saying is that we should ask ourselves these questions when it comes to saying something to a person: "Is it true?" and "Does it edify?". I think there was one more, but I can't recall it now. Don't you think that withholding information could fall under discernment? I mean, sometimes it's just not the time or place to elaborate or disclose something. Also, the motive behind sharing or withholding information is important. And then there's the argument that sometimes a matter is simply no one else's business. I hope I made some sense.

Tony M said...

I do NOT mean to imply (by the following comment) that we should consider ourselves on a level with Jesus when it comes to wisdom. However, He often spoke in parables which the "common man" of the time didn't get (He often had to explain the parables to his closest followers, so obviously the real meaning would escape those who were only partially paying attention, falling asleep because, hey, it's 9:30 on a Sunday and we didn't get to bed early last night... wait, derailing here...). Would that be considered "withholding information"?

And does that even apply? (I'm not necessarily arguing in any particular direction with this comment, just adding to the "hypothetical situation"... need to ponder some more myself before I really venture any opinions.)

Anonymous said...

I have to quick here (Work)

What is truth? I think Christy is on the right track hear; does it edify? In todays world it seems better to be brutally honest than to care for someone (Think about it - we tend to want to point out others faults before we reach out to help)

What is truth? Truth without love is of no value to anyone.

Not quite on topic, but close.

keo

Leroy said...

Good points all, but Keo I want to take something you said a little further. What is truth? Can "truth" be relative?

In the context of this topic, for example, if I "withhold" information because to me it's of little or no value (or I don't see it as edifying or it could lead to gossip), then that may be "truth" to me. Whereas someone else may see a different bigger picture than I do so they don't see the potential for gossip, etc. To them what I withheld was an important part of the story. Who's right?

In there ever a case of genuine relative truth?

I'm tired, sorry if that didn't make any sense.

Dean Lusk said...

Let me refine it a little bit.

(When) Is it okay/good to withhold pertinent, potentially applicable information from someone?

And let's assume that our motive is always good and perfectly Christ-like; not desructive. Not something like, "Hey, man, 13 of my friends think your hair looks like a pooped-in rat's nest."

Maybe that would be our built-in "edification filter," but determining what's edifying is levels and levels deep. Something that could hurt someone initially may be the most loving thing we could possibly tell them, building up the Church and the individual if made known. I think this is the same thing that Leroy was saying.

And Tony, I don't think that you meant it this way, but you're implying that Jesus made His teaching intentionally inaccessible to some people, when in fact it seems (to me) that His parables were given to make the teaching more clear. He even explained many of His parables and was disappointed in His followers when they didn't get it.

I'm also not sure I agree with the statement that "truth without love is of no value to anyone." However, I do agree that truth delivered with arsenic or daggers is usually going to have a negative effect.

And I'm still curious to know if there's a non-subjective way to know if or when it's okay to withhold something that could be applicable to a given situation. I don't think there is.

Are there any specific hypothetical or historical examples of an undeniably good time to withhold information from a person or group?

Jeff said...

OK, I'll cast my bread on the water :)

I don't believe there are any quantifiable, Biblical examples of Christ "withholding" truth. The previous poster who spoke of Jesus' parables has a good thought process, but it is not sound to say that Christ "withheld" as much as he put the complete truth in a package that applied DIRECTLY to the listeners. Those that turned away for lack of understanding did so because they did not listen well, hence, they did not understand.

Someone said "discernment" and that is the key. True wisdom is knowing HOW to tell the truth without withholding.

There is one form of "withholding truth" that is ENTIRELY Biblical, though. Christ never disclosed coarse, harsh, negative assessments of truth, unless the recipient of such words was overcome by willful sin. When we're dealing with or bros/sis' in the church, we've GOT to give each other the benefit of the doubt, unless we know they are living in sin without remorse or repentance. Without that condition, unloading negative, painful truths is not a Christ-like action, and sometimes it is better to use more discerning, wise words to nurture someone through the truth.

One commenter mentioned motivation (agenda) and I think that is the most critical element. The tendency when discussing "truth disclosure" is to try and justify holding back information that will benefit you later if you can "bring it up at an opportune time." If there is ANY possibility that what you withhold could be used for gain at someone's potential expense (even the expense of their credibility), then withholding truth AT ALL is not an option.

but I'm open to other ideas,
-jeff

Jeff said...

Sorry: ("dealing with OUR bro's/sis'...")

Leroy said...

I think the bottom line is as has been said...HEART and MOTIVE. That will pretty much address all the in-depth levels. And as for us on the receiving end of the withheld information, can we really tell someone's heart and motive? Yes, if we're around them a lot (like a spouse, a close friend, a close coworker, etc.) we probably could. But sometimes it's hard to tell and you just have to ask.

Dean Lusk said...

Jeff said, "I don't believe there are any quantifiable, Biblical examples of Christ 'withholding' truth." I can't think of one, either.

My observation is that leaders -- Church leaders just as often as leaders of non-church organizations -- often learn from people like Zig Ziglar (who's great for teaching sales methods, but doesn't teach Biblical principles) rather than from Jesus or any of the men who penned the Bible.

I'd venture to say that putting a spin on something in order to make it sound positive is often a dangerously manipulative thing to do and can easily border on deception (if it isn't plainly deception).

Our motives are of paramount importance, but if a good motivation is the source of wrongdoing, the act is still wrong.

I'm sure there's a situation in which it's okay to do this, but I'm trying to think of one.

Okay... Maybe if a friend's relative has passed away and you've found out about it but want a family member to tell them, so you don't say anything...? I think that's surely an acceptable time to withhold info.

Anonymous said...

Putting the other persons(s) first is the starting point of the decision regarding what or how much to share.

While we must speak the truth in love, in our kindness we should be careful not to provide "too much information". Being truthful does not have to include every detail. Just a sufficient level of detail that is best for all concerned.

In a recent conversation I was sharing information with someone who was trying to help me in my role in that particular situation. The person said, "You are being very guarded in what you say. Can you tell me more specifics so I can be more helpful? My response was that I was in fact "being guarded" because I felt a responsibilty to be respectful of other persons involved. And I wanted to respect the time of the person who was listening. I was trying to avoid "giving too much information".

Perhaps in the future I'll feel comfortable sharing more detail. But the details are just not appropriate at this time.

I am still telling the truth, but being more general rather than specific when the general can be just as effective.

Not exactly the same situation as not telling someoone a family member has died until the right time and place. But something to consider.

I guess it comes down to discernment regarding whether an individual really has a need to know information you could be sharing. And the extent to which it would otherwise be helpful and not harmful to all concerned.

Dean Lusk said...

Anon, very good stuff. I believe what you started with gave a great perspective on it: "Putting the other persons(s) first is the starting point of the decision regarding what or how much to share."

Again, this speaks to the motivation of the person with the information. I'm going to have to reread the post and all the comments again (at slower speed than I've just done) to see if I'm in the same place now -- one year after the initial post. :-)

I believe I am.

Regarding the situation you spoke about in which you were holding something back, without a doubt that will be necessary sometimes. I have to wonder, though, if the Church truly saw itself as family and if we really were "in one accord" as the NT speaks of the early believers, if we wouldn't be much more open with one another all the way around.

The subject of political motivations in church leaders when giving selective information is a can of worms that may be interesting to discuss at some point (for me, anyway).

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