What is the difference between criticism and slander?

Summary

Arguably the largest instigator of discord in churches, nations, and families is people thinking they are constructively criticizing (II Timothy 4:2) when they really are slandering (II Corinthians 12:20). Criticism, similar to rebuking, admonishing, and correcting, is given after the other person expressed interest in hearing something negative (Proverbs 27:6; Matthew 18:15). Slander, similar to insulting, disrespect, ridiculing, mocking, and maligning, is given after the other person rejected a desire to hear something negative (Matthew 5:22).  Insults are given out of an angry desire to condemn and destroy (James 4:11), but criticism is given out of a loving desire to help a friend (Galatians 6:1).

Endorsements

Gotquestions recognizes a difference between rebuking and slandering.

Reasons

Criticism is asked for; slander is forced.

What turns criticism into slander is not respecting the other person’s desire to not hear your negative opinions (Proverbs 17:4). Insulters think that others are required to hear their opinions (Proverbs 12:15), but God tells us that we don’t have to listen to those we deem are wicked (Proverbs 29:12). Slanderers are like bullies, who verbally poison the confidence in others (James 3:8). Criticism, though, is always given like a gentle grandmother (Galatians 6:1; II Timothy 2:25). The definition of gentleness is to not force anything, to only give when the other person wants (I Corinthians 4:21).

Criticism is by friends or authority; slander is by enemies.

When we correct someone, they need to be like a close brother, not a stranger on the internet or a political adversary (Matthew 18:15). They need to be like a friend, not an enemy (Proverbs 27:5-6). This is because friends and brothers have a foundation in the mindset of the person being criticized that it’s being done out of love (Proverbs 17:17), not a desire to condemn (James 4:11-12). Criticism can also come from church or governmental authority (Titus 2:15) because God gave them their power (Romans 13:1). Evil enemies, on the other hand, take enjoyment from mocking you (Matthew 5:39).

Criticism builds up; slander destroys.

Only among brothers is there a foundation to bear each other’s burdens, the goal of criticism (Galatians 6:1-2). We shouldn’t criticize someone and walk away; if we criticize, we must also help them overcome their sin (Romans 15:1-2). We must be like Christ and take their reproach on ourselves as if we did that sin (Romans 15:3). Slander, on the other hand, is from the devil, who wishes to destroy us (John 10:10). We think we are justified in speaking evil of others, but if they don’t want to hear it, we are actually not judging their character (Matthew 7:5) but hypocritically condemning their soul (James 4:11). Only God has the right to condemn someone who doesn’t want to hear it (James 4:12).

Examples

Do not criticize or slander in a debate.

When you are debating someone, most of the time it’s someone who is not a close friend. As such, you don’t have the right to attack them personally (Matthew 18:15). Here are some examples of what not to say: 

  1. I will pray for you. (This is a passive-aggressive way to say that because you are right, the opponent needs God’s help.)
  2. You’re a false teacher!
  3. You’re lying.
  4. Why can’t you handle the truth? (Arrogantly assuming you’re right while insulting his strength)
  5. Why are you so sensitive?

Indirect mocking is slander.

Any form of disrespect is considered slander when the person doesn’t ask for it (II Timothy 2:25). Here are some examples:

  1. Ha!
  2. It’s absurd to think that…
  3. [Meme or picture that insults someone or their argument]
  4. [Smirking]
  5. [Rolling your eyes]
  6. [Bad tone]

Counterclaims