Solemnly, people began to gather outside the mission president’s office. Exchanging astonished glances, many could still not believe that they had been summoned to a church court. The officers of the court were full of love and understanding, but very serious in their investigation of the charges; those present could lose their membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The charge was not immorality or apostasy; they were accused of speaking evil of a neighbor.
A fine brother had been slandered by those gathered together that evening, accused of the serious charge of immorality. He was completely innocent, but the great damage that had been done by “those whom he counted as his friends” would not be easily repaired. Who could measure the near destruction of this good soul? Who could measure the impact on the branch, as its fellowship was eroded? And what about the effect on those nonmembers who also became involved? Who could ever undo the evil that had affected hundreds of lives?
It had happened so easily. It began with simple words like—
“Did you hear … ?”
“Sister Joan said …”
“I have heard that he told her …”
“I am not sure about this, but …”
“Mr. Sanchez’s cousin said that he thought …”
“I don’t want to say anything bad, but …”
“If you won’t repeat this, I guess I could tell you that …”
Sin has many tools, the saying goes, but a lie is the handle that fits them all. If you are one of those who think it permissible to tell small lies, you may soon find yourself unable to distinguish between small and big lies.
Those conducting the court turned to the Lord’s explicit instructions on the subject. Through Moses, he told the people: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Lev. 19:16). The book of Proverbs describes the effects of evil speaking: “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Prov. 18:7–8).
Some may think they build their self-esteem and gain the attention and respect of others by telling false tales, but they actually become Satan’s agents. The Book of Mormon records that before the coming of the Savior to the Americas, “Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come” (Hel. 16:22).
Satan succeeded in hardening the hearts of the people, and some thirty years later, after the great destruction of the wicked, the prophet Nephi recorded that “the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain … of my people” (3 Ne. 9:2).
Divine cautions to guard our words are no less emphasized in modern-day scripture. The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking” (D&C 20:54). “Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor, nor do him any harm” (D&C 42:27). “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one to another” (D&C 136:23).
The Lord loves us and desires that we love one another. May we follow this further counsel given to the prophet Joseph Smith: “Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversations” (D&C 108:7), and “Let your words tend to edify one another” (see D&C 136:24).
Let each of us be careful that we do not contribute in any way to what the prophet Enoch saw in a vision thousands of years ago, when he recorded: “And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced” (Moses 7:26).
May the continual cultivation of the Holy Spirit drive out evil thoughts and inappropriate words, so that spirituality will grow and prevail, for as we control our tongues we are able to control our whole beings.