The first occasion was in 1887, twenty-two long years after his assassination. Why? You may be surprised to know it was not to determine if he had died of a bullet fired from John Wilkes Booth's derringer. Then why? Because a rumor was sweeping the country that his coffin was empty. A select group of witnesses observed that the rumor was totally false, then watched as the casket was resealed with lead.
A second time, fourteen years later, the martyred man's withered body was viewed again—this time by even more witnesses. Why again? For the same grim purpose! Rumors of the same nature had again implanted doubts in the public's mind. The pressure mounted to such proportions that the same ghoulish, grotesque ceremony had to be carried out. In spite of the strong protests of Lincoln's son Robert, the body was exposed a second time. Officials felt the rumors should be laid to rest along with the Civil War president. Finally—the corpse was permanently embedded in a crypt at Springfield.
"How unfair!" you say. "Cruel" is a better word. But, you see, rumors are like that. Lacking authoritative facts and direct sources, information is loosely disseminated, creating unrest and harm. It is pandered by busybodies who cater to the sick appetite in petty people. Those who feed on rumors are small, suspicious souls. They find satisfaction in trafficking in poorly-lit alleys, dropping subtle bombs that explode in others' minds by lighting the fuse of suggestion. They find comfort in being only an "innocent" channel of the unsure information . . . never the source. The ubiquitous "They say" or "Have you heard?" or "I understand from others" provides safety for the rumor-spreader.
"Have you heard that the Hysterical Concrete Memorial Church is about to split?"
"I understand Ferdinand and Flo are divorcing . . . they say she was unfaithful."
"They say his parents have a lot of money."
"Did you hear that Pastor Elphinstonsky was asked to leave his former church?"
"I was told their son is taking dope . . . got picked up for shoplifting."
"Someone said they had to get married."
"Somebody mentioned he is a heavy drinker."
"I heard she's a flirt . . . watch out for her!"
"The word is out—he finally cheated his way to the top."
"It's a concern to several people that he can't be trusted."
Shakespeare did a super job of portraying the truth about rumors in King Henry IV:
Rumor is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads
The still-discordant wavering multitude
Can play upon it. (II, induction, line 15)
And how certain Christians can play that pipe! The sour melodies penetrate many a phone conversation . . . or mealtime discussion . . . or after-church "fellowship times" (what a name!) . . . or a leisurely evening with friends. The tongue is capable of prying open more caskets, exposing more skeletons in the closet, and stirring up more choking, scandalous dust than any other tool on earth.
With this in view, I submit four suggestions for silencing rumor-mongers:
Identify sources by name. If someone is determined to share information that is damaging or hurtful, request that the source be specifically stated.
Support evidence with facts. Do not accept hearsay. Refuse to listen unless honest-to-goodness truth is being communicated. You can tell. Truth is rarely veiled or uncertain. Rumors fade when exposed to the light.
Ask the person, "May I quote you?" It's remarkable how quickly rumor-spreaders can turn four shades of red! Equally remarkable is the speed with which they can backpedal.
Openly admit, "I don't appreciate hearing that." This approach is for the strong. It might drive a wedge between you and the guilty . . . but it's a sure way to halt the regular garbage delivery to your ears.