Your Gossip Problem

Gossip is the quiet kid at the sin table. He makes sure whatever he does is unassuming, deliberate, and phrased in almost admirable terms. He’s the white-collar criminal of sins, if you will. He will quietly rob you of human dignity and smile during the transaction. He’s also considered a respectable member of society, a top-notch fellow who does the dirty work so others can enjoy the results. And he’s the one most people, especially Christians, tend to secretly enjoy keeping company with.

Where does he show up? Well, he can show up during prayer times – “So and so, you know ‘the drunk,’ needs some prayer right now since he got arrested last night,” or “Pray for miss what’s her face since she’s pregnant and not married to that boyfriend of hers.” He shows up on Facebook posts: “Look at what this pastor did!” “Can you believe what this celebrity just said?” “Aren’t those Christians over there heretics, or what?”

Look, we all have a penchant for curiosity, especially of the morbid type, but we need to be honest with ourselves. Are we really posting things because they are bits of information others need to hear, or are we just eager for someone else to smirk smugly alongside us as we deride and chastise others?

For Christians, this is especially important. Let me be clear. In the middle ages, it may have been necessary to publish polemic (attacking) articles in order to defend orthodox (commonly agreed upon truth) beliefs, in today’s communication-rich world, it’s not as necessary. Whoever needs correcting is a phone call, direct message, or email away. (If an idea is being criticized, it’s one thing. However, most of the shared articles are attacking a person, not an idea.) Chances are whoever is being admonished will never see the article you shared about their alleged heresy or weird spiritual practice, which makes that article nothing more than gossip. Why? Because it’s unhelpful (person in question may never see it), it’s divisive (probably not meant for the person in question, but rather itching ears waiting to pounce), and it’s hurtful. (And “being unable to reach the person” is no excuse. If the author truly acted in love, they would persist like the widow to the judge – not sink to the low standards of some modern speculative journalism.)

So before you share that article, ask a few questions:

Is this about an idea or a person?

If it’s about a person, is it an attack or a dialogue?

Is the article helpful for building up faith, or is it tearing down someone else’s?

Am I sharing this out of sincere love for my fellow Christians?

Gossip is often listed alongside things such as adultery, lying, and murder. And, yet, we often tend to overlook it. God doesn’t. God expects unity among his people. Gossip divides.

Do you discuss people or ideas at home? When you talk about others is it in context of prayer or genuine concern? When you think about your conversations or Facebook posts, do you sense gossip in them? What example are your kids seeing in regards to gossip in your home?

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Can we please keep shooting our neighbors?

In my fair city of Chattanooga, we have had a rash of shootings and deaths recently due to violence attributed to gangs. The situation is horrible when members of the same community come to such conflict that murder is the outcome. The constant state of one person believing they are completely in the right and and understand the other side without sitting down for discussion leads to blind misunderstanding and angry outbursts.

Oh, wait… that sounds like American Christians, too, doesn’t it? Huh…

I’ll start with this observation gleaned off of the most recent Cracked podcast: cynicism does not equate with wisdom.

I continue to see on my feed shared posts written by cynical, spiteful individuals whose contempt for others is evident in the way their prose stabs and accuses with all of the dexterity of a stampeding bull. In my opinion, if one is going to mock and deride another human being, at least have the decency to use wit and style to their full effect, in the vein of Voltaire or Jonathan Swift. Those two and their like, at least, had a respect for humanity that went beyond the individual that led them to heap style and humor in with their contempt.

Contempt is something Jesus speaks strongly against in his Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. (We’ll be referencing Matthew 5.21-24 and 7.1-5 for the rest of this unless otherwise stated.)

Consider the idea that Jesus equates hatred and contempt with murder. The very attitude of contempt stems from anger, the idea that I or someone close to me has had their rights infringed upon, and the desire to act on that anger. Jesus shows the progression from anger, to abusive language and malice, to contempt and exclusion. Understand, the moment we begin to exclude and consider an individual or group “other” we begin to slide down a gradually descending slope that first allows us to mock, then to attack, and then, if allowed to continue, to consign to destruction. As Christians, we’re all very careful to avoid actually killing anyone, but how quickly are we to say the phrase, “You’re going to hell.” And, really, depending on your belief, what you’re saying is the equivalent of sentencing them to death. And how arrogant of us to contemptibly throw that very phrase at another brother or sister in Christ. Don’t we know that, as Christians, we are both members of Christ’s body? Can the ear say to the eye, “I hope you rot and fall out,” and things still function properly? (I Corinthians 12)

Moving along, later Jesus has his famous “speck and plank” section. I had always thought that the plank in my eye causing me to lose sight of the speck in my brother’s eye was my own failings and sin. In a way, that is what’s going on, but Dallas Willard points out another possibility in The Divine Conspiracy: that the plank is my contempt. How effective will I be in a surgical procedure that requires care and concern on behalf of the surgeon to the patient if I am angry with the patient, or worse, if I do not value that patient at all? Jesus rightly shows that if I am blinded by contempt, then all I will do is cause more damage than good.

I will also point out that in some cases, spreading around juicy tidbits of what other Christians are “doing wrong” could easily be classified as gossip. You know, gossip, that insidious little sin we tend to ignore when its convenient. It happens in church foyers and it happens on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram when we share those titillating stories about how intriguingly terrible other Christians secretly are.

Remember, children watch your behavior. They learn from you, their parents and role models. Children can pick up, and I think the internet is proving this, the capacity for contempt of other human beings who are made in the image of God. Children pick up that if mommy and daddy think this person or people group are worthless, then I can treat them however I want. And we wonder why racism, sexism, violence, and poverty continue on from generation to generation…

What do your actions and posts teach your children about valuing and respecting other Christians, and other humans? How do you speak about those groups or people you disagree with? How do your children speak about people they disagree with? (This last question might answer the first two…)

Consider that discernment and correction are the realm of fellow Christians. We are called to correct in love, with care and gentleness, knowing that we can fall into the same pitfalls as the person we’re trying to dig out. So before we talk about someone or share or write a particularly spiteful post, we should consider if it is helpful correcting, or if it is simply contempt and gossip masquerading as help.