Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dear Christians,

It may come as no surprise that gossip is not greeted warmly in Scripture. For those of you who may be having trouble with the concept, the words of James are ringingly clear:

"...the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water."

Yes, that dirty little wagger that rolls your food and picks between your teeth is a "world of unrighteousness" that sets "on fire the entire course of life" and is itself "set on fire by hell." It is, metaphorically, the instrument of hypocrisy, deceit and death.

The question now becomes, what is gossip? Simply stated, it is "idle talk or rumor (sic), [especially] about the personal or private affairs of others." Frivolous talking and rumouring about other people's personal lives is an active poison spat out by serpentine tongues. For a Christian, the allusion to being a snake should give pause for concern, yes? Afterall, who was it that hissed out his venomous words in the Garden? Just who's image and likeness are you living, anyway? Think about it.
But that only deals with direct gossip. That is, purposeful, knowing talk about other's lives that you don't have any business chattering on about. Then there's indirect gossip, or what I like to call "pastoral gossip." This is the kind of gossip that slithers its way into conversations because someone has a 'Christian concern', or 'needs advice', or 'would like an objective perspective', or a 'third-party look at the situation'. Let me save you the work of figuring out why this is not acceptable: because until you have approached the person you are 'concerned' about, you have no business involving anyone else. At all. Ever. Period. Your business, should you have a concern, is to lovingly go to the person you're concerned about, and express yourself. Meeting at restaurants, or on the telephone, or whispering through darkened windows, from car to car, or in the privacy of a confessional to keep people up-to-date, as it were, on why so-and-so needs 'prayer' is still gossip. When you disclude the person who is the focus of your thoughts, you are a gossip.

Quite simply, that makes you a betrayer, a hypocrite. When that sort of thing is done on a mass scale, say, for political purposes, we call it treason. People are executed for treason. We don't execute people for gossip, but people who gossip certainly execute friendships, trust, potential relationships, and on-going opportunities. If you measure your concerns by clauses such as "this is confidential," or "I'm not supposed to say this, but..." you are a gossip. You are more satanic than godly at that moment.

So, two pieces of advice before you start chin-wagging and jaw-flapping (directly, or pastorally):
  1. Go to the person(s) you are wanting to talk about. Then talk with that person(s). After that, unless you have permission from that person to talk with others, shut yer festerin' pie-hole.
  2. Since gossip seems to be the bar for many Christians, try raising it to something better (like honesty, just for shits and giggles. You can graduate to honesty as a principle as you are capable), instead of living under it as if it were a roof.

Gossip is something that the religious and the non-religious alike are guilty of. It just seems to be the rampant modus operandi, the on-going and preferred trend amongst Christians. Being a Christian doesn't cede the moral high-ground to a person with a concern; it doesn't award pastoral status to whoever is within earshot; it does absolutely nothing to endorse an open-mouth policy where others' personal lives are a possible subject. In fact, being a Christian should mean shutting-up, being respectful of other's privacy, and taking care to observe (according to Christian beliefs) with even more diligence than non-Christians that you are direct with the person in question. Anything less puts you more on level with Cain than Abel.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian, one who is striving, always, to follow Christ in a way that honours him and shows others the love I have for him and them.
Do I fail? Absolutely.
I think I am harder on myself than on anyone else.
I used to have people who would regularly "confide" in me their thoughts about others, but they no longer do that. What I mean to say by that, to my shame, is that I used to listen and that "listening" is as much a form of gossip as speaking.
I have been guilty of being a "good listener".
There is a lesson here for all of us -- a hard-hitting lesson -- and the whole point of being a Christian is that we are transformed as we follow.
If being a Christian were that easy, Paul would not have said, "I die daily." There is a dying to self and selfish ways. Gossip is selfish, really. Listening to gossip is selfish, really.
Here is something that I strive for, a rule of thumb, if you will -- a litmus test for gossip: unless the person you are talking to is part of the problem or part of the solution, then you have no business talking to them.
I'm sure you could poke holes in that because I have not explored the depths of that.
I am not an advocate of crushing people with our words, either, which is just as sinful as gossip.
Gossip aside, we are sinful beings. We are mere mortals who strive to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And that is the most productive thing I believe we can do. If we have truly learned something, we will have a change of heart/mind about it and it will be evident in our daily lives.
When I speak of gossip, I try not to be too harsh because I know there is sin in my own life. I am far from perfect.
One of the most important things in my life is being a person that can be trusted. I want to pray for people and walk alongside them. It is impossible to be that person if I can't be trusted. There is a fine line between being trusted and being a "listener" who is guilty of gossip.
I want to listen to hurting people, but I will always, always encourage people to speak to the person who has hurt them.
I hope that other people will remind me to do the same if I fall into sharing something that I really should be acting on instead of speaking about.
I believe that gossip and intent are closely linked and that God knows all about that. I believe that the Spirit of God will convict sensitive hearts. And I believe that we are all followers who stumble along the path.
Thanks for sharing this, Kane. You use some pretty harsh language, at times, but the Bible definitely speaks to this in ways that leave us with no doubt about the seriousness of participating in gossip.
J

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the double post. I thought I could correct a word and it would replace the original, but it just duplicated it. Please delete my first post.
Thanks,
J

Kane Augustus said...

J.,

I don't want to poke holes in your admissions. While this site is contrarian, and somewhat cynical, I have no overarching drive to nitpick at every turn.

Instead, I would like to thank you for your warmth and sincerity, your vulnerability and willingness.

You are quite right that there is no space for soft-heartedness in scripture when it comes to gossip/slander. God, it would seem, finds it quite distasteful. Any Christian worth their salt then, should also find it abhorent. Unfortunately, in polite Christian company, gossip is generally the flavour of the day, no matter how bland the ingredients. This is not to say that all Christians everywhere, at all times are grinding slander from between their lips. It is to say, however, that it seems too easy amongst the religious to open up on closed subjects.

I find it detestable. And having been the subject of it both at work and in many different relations, even recently, drives me further into reclusion. I suppose that's what happens when what's normal is a slick and steady gradiation of the abnormal and unwelcome.

Anonymous said...

Kane,
We have all been hurt by gossip. But one thing I have learned is that I do not assume that someone has been talking about me just because I hear that from someone (which is gossip, as well).
So, if I even question that someone has something against me, I would rather go directly to that person.
It's hard, but it's harder to leave it; or, worse yet, to become bitter because of something I think -- something i have not had the courage to confront myself.
And, most times I have found that it was not gossip at all, but genuine love and concern.
Often it is the well-intentioned saint who is passing along the information who is the one who is really guilty of gossip.
A pastor once said that it is just as much a sin to label something "gossip", when it isn't, as it is to be actively involved in gossip.
There are times when our concern for someone may drive us to talk with a trusted friend about that concern -- not in a malicious way -- out of love and a genuine desire to help.
I realize their is a fine line, there, and that many of us have trouble with that.
I have long ago given up the idea that their is a "devil behind every bush" and if I choose, whenever possible, to think well of others unless they have, directly, given me a reason not to ... and even then, there is forgiveness. That person, once forgiven, may not be a trusted friend again (at least to the degree they were before), but they are not the "enemy"; we, as believers, forget who the real enemy is and we start pointing at each other.
Or, it is possible that once confronted, a friendship may be closer than it was before and more God-honouring than it was before.
Thanks for the kind comments. If I were to admit less, i would be dishonest. There is not a saint/sinner alive who hasn't felt the sting of gossip or hasn't had a role in inflicting its sting.
J