I know I shouldn’t gossip, but…

1 06 2007

The case of the Hookset Four is grabbing the attention of America’s media. These four women have been sacked from their clerical jobs as a result of gossiping about the town administrator who works in their firm. They had been spreading some nasty rumours about him in their daily gossip time, were caught out, and then thrown out. The story is making the headlines because of the sense of injustice that these women feel at their treatment, stating that ‘this is like taking a fly and shooting it with a bazooka. It’s absolutely ridiculous’.

In Wednesday’s Times newspaper, journalist Carol Midgley agrees with this view. She stands aghast that something as ‘harmless’ as gossip should be treated in such a harsh way. The mechanisms which she uses to justify such behaviour are exceptionally interesting: ‘Everyone gossips. Don’t say you don’t because you do – even men, though they like to pretend that they’re above it. It is the lifeblood of the workplace and one of the few things that makes photocopying bearable.’ Elsewhere Midgley notes that ‘we are dealing with human beings – human beings who might not be in the most stimulating of jobs…’, and subsequently produces a number of ‘proofs’ from psychologists that gossiping can actually be socially cohesive and ethically beneficial. Morally the bottom line for the writer is that if everyone is doing it, then it can’t possibly be wrong. My favourite quote from her article is:
‘Let’s consider for a moment what would happen if gossiping was officially outlawed. About 400 celebrity magazines would close overnight. Half the motivation to come into the workplace in the morning would be lost. Water-coolers would be rendered pointless. Some people might actually burst and die from the unbearable strain of knowing that a loathed colleague had an embarassing little infection and being unable to tell anyone. If my Editor fired everyone who gossips in our office then it would be like the Mary Celeste’.

Sadly, Christians don’t have much room to talk about the issue of gossiping. All that Midgley says in defence of spreading rumours can be repackaged in sanctified language, and made to sound like a Christian virtue. But in our hearts those of us who know Christ are fully aware that gossiping is sin. We fidget a little when we realise that in among the cesspool of moral degradation in Romans 1 comes the description of those who are ‘gossips, slanderers’ (vv29-30); and we prefer to forget that with all of the problems in Corinth one of Paul’s main concerns was that when he came to see the church in person he might find gossips there (2Cor12:20).

Like Midgley’s article we can view gossip as a petty, universal indulgence which does no harm. God says it’s a disgrace and that lips which declare the name of Christ, should not propound harm against others. So the next time we feel the compulsion to say ‘I shouldn’t gossip’ we should leave out the ‘but’ and button our lips. I know on good authority that no one has ever burst from not getting to spread the latest scandal. Equally, I know of many who have been destroyed by careless talk.




3 responses

1 06 2007
Gary Boal

Fantastic thought bro’, I find myself feeling, not just hot under the collar but as though a forest fire is blazing in full force.Among us (Christians) others ought to know that they are entering into fellowship with a group of people who haven’t said anything negative about them during the week. How much more comfortable would we be in praise times, even sitting in church if we were sure that no one gossiped about us between the last time we met and this time?

12 07 2007

andrew, just reading through a few of your recent blogs and find this one most interesting (and understandable). i think everyone is aware that this is a massive problem in the church today. often hidden as asking someone to pray for a topic it can escalate beyond measure.Finding problems in the church i guess is easy, what about the answers to these problems? any ideas? can you imagine a church member being expelled for gossiping?? (i guess it isnt a serious enough sin!!!!)

13 07 2007
Andrew and Carolyn

Hey Maccers!Thanks for calling by the blog, and many thanks for your comment. I think that you’re right about diagnosis and treatment when it comes to problems in the church. It is so much easier to identify areas of concern, and so much more difficult to sort them out.I think the real answer lies with ourselves. We have to take responsibility individually for our attitude and approach to gossiping. If we engage in it, even to the smallest degree, then we are doing our part to spread its infection. If we scrupulously avoid it, and make it plain to others why we won’t indulge this vice, then it might speak to people about how serious and dangerous a sin it is. This applies to every strata and section of the church. Sometimes pastors/church leaders can speak very strongly against gossiping, but be the worst offenders when they are together. I think Ghandi’s oft repeated phrase is very applicable here: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’.In terms of church discipline, I think that it can be hard to pin down who is gossiping and when, rather than the seriousness or otherwise of the sin preventing discipline. I know of a church in Central America where two of the rules of membership are:(a) You must be actively involved in the work of the Church(b) You must not gossipFailure on either of these principles leads to immediate and automatic discipline. It may not get rid of gossiping, but at least it spells out how serious the local church takes this issue as a sin.I’d love to hear your own thoughts on this, Maccers.God bless,Andrew

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