Here’s a concise definition of gossip: Saying negative things about a person which the hearer does not need to hear.
It’s hard to write and it’s hard to hear but there are at least three reasons why we like to gossip: (1) It hurts people and sometimes we want to hurt people (2) It makes us feel better by putting others down (3) It gains us important advantages such as the discrediting of our opponents’ viewpoints or the removal of a rival.
Since I know you’re going to be tempted in this area, I’m hoping that your resolve will be strengthened by learning about the top ten excuses for gossip that I’ve collected over the years. I’ll share excuses 10-6 here and excuses 5-1 in my next post.
(10) “I know he won’t listen to me if I talk to him face to face.” We know that we should speak to – instead of about – our brother or sister, eyeball to eyeball but it’s so much easier to make this excuse.
The truth is that in almost all cases when we say this we haven’t actually tried to talk to him/her face to face. If we haven’t tried, we insult our brother or sister by pronouncing him or her unwilling to listen.
(9) “Freedom of speech applies to the church, doesn’t it?” The simple, straightforward answer is “No it doesn’t.” It might be legal according to the United States’ Constitution but in the church we have guidelines for and limitations to our speech. In the church we have liberty, the freedom to do right, not absolute freedom. Using our speech to hurt a brother or sister in Christ is just plain wrong.
(8) “I’m not gossiping, I’m simply quoting the old proverb, ‘If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.’” This can be a clever way of gossiping when quoted at the right time and place. Your friend Phil says something nice about Judy. Then your friend Donna says something nice about Judy. Their four eyes turn to you. Instead of saying something nice about Judy you quote the old proverb. You’ve just said a mouthful.
(7) “It’s not gossip if it’s true.” That statement would be true if we were talking about slander or libel. If it’s spoken, it’s not slander if it’s true. If it’s written it’s not libel if it’s true. But we’re not talking about slander or libel. Gossip is gossip whether it’s true or not. And please don’t say that you “Don’t want to start any false rumors.” We shouldn’t start any rumors; true or false.
(6) “It’s not gossip; I’m telling you this in confidence.” Telling someone something in confidence doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not gossip. If it’s something negative and the hearer doesn’t need to hear it, it’s gossip.
Besides that, telling somebody something in confidence is supposed to mean that they’re not going to repeat it. But if we’re passing it on, we’re setting the example by breaking a confidence. So it shouldn’t surprise us when this results in their telling somebody else in confidence and their telling somebody else in confidence, etc. until the whole church knows about it, in confidence!
Church leaders can and should make an anti-gossip ethic an important part of their church’s culture and it really can be done!