Monday, December 2, 2013

Gossip: A Sin We Christians Find It Hard To Resist



I'm sure that many of us Christians avoid gross sins like violent crimes and sexual immorality, though the news shows the alarming rate at which so many Christian leaders, not to mention "rank and file" believers, indulge in or are addicted to pornography or others sexual addictions. I can go on and on. But there is one sin that I think it's safe to say all of us Christians indulge in too often or feel tempted to indulge in. It is often not even recognized as a sin. I'm talking about gossip, and it's definition is much broader than simply telling lies about another person in malice. It's more than betraying confidences shared with us in trust. If gossip were simply not indulging in the above, many of us may be exempt from gossiper status. Ah, this just isn't the case! I'm targeting this post at myself as much as anyone, as gossip has been a lifelong temptation for me, a sin that I often indulged in in the past and no doubt still participate in. Why is gossip so damaging and such an evil? It destroys countless relationships, including marriages, and no doubt has spawned violent crimes. Gossip has probably destroyed much more trust between people and caused much more heartbreak than most of us have any idea of. It has ruined many reputations, even put innocent people behind bars for crimes they have never committed.

Gossip is not only spreading lies about people to ruin their reputations; it is so much more. It includes the habit so many of us have in simply passing rumors about others, whether true or not. We don't have any desire to ruin the person's good name and may not even realize this is going on. Examples in conversations? "Say, did you hear that so-and-so is divorcing her husband?" You are properly horrified and, without knowing whether this is even true, you repeat this to your close friend. "She found out that her teenage daughter is pregnant," a good friend tells you. "How awful!" you exclaim." Without going to the person to show your concern and verify this rumor, you repeat what you hear to your spouse. You hear an unconfirmed news report that a celebrity is having an affair and cheating on her spouse as you tune into a celebrity gossip show. "Hey, did you hear the latest on so-and so?" you gloat to a good friend. "She is cheating on her husband!" We, Christian and non-Christian, no doubt engage in this kind of idle talk than we care to realize. We Christians engage in this gossip business even when it comes to sharing others' prayer requests apart from their knowledge or permission. "I think we should pray for so-and so!" you exclaim to your Christian friends. "She is battling same-sex feelings!" or "Let's pray for him; he is indulging in porn. Imagine if his wife knew?" We don't realize that saying such things are plain wrong, unless it's pointed out to us. I'm pointing fingers at myself on this too, especially in my pre-Christian days.

We deal in the gossip business when we read magazines, other materials, and view talk shows that are set up mainly to cater to our sick "need" to hear bad things about others, especially celebrities, politicians, and crime cases. We indulge in gossip when we listen to our family members and close friends gossip about absent persons, and say nothing to challenge them. It is called listening to gossip and we, including I, engage in this much more than we probably care to know. It's so easy to do! We often don't recognize when we are hearing gossip, and may value keeping the friend's or family member's approval of us more than we feel the need to challenge them to stop saying things about absent parties who can't defend themselves. It is said, though, that "Whoever gossips TO you gossips or WILL gossip ABOUT you." I think many of us can vouch for this one, as we may remember so-called "friends" whose gossip we listened to, who are NOT talking TO us now and this means that they are likely talking ABOUT us. Listening to gossip may make us feel important, included or entertained, but it is an illusion and it doesn't deliver what it promises!

There's another form of gossip that we may use to handle our interpersonal conflicts or hurts, and it's been called "triangulation." Here's how it works: Someone hurts you by word or action, you are upset, hurt and angry and you "vent" or gripe to a third party. This is so much easier to do than courageously speaking the truth BUT in love, to the person who has hurt or upset you! I know this so well, as one who had, and still does, engage in "triangulation" far too much. We Christians know that we have the resource of going to God and "griping about" the offending person to Him. But we know that, not only is He invisible, but we will be challenged to go the person in caring confrontation. I'm sure that all of us, Christian and non-Christian, engage in "triangulation," because it's just "too hard" to courageously challenge the offending party in a spirit of Christian love. Besides, we may not even do it right, and the other person may not even listen to us. Many people, indeed, are convinced that they are right and will not listen to us. I know this for a fact! In Scripture, though, God rarely calls us to do the easy thing, and that holds true in our interpersonal conflicts. When we are hurt or have hurt someone else, we are called to go to the person and work it out with them first. Then, if that doesn't work, we can take others with us to try to resolve it. We are to keep conflicts between ourselves and other believers within the Church.

Gossip has gone high-tech also. How does gossip look in cyberspace? When people send us hurtful messages or texts and we post status updates or blogs that are viewable to our Facebook friends or even to the public, about the offending user, we are gossiping. This holds true especially if we use their name, even if just their first name or their initials. We may not even keep them anonymous, but is they can read our posts and recognize details that identify them, we may have crossed the line into sinful gossiping. We indulge in online gossip when we read gossiping blogs, posts or comments just to amuse ourselves or to relieve boredom. We deal in online gossip when we read bad things about others and spread these things, online or offline. As I know from bitter experience, so many lost Facebook friendships and even Facebook or other social media blockings, comes from users who gossip or who listen to this gossip without checking with the absent person. We Christians also indulge in online gossip if we post prayer requests without the knowledge or permission of the person who is need of prayers. The ONLY exception to the gossip rule concerning not violating confidences, involves when the other person is saying things that are can be interpreted as suicidal or homicidal. In this instance, saving lives trumps keeping things private. In my view, anything else is just gossip.

Why do we gossip? Several reasons have been suggested. The main reason, as I see it, is to minister to our need to "feel better about ourselves" by tearing others down, whether repeating gossip or listening to it. It is no fun to be wracked by feelings of self-doubt and even worthlessness. So, thinking we'll feel better about ourselves, we turn to gossip. We feel a sick pleasure in "knowing" that others are worse, or worse off, than ourselves. We Christians have the advantage of prayer and Scripture to find reassurance of our worth and our identities in Christ and His infinite love for us. Yet we find it too easy to forget. We need to get it in our heads that we can't build ourselves up by tearing others down! A huge reason, one that has fueled me all my life and even now, is that gossip, in the form of griping to third parties, is so easy to do! It's much easier then the Scriptural way of bravely going to the person in Christian love. Especially, if people have hurt you by cutting you out of their lives, gossip is very tempting and I know this! I have given in too often, even as I seek to please God. In the cases where we are unwelcome in the other person's life, we can still go to God and turn our hurt or our offense of the person, to Him. Another reason for gossip, whether engaging in it or listening to it, is just boredom. It entertains us.

So what's to be done here? As hard as it may be, stop buying tabloids or reading them, and stop listening to talk shows that are set up mainly to spread gossip about politicians, criminals, or celebrities. Would you want your misdeeds proclaimed for all the world to see and read? Stop spreading rumors about absent persons who can't defend themselves. Don't listen to gossip; challenge it or ignore it. Try to go to the person you've had a falling-out with, if possible. Christians, don't submit prayer requests unless we have someone's permission. The Bible warms us that we will be judged for EVERY idle word we say. Ouch! Are you feeling unsettled by that? I am!

The above photo is courtesy of MorgueFile.com, is by wallyir, and can be found here.

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