I know gossip is bad, but sometimes I have a hard time knowing what’s gossip and what’s not. For example, I have a friend who’s going through a lot of difficult stuff right now, and I want to ask my small group and friends to pray for her, but I don’t want it to turn into gossip. How do I tell the difference?
Of course YOU would ask that question, Jenna. Me and my friend were just talking about you the other day and how you’re always “praying” for people in small group, but really you’re just sharing their junk under the guise of being a concerned sister. We know what what you’re really doing, and we’re going to tell everyone! Anyhow, we prayed for you.
I kid, Jenna, I kid. You’ve asked a great question, because I believe (though I have no quantifiable proof, though who ever needed that to prove a point!) that there is no bigger group of gossips in the world than Christians. Oh yes, we’re the chief among sinners in this category. Primarily because we’ve done such an excellent job of figuring out a loophole that lets us run rampant with half-truths, accusations, slander, tiny negative comments and even lies. It’s called a prayer request. Here’s how it goes:
“Father Eddie, please pray for my friend Jon. I heard he’s been smoking buckets of crack. I don’t know that for sure, but I know he’s been a real jerk lately and probably it’s because of all that crack. Also, please pray for him as he goes on his super secret diet. He’s shared with me that he struggles with his weight, so please pray for him and for his new P90/freebasing Advocare regimen. I know it would be great for him not to be so fat and full of crack.”
And that’s how we do it, in an exaggerated form, of course. Why? Because it’s just so delicious to gossip in this way. It feeds something in us that just loves to be in the know, to be on the inside and special. Proverbs even addresses this truth: “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 18:8).
Mmmmm, the sweet taste of not being the most screwed up person you know. That’s the allure of gossip: It’s a way of dealing with our own insecurities by pointing out that which is messed up in others, instead of looking at that which is broken in us.
So what we do is take something we know, something we’ve been told or something we sense—then we wrap it up in Christian concern and share it. We’re actually masterful at this. Because we’re telling ourselves it’s not gossiping, it’s noble and good, iron sharpening iron. We tell ourselves we’re listening to James 5, which we are in a sense—all the way to the National Enquirer. Here’s some of James 5:
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Isn’t that eloquent! Here’s the problem: It is a very rare occasion that us sharing something with someone else, about someone else (i.e. gossiping) actually serves to accomplish the goal of turning a sinner. What it actually does is shame, embarrass and put us in our own perilous position. Yes, perilous. Here’s some proverbial wisdom:
“A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19).
“A wicked person listens to deceitful lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue” (Proverbs 17:4).
And my personal favorite…
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (Proverbs 6:16-19).
Hates. Hates! That’s strong language and a serious indictment of gossiping. But, if knowing that something was scripturally forbidden was enough to stop is in our tracks, there’d be no need for accountability software and church governance. But we do have those things, because it’s easy and appealing to fall into the trap of talking about others, especially when we feel like it’s justified.
So, here are some simple rules to help avoid gossiping:
1. Don’t talk about people. If you’ve run across some information or have a less than positive observation, don’t go sharing it with everyone. If you wouldn’t say what you’re about to say directly to the person who is the subject of your gossip, don’t talk about it. The only exception to this rule would be if someone is in some form of danger. Then, use common sense and tell somebody who can help. But outside of that, don’t talk about folks. OK? Moving on…
2. When you’re with a very close friend enjoying a nice conversation and perfectly paired Sauvignon Blanc, you may start chatting about folks in your friend group. When you start to do that, read No. 1 again.
3. If it seems like a perfectly justified and innocent time to share, AND you’re doing it out of the spiritual well being of that person, AND you have good intentions and no malice in your heart, read No. 1 again. Not kidding.
Which brings us back to you, Jenna. What you’re wanting to do is really a good thing, and your heart is clearly in the right place. But I would propose that because you’re wondering if it’s gossip to share some personal information about someone else, that maybe there’s a little Casper the Friendly Holy Ghost yelling into your heart saying, “Hey, this isn’t right!”—which I would agree with.
What I would do is this: Ask your friends to pray for a friend of yours who needs it. That’s it, no more no less. Because, if we trust the sovereignty of God, we can trust that He doesn’t need the name and social security number of people you’re bringing to him. What He wants is your heart (and your friends’ hearts) to be aligning with His.
God already knows the prayer request, and He knows the full measure of all ramifications of everything you’re bringing to Him. Prayer isn’t about informing God, or your friends, of something you know—it’s about posturing yourself in front of the Creator of the Universe and trusting that He cares. No gossip is needed, just trust.
Can you do that, Jenna? I know you can.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.