“I heard from my sister’s husband’s brother’s girlfriend that….”
Sounds a bit ridiculous but those are the types of scenarios that capture our attention and get our brains and, unfortunately, our mouths moving. It boils down to “gossip.”
It’s nothing new. It’s been part of our heritage since day one. Check the numerous times the Bible makes reference to gossip. Do an Internet search on gossip in the Bible. You’ll see that it’s a popular topic. Scripture uses very descriptive words for it such as: backbiter, busybody, slanderer, secrets, talebearer, whisperers. Gossip is quite clearly dealt with in the Bible.
Gossip causes hurt, destruction and division in families, neighborhoods, ministries and churches. Families have been divided due to gossip or a family member’s inability to keep a confidence.
I’ve known people who have had to move out of cities and even states due to the gossip and/or the inability to respect confidentiality. Most of the time what’s “spread” is what another person perceives to be the truth but usually contains only part of the facts. The story is a perception based on what the individual surmises to be true. We’ve all done it, and it’s so sad, hurtful and divisive.
One would think that church people would know better and be better informed on what God expects of us. Unfortunately, we fall into the same traps and get “sucked into” the same lies that we choose to spread even though we don’t know the facts.
Most of the time the “facts” are none of our business. Hopefully, they are being taken care of by those who know the whole story. Our input is usually unnecessary and inappropriate.
Clergy are certainly not exempt from this problem. We hear one side of the story. We think we know the facts. But in sharing this gossip we can ruin another priest’s or deacon’s credibility and rend him ineffective at the parish or in other areas of ministry. Half-truths are spread and what should have been held in confidence is told as though it were the truth. Disaster and hurt follow.
Our church has weighed in numerous times about gossip over the years. In September Pope Francis said: “…gossip is terrorism, it’s the terrorism of words, insulting one’s heart and dignity. We must choose silence, patience and most importantly forgiveness, however these choices are not easy.”
Gossip causes division. “Division is the weapon the devil employs most to destroy the church from within. The gossip is a ‘terrorist’ who throws a grenade – chatter – in order to destroy,” he added. “Please, fight against division, because it is one of the weapons that the devil uses to destroy the local church and the universal church.”
The Holy Father’s words are strong, clear and direct. They are difficult for us to follow. Here are some suggestions.
• Do not associate with those who are gossips. We all know them but have a desire to “hang around with them so we don’t miss anything.”
• When gossip starts, change the subject or remove yourself from the situation.
• Avoid conversations where you don’t know the situation. If you can’t solve the problem, you’re part of making the problem worse.
• In prayer, ask God’s help to get you out of the gossip habit. It’s a sin! Ask God’s forgiveness.
• If you have been a victim of gossip, consider confronting those who spread the rumor with the truth.
Today is a perfect time to reflect on some of the problems in our families, churches and world. Many times these problems are fueled by those who weigh in with gossip. It’s easy to become part of the problem unless we decide to become part of the solution, which oftentimes involves prayerful silence.