17 You shall not murder.[d]
18 Neither shall you commit adultery.
19 Neither shall you steal.
20 Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
If your friend is plotting to murder someone, you will do all you can to prevent him/her from bringing catastrophe on his/her life and the life of others. If your friend tells you of the affair s/he is having, your response is some version of stop, you’re hurting people. If you see your friend stealing while you are shopping with them, you open your eyes bigger, tilt your head and say ‘put it back’. And also when you hear your friend bearing false witness — also known as gossiping — you need to get them to stop. Gossip is never the truth. It bears false witness about someone else.
Do you know the 9th commandment when you hear it? What is gossip?
- Rumors with the implication that someone is at fault
- False information
- Feelings attached to facts to imply a different outcome
- Incomplete information presented as complete
- Failure to correct false information
- Ridicule, belittling, humiliation
- Leaks of personal and confidential information presented out of context or without permission
- Failure to stop the dissemination of unethical communication
Information is power. Sharing, building on, adding to, correcting information are all examples of methods garnering power. God knows power can build up or damage. We are to build up the body of Christ, not tear others down. Persistent gossipers are harmful to themselves and their community. Think of it as someone playing with a loaded gun – they are going to hurt themselves or others if you don’t get the gun out of their hands. Here are ways to take the gun out of their hands ….
I. Know what gossip is, looks like, and feels like.
When the person who is speaking sounds like both victim and wanting attention (not resolution), it’s gossip. Usually the talk is in a dramatic and exaggerated tone and undermines the credibility of the person being discussed. Christians will often justify their gossip by saying that they care about the morality of the situation, or speak as if they know the right things to do/say. Beware of moralizing undertones, that’s gossip.
Some people hide behind “processing their feelings” as an excuse to gossip. Ask them if they feel they need to process their feelings or if they need to seek a resolution to X, or about X. If they need to process, suggest they see their spiritual director, therapist, or someone who can more effectively help them spiritually move on. Gossip or general complaining isn’t going to help them process their feelings.
II. Ask the gossiper what her/his bottom line concern is and then say “I’ll go with you to talk to X about that since she can make the difference in what you are concerned about.” If the person refuses to seek true resolution, then be realistic and say “you just want to gossip then, I don’t want to be a part of this” and walk away.
III. Don’t receive the gossip someone is dispersing. It’s ok to just walk away.
IV. Reframe the statement to something positive.
What, we’re not good enough for her?
Response: Everyone has their own talents and gifts. We’re lucky to have a great variety of different gifts in our community.
Then possibly redirect the topic, acknowledging the gossipers talents and ask something about what his challenges are in that ministry or what her/his delights are in their ministry. Since the gossiper mostly wants attention, and if you want to stay in conversation, shift the conversation to something truly constructive for him/her to reflect on.
V. The important thing is NOT to feed the energy. Recognize gossip and nip it in the bud. Think through the response or level of confrontation you are most comfortable with, and be prepared. Gossip is a bad habit, damaging to one’s spirit and the community, and violates of one of the Ten Commandments – it is a serious spiritual issue.
VI. Christians in particular often hide their gossip by wrapping it in a prayer. As the prayer leader, you need to interrupt this and reframe it to asking for a more general quality that will build up the body of Christ – for example strength, healing, awareness of God’s will. Don’t gossip, even with God.
Writer and business coach Joshua Miller offers these suggestions for things to say when you find yourself with gossipers:
- I feel uncomfortable talking about X whilst they are not in the room. Let’s wait until they can be with us to continue this discussion.
- I don’t think it is appropriate to discuss X in this way. They aren’t here to give us their side of the story and it isn’t our place to be making up a story for them.
- To be really honest, I dislike hearing about another person in this way; it also makes me wonder if you talk about me like this when I’m not around.
- Would you be talking like this if X were here?
Remember the words of Jesus “Seek ye First the Kingdom of God” and create conversation about
1) improvements you can do (not someone else’s ‘should do’),
2) things/aspects/gifts you are grateful for,
3) where is God in this for you. These are examples of conversations that can get you on the right track of building up the body of Christ.
Author: The Rev. Dr. Beth Kelly
Would you like to talk more about this? firstname.lastname@example.org