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Clipping the Gossip Grapevine Before It Grows
If church is a hospital, then gossip is an infection. Instead of getting healed up when we go to church, we catch whatever else is going around. Here's a prescription to heal the wounds.

Apparently, the pastor sleeps in the nude. The choir director eats live lizards before practice and Marjory has gained so much weight …

Clipping the Gossip Grapevine Before It Grows


It's the wrecking ball dangling outside the front door of many churches. Seemingly harmless observations about another person, as juicy as an overripe grapefruit, are really harmless only to us–they taste pretty bitter to Marjory–or whomever it is we're talking about behind their backs.

We're gullible. We gobble up what other people tell us like a kid at a pie-eating contest. We don't ask for verification or proof, or question the motives of the person telling the tale. We swallow it and then regurgitate it for others' consumption. Yuck.

The church, as anyone who has ever attended one for long enough knows, isn't free from the gossip disease, at least not this side of Kingdom Come. It's a hospital waiting room with pews and an altar–you go there to get well and end up catching some other infection that's going around.

That's what gossip is–an infection. Here's one possible prescription to clear up the infection and heal the wounds that gossip creates:

  • As my mother used to say: "Use the brains that God gave you!" It usually had to do with math homework, but it works for gossip too. We know ourselves well enough to know that our motivations aren't always right. Therefore we can deduce that other people's aren't either. When someone tells you something that sounds astonishing, shocking, or downright unbelievable about a person or a situation, ask critical questions. "How do you know this to be true?" "Have you spoken to the choir director about the lizards?" "Why are we talking about Marjory's weight?"

  • Ask those questions with love, in a gentle voice, free of sarcasm, and the chances of getting in a scuffle in the sanctuary greatly diminish. Yes, the person spreading the story will feel embarrassed, and yes, that's too bad. But … that's too bad.

  • "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all." Another ditty from my mother. Usually she yelled it. It's actually the Ephesians 4:29 principle. Only say what builds up another person, so that the listener will benefit from what they hear. Imagine how the world would be different if everyone did that? Or if one person did that?

  • If you hear that your pastor is going to have the choir start doing a conga line during the processional, and outrage is growing, ask yourself some critical questions. "Would I bet my Friday night Lotto 6/49 ticket that this is true?"

  • Then, ask God to help you resist the urge to join in, and hightail it to the church office (no, no … not the parsonage, the office). Ask the pastor, plump and plain, "Are you, in fact, going to force the choir to do a conga line during the processional?" You can even slap your hand on the desk if it makes you feel better. Then you'll find out the truth, from the source. You'll feel better and the church will be on its way to gossip recovery.

  • Be brave! We're Canadian. We're Christians. We're polite. We don't like to argue. We like to sip tea, or maybe coffee. We don't like to confront the person with whom we have the problem. It's so much easier to discuss these things with other people. So much more peaceful. And so much more poisonous. Draw on "Matthew's Guide to Solving Problems in the Church," found in Matthew 18:15. It involves confrontation with the person who has wronged you. "Show him his fault," it says, "just between the two of you." If that doesn't work and he or she won't listen, you bring someone else into it. Then, if it's still not cleared up, that's when it says to tell it to the church.

In too many situations and in too many churches, we get it backwards. The person with whom we have a conflict, or a problem, or a concern, is the last one we speak to. We tell it to the church first, and the actual person, maybe never. That's a shame, and, according to Scripture, it's actually a sin too. We can be better, and braver, than that.

Karen Stiller is the associate editor of Faith Today.

Originally published in Christian Current, June 2005.




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