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Dear Perky,

I love my minister and my church. Unfortunately, some members of our congregation like to criticize our pastor and his wife. They gossip and talk about them behind their backs in ways that make me very uncomfortable. I don’t think they really want to hurt anyone, but the things they say make me cringe. Is there anything I can do to get them to change?

Emily in Eureka

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Dear Emily,

I’ve been around long enough to know we encounter people who like to gossip in every situation of life—jobs, schools, extended families, politics, and, (sadly) the church. That doesn’t make it right, but it shows how riddled society is with those who like to pick at the shortcomings of others—and, God knows—every one of us is rife with them.

As Christians, we sometimes think of ourselves as “better” than others when it comes to the more overt “sins” of life. We don’t smoke, we don’t drink alcohol, we don’t steal gum at the grocery, or drive over the speed limit (well, not much over the limit). But when it comes to more subtle failings like gluttony or gossip, our scruples disappear.

The problem with gossip is that it does not and is seldom intended to right a wrong or correct a problem. Almost always it is wielded as a weapon in a misguided attempt to hurt another person.

The problem with gossip is that it does not and is seldom intended to right a wrong or correct a problem.

A few years ago, a lady in our church told me she was sorry to hear Buck and I were having trouble in our marriage. I was truly caught off-guard. When I asked the good sister what she was talking about, she explained that it was “all over the church” that someone had heard me tell Imogene Dalton, “Buck and I are having trouble.” When I burst out laughing, the woman looked puzzled, so I explained: “I wasn’t referring to our marriage; I was talking about our ancient Oldsmobile. Some gizmo has broken, and Buck can’t find anyone who works on cars that old.” I encouraged my friend to share what I had told her with others—of course, that doesn’t mean the rumor died. Once unleashed, gossip is difficult to corral.

The Bible has a few things to say about gossip. Two verses that come to mind are: “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies” (Psalm 34:13 NIV), and “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26 NIV).

More often than not, I’ve found those who like to hurt people through gossip have, themselves, been hurt by others. I heard a minister share how a lady in his church spoke badly about him every time anyone would listen. One day when they were chatting, he confronted her.

She denied it, but he pressed on and told her he wanted to be her friend, even if she didn’t like him. After that, he looked for opportunities to speak with and encourage her. In the course of building lines of trust and communication, the minister learned she had been hurt by some people in the church. You might say she was dishing what she had been dished. Eventually, the minister wore down the lady’s defenses with his concern and love. Today, she is one of his biggest supporters.

Of course, not every story ends like this one. Gossip can devastate individuals and churches. The best way to deal with gossip is by sharing the truth when you encounter it or keeping quiet when you can’t.

The best way to deal with gossip is by sharing the truth when you encounter it or keeping quiet when you can’t.

The bottom line is that we cannot control anyone else’s behavior or words, but we can control our own. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is in Ephesians 4. There Paul tells the parishioners at Ephesus: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29 ESV).

Wonderful words! And if each of us will take them seriously, gossip will disappear from our churches like the seeds of a dandelion on an April afternoon.

Love,

Perky

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