When the newly elected Pope Francis declared that the Vatican had become a
hotbed of intrigue and power struggles, he instructed his policemen at the
Vatican to “crack down on gossip” within the walls of the holy city. He
defined gossip as “the devil’s work, a forbidden language, and a war waged
with the tongue.” He told the gendarmes gathered for mass that day to tell
gossipers they catch in the act, “Here there can be none of that!”
“Good for him!” I thought to myself as I read this news report. It made me
consider how deadly gossip can be for any church or ministry. The Bible
references a gossiper as a backbiter, busybody, slanderer, talebearer, and
whisperer. Gossip spreads rumors or secrets, speaking about someone
maliciously behind their back or repeating something about someone else
that you have no right to repeat. A gossiper is a person who has
privileged information about people and proceeds to reveal that
information to those who have no business knowing it.
Lest we think the Vatican is the only place where gossip exists, don’t be
fooled. Gossip is in your church, ministry, city, neighborhood, in your
home, and of far greater significance, in your own heart and sometimes
even on your lips. Are you willing to declare such an admission? Does it
bother you enough to do something about it?
Pope Francis sees the problem and wants it eradicated from his church. His
leadership reminds me of St. Benedict, who in the year 500 AD sought to do
likewise among his followers, reminding them that at times “a little
strictness” of discipline among the brethren will be enforced in order to
“safeguard love” in the community. What the pope is doing today is
exercising “a little strictness” by asking his Vatican police to hold the
faithful to a higher standard of love and cease any form of gossip.
The Bible is replete with detailed reminders about the damaging affects of
gossip. “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close
friends” (Prov. 16:28). “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11:13)
therefore, do not associate with a simple babbler (Prov. 20:19). “As
charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for
kindling strife” (Prov. 26:20). Other places to consider: Psalms 41:7;
Prov. 25:23; Rom. 1: 28-32; 2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Tim. 3:9-11, 5: 13-14; 2 Tim.
3:1-5…just to name a few more.
Any words that come out of an untamed tongue are likened to a feather
pillow, opened and released from a window on a windy day…free to roam as
far as the wind will carry them, and nearly impossible to recollect back
into the pillow case. The damage of gossip is beyond control, outrageous
in the net negative effect upon all who are connected directly or
“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends”
(Prov. 16:28). Many a friendship has been ruined by a misunderstanding
that began with gossip. Sadly, some people thrive on this and look for
opportunities to hurt or destroy the reputation of another, causing anger,
bitterness, and pain in relationships. To bring it to an end is a
challenge in many settings today. But certainly not impossible.
Some practical suggestions for avoiding gossip: don’t associate with those
you know to be a lover of gossip; when someone starts to gossip, quickly
change the subject to something more positive; stay as far away from
gossip as possible; if you’ve fallen into gossip, ask God to help
change your heart and redirect your mind and words; when you are a
victim of gossip, seek every way possible to lovingly confront the parties
spreading the rumor and cease it as swiftly as possible.
Bottom line…gossip is a matter of the heart. “A fool’s mouth is his
undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul” (Prov. 18:7). In fact
gossip is a blatant sin against God and one’s neighbor. Will you take up
the mantle of bold leadership among your community and seek to eradicate
it? Or, will you let it continue untamed in your midst? My simple
suggestion: it’s time to humbly, prayerfully, and firmly crack down on
gossip! I trust you agree.