I don’t gossip.
That’s a sentence I say relatively often. Usually to reassure a friend when they realise they’ve told me something they’d prefer other people not to know about. But sometimes I have to say it to a friend who starts telling me something someone else might prefer other people not to know about.
In this case it’s a difficult sentence to say for a number of reasons:
- I worry that I might sound sanctimonious,
- I fear that the other person may feel like I’d judging them,
- I suspect that it might not be completely true…
What if it’s not completely true…?
What if I do gossip? I also claim not to lie to people, so if I ever gossip then I’m lying on two counts. (That is: I’m lying about not gossiping and about not lying, in case that wasn’t clear.)
I admit to being a little concerned about this when I first started claiming not to gossip. In fact it was the same reasoning as my disapproval of ichthus-symbol car-stickers. If you’re going to drive like a reckless idiot, then don’t make it obvious to other drivers that you’re a Christian. This reasoning is obviously the wrong way around. It should be: if you’re going to make it obvious to other drivers that you’re a Christian, then don’t drive like a reckless idiot. Right?
So, I realised that if I was going to claim not to gossip, then I had better not gossip! It’s a little thing called accountability: everyone who has heard me say “I don’t gossip” is going hold me to that.
As for the other two points…
The Bible tells Christians NOT to judge…
…people who aren’t Christians.
But the Bible does say that Christians SHOULD judge other Christians. Not the eternal judgement that is for God alone to make, but sound, caring judgements out of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Think about this:
Your sister starts taking recreational drugs. Do you just stand idly by?
Your brother gets into a harmful relationship. Do you say nothing out of fear that he’ll think you’re judging him?
Of course not. It may be a difficult conversation, and they may not take it well. But at least you’ll have done something.
So why should I be scared of rebuking or warning my brothers and sisters in the Church when they stray from God’s path or – like with gossiping – have an unbiblical habit?
I suppose it may be a case of one of these things:
- The ‘sin’ they’re committing may seem insignificant (like gossiping),
- I know I have many unbiblical habits or I have my own slip-ups occasionally,
- It may feel like none of my business and I don’t really know the person well enough.
My theory is that, if it’s a case of straying from God’s path – i.e. this person is doing something that could harm their own relationship with God and might cause other people trouble – then any Christian should rebuke and correct them. Kindly and privately of course, not claiming that we are perfect ourselves, but warning them of the danger they are in. And we are not to go around gossiping about it afterwards!
But if it’s a case of a slip-up or a slip of the tongue, then it may only be those who are close friends with them who should rebuke them…
However, when it comes to gossiping, it often occurs with people I don’t know very well. It’s easy enough if they’re my friends, because they all know my stance on gossiping and usually an awkward look from me and they realise what they’re saying. But when it’s only an acquaintance who’s gossiping, I have to choose my words wisely. I can’t just ignore it and leave it until one of their friends rebukes them, because it may mean a long time of listening to things that I shouldn’t be hearing.
So I have to take a deep breath, quickly pray, and say – in a half-joking way – something like “umm, I don’t think I need to know this.” And hope that they’ll not mind.
Or most of the time I just run away.