Most people would agree that gossip is a bad thing. Spreading exaggerated or scandalous information about another person is, for the most part, frowned up. Many churches even spend more time focused on the “sin of gossip” than on other, more easily defined problems. However, the problem of gossip in the church is not so clear-cut as to provide an easy definition of what to avoid.
Too often, sharing any negative information about another person, even if that information needs to be shared, is labeled as sinful gossip by overly zealous Christians. However, this attitude is completely wrong. Not only would this mean that Paul gossiped in his letters to distant churches, but it would also mean that warning others against a potentially dangerous person is sinful. Let’s take a closer look at what gossip actually is and how the Bible addresses it.
What is Gossip?
A few overzealous Christians will define gossip as the action of saying negative things behind someone’s back that you would never say to their face. While this is close, it doesn’t qualify much about those negative things being said. Are they true? Why is the information being shared in the first place?
In most teachings about gossip, the action is very often conflated with slander. However, the Bible defines gossip and slander as two different things. For instance, many Christians will quote 2 Corinthians 12:20 as evidence that gossip is considered a terrible sin on par with wrath. But when you look closer at the verse, the argument begins to fall apart. For starters, gossip and slander are listed as two separate activities, which is an odd choice if they refer to the same action. Additionally, while the Greek words translated as “gossip” and “slander” can refer to similar activities, their meanings are still distinct enough to not be rightfully considered the same thing.
Finally, in a modern context, slander has a much different meaning than gossip. Legally, slander refers to defaming and untrue information told about another person with the express intent of causing harm to their reputation. In other words, slander is defined as a malicious lie, while gossip is not. Thus, gossip can only be fairly defined as spreading information that you believe to be true or at least partially true, though not necessarily out of malicious intent. These are two very different behaviors.
When Negative Information is Not Gossip
What is the go-to conflict resolution method for most Christians? Matthew 18, of course. Laying aside the fact that this passage is often misapplied, it’s also important to remember that it’s impossible to conduct any sort of conflict resolution, much less correct application of Matthew 18, without sharing information about the problem with someone else. By its very nature, correct conflict resolution involves bringing information to light so everyone involved can make an informed decision.
Additionally, people may be sharing negative information about someone else for the benefit and protection of others. For instance, if someone lists an escaped criminal’s actions and provides a detailed description of their appearance, they aren’t gossiping, they’re trying to protect other people from being victimized. Likewise, an individual church member who is bringing uncomfortable information about someone else to light may just be trying to protect others.
It All Comes Down to Motive
Ultimately, the only way to truly define gossip is to look at one’s motivation. Since it’s difficult to accurately judge another’s genuine motive, it’s important to analyze our own motives before sharing any information. Why do you want to share this information? Do you believe it to be true? Are you trying to make others aware or destroy someone’s reputation unfairly?
Pro Tip: Be careful about accusing someone else of spreading gossip. You might not have all the information–what they’re saying could very well be true.
Gossip in the Church
In a misguided attempt to demonstrate love and forgiveness, or perhaps from a desire to live peacefully with others, too many Christians refuse to allow any sort of negative talk about other people. Even if the information turns out to be true, the speaker is labeled a “gossiper” and ignored. While genuine gossip is truly harmful and to be avoided, we must simultaneously be careful to not label any uncomfortable or inconvenient information as gossip. We should use our discernment to investigate and find the truth before passing judgment.
Join the conversation to learn more about what gossip in the church truly means and how to handle uncomfortable truths or questions.