Some of you will not remember the Doritos® campaign from a few years ago—Jay Leno stood with a bag of the chips in his hand saying, “Go ahead. Crunch all you want. We’ll make more.” It was a catchy phrase for a time, and the church has latched onto it with both hands. No, not making chips, but making gossip. I know you’re saying, “Hold on, Preacher. I don’t gossip. I’m not a gossip.” But if we are honest with ourselves, we are all victims of, partakers in, and perpetuators to the problem known as gossip.

Let’s start with what the Scripture teaches Christians about gossip (this will be pretty easy, as I’m in the midst of a sermon series from the book of James):

It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. (James 3.5-6, MSG)

Of course I understand that James is talking about more than just gossip here, but it’s the basic building block of what he is referencing, and I might argue that if we boiled all the offenses of the tongue down to their original element we’d find gossip. It’s a problem for me, I know. And it is raging throughout American society. The infection is even eating away at the Church. Since James is writing to the church in the first century, I guess it isn’t a new problem. It is probably one of the least addressed issues in the modern church. I think this is true because of the number of church members affected by and participating in the constant flow of gossip in its various forms. So let’s dig down to the roots and try to address this sadness that clouds our lives and our worship.

Cultural Baggage

To begin with, Americans are not only gossips by nature, but by right. We assume, Constitutionally, that we have a right to know everything. We have freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom to information. We sit down to listen to the evening news and expect to hear all the gory details. We not only think that it is our right to know, but we deserve to know as well.

Our newspapers stand on their right to print all the news—not necessarily the New York Times claim, “All the news that’s fit to print.” But in the mix of all this free information, we have developed an attitude that we deserve to know it all. It’s our right to know, and to know everything. The problem with learning everything that we can know about everything that can be known is that we get our information from our own sources—newspapers, news reports on radio or television, not to mention the growing use of the Internet for not only news feed, but social networking. Opinions are running rampant, and everyone tells all that they know. Welcome to the Blogosphere!

Curiosity Killed the Cat

In the midst of all this information, we have also developed an oversized sense of curiosity. Maybe we don’t need to know, but we want to. Enter the church. We couch our requests for gossip in the disguise of wanting to “pray for” this person or that person. Do we really need to know the juicy story in order to pray for them? If someone suggests that one person or another needs the brothers and sisters to lift them up in prayer, that’s all we need to know.

The problem with that is that we are by nature inquisitive—and inquiring minds want to know. See? We want to know. But we’ve translated that in our minds to read we need to know. Our curiosity will not only kill the proverbial cat, but it will also severely damage or even maim our faith and our spirits in the process. And the difficulty is exacerbated by our lack of knowledge about just what gossip is.

What’s That You Say?

The reason that we deny being gossips is that we don’t really know what gossip is. We categorize our “sharing” in such a way that nothing we say, do, or hear can fall into the pit of gossip. So, why don’t I list a few things here that are gossip, whether we want to admit that they are gossip or not. (Hold on, this will probably hurt. You’ll probably disagree—and that’s okay. It’s even okay to disagree in the comment section, but remember to keep it nice, and keep it clean, I do monitor the comments.)

Prayer requests are often gossip in cognito. Do we need to pray for Sister Lu as she faces surgery? Yes. Do we need to know that the surgery is for a ruptured appendix? Probably not. Brother Joe’s son has been diagnosed with cancer and is facing chemotherapy. Pray. Don’t ask for the details.

A new person moves in down the street. We should stop by with a “welcome pie” or a list of local stores where essentials can be purchased. We should not rush over while the moving truck is unloading (with said pie or list as a cover) to snoop into what kind of things they have—furniture, books, children. It’s gossip. No, you say? Gossip is only words, you insist? I’d have to argue that everything that feeds our need for gossip is part and parcel of the process itself.

You see, gossip is more than simply repeating unsubstantiated rumors (even if it is that). It is more than just malicious talking (true or not true). It is spreading whatever it is not our business to spread—or listening to that which is none of our business to hear. With this in mind, telling (or listening to) that off-color—make that outright dirty—joke is gossip. Burning up the telephone wires with the latest “news” is gossip.

Make an Action Plan

So, how are we as Christians to act? Can we even open our mouths at all without gossip leaking out? (Probably not, but we can try.) Here are some suggestions that might help us to be more Christ-like in our interaction with one another.

  • Don’t Do This.

Stop looking for the juicy tidbits about everyone and everything.

Don’t believe everything your hear. I was once given the advice, “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.”

Please stop asking the preacher and the deacons for details about your brother or sister on the prayer list. Speaking from the point of the preacher, I’m glad you are concerned and want to pray. Please pray, he/she needs your prayers. I may even be at ease to tell you that they are having surgery in the next few days. However, I’m as susceptible (and as guilty) to telling more than needs to be told as the next guy. Don’t tempt me to gossip by asking all the details—first, I may need to keep a confidence and without my guard constantly up, may betray that confidence (then I build the reputation of being a loose-tongued wagamouth, and can’t be the pastor I need to be to you or our other church members). Secondly, I may not really know all the details—things may have changed since I heard, I may have missed some of the details, or I may even fill in the spaces with inaccurate details (preachers do that, too). If you ask me for details, I feel a need to tell them—known or unknown—then we get into a speculation match and begin to blow the situation into proportions that make it more of a caricature than the situation really is.

  • Do This Instead.

Pray. If you want to know the prayer request, listen to the prayer chain call. (Beware of prayer chains becoming juicy, gossip-filled grapevines, though.)

If you want to know what prayer requests have been made at prayer meeting—come to prayer meeting. This speaks also to those who attend such prayer meetings. It is not yours to tell just because you heard it in prayer meeting. If someone asks you what happened at prayer meeting, here’s a thought: Tell them to come to prayer meeting to find out. Sounds harsh, but this laziness and looking for others to get our information for us feeds the gossip mill.

If you really want to know the details beyond what’s on the prayer list or at prayer meeting, call the person involved. They can tell you what you may need to know, or that you don’t, and you don’t put your pastor or fellow church member in the position of spreading gossip.

If you must talk, here are a few of the things you should put on the top of your discussion list: the Gospel—tell people about Jesus, who He is, what He’s done, what He can and will do for anyone who trusts in Him. I was going to make a list of the things that we can talk about, but after having voiced this first thing, everything else pales, so let’s just leave it at that. To keep from making more gossip, make Jesus your topic—first, last, and everything in between.