Following Jesus in the Real World: Avoiding the gossip trap

by Dave Burchett
Posted on Monday, May 18, 2009, at 7:40 pm

I thought about trying an experiment this week. Last week I wrote about humility being disarming in the workplace and somehow the comments thread took a hard left turn toward the emergent church and Mark Driscoll. The turn was so abrupt that my airbag nearly deployed. So I thought about writing an article comparing needlepoint and faith just to see where the comments might end up. (By the way, for those who don't know my weird sense of humor I am not upset that the conversation went down those rabbit trails. Just amused.)

One of the ongoing desires of this space is to examine how Christians can have a real impact in the workplace. I have recently seen a rift develop between long-time friends because of gossip and improper discussions about a contentious work situation. Motives have been questioned and reputations besmirched. Like most of these situations, it just got out of hand when emotions were high. I could only quote noted philosopher Ron Burgundy:

"Boy, that escalated quickly. . . . I mean, that really got out of hand fast!"

And that is how gossip and loose talk works. You might remember the news story about four Hooksett, N.H., town employees with 46 years of service between them who were fired, in part for gossiping and discussing rumors of an improper relationship between the town administrator and another employee. Apparently the rumors were not true. The administrator complained, and after an investigation the town council fired the four women, finding "Gossip, whispering, and an unfriendly environment are causing poor morale and interfering with the efficient performance of town business."

"When I was given my termination papers, I just looked at the gentlemen that were present in the room and I said, 'You've got to be kidding!'" said fired worker Sandy Piper, who insisted her comments weren't out of line. "We discussed it on a lunch break, and then it ended."

Were the comments out of line? Does such conversation just end? The same thing happens every day (except for the termination part) in offices all over this great land. Gossip happens every day in neighborhoods, in car pools, and in annoying public cell phone conversations that I am forced to hear. Gossip is a cottage industry in America. We have gossip magazines and television shows. Gossip columnists make careers out of spreading half-truths and rumors.

The recurring theme of these humble ramblings is not to rail on what the culture is doing but to examine what the followers of Christ should be doing.

If the founding church fathers had added an Eighth Deadly Sin I would nominate gossip. I have seen the devastating effect that gossip has in the church. Gossip is a huge problem in the church, and sometimes gossip is very stealthy. Satan has a slick marketing trick that he sells to Christians. We don't call gossip by its actual name. We like to call gossip by euphemisms like "sharing our concerns" or "venting to a brother or sister." We gossip when we divulge unnecessary details in prayer requests as if God needs to be brought up to speed on the entire situation. We like to think we are in the clear if we know that the information is true and we are simply being "honest" and "telling it like it is." But Frank Clark correctly stated that "gossip needn't be false to be evil---there's a lot of truth that shouldn't be passed around."

Those same principles should apply for followers of Jesus in the workplace.

The Bible is very clear about gossip. I found at least 14 specific mentions of the word gossip in Scripture. A couple of Old Testament highlights:

"Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people" (Leviticus 19:16).

They visit me as if they were my friends, but all the while they gather gossip, and when they leave, they spread it everywhere (Psalm 41:6).

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends (Proverbs 16:28).

Paul reveals how seriously he ranks gossip when he includes the act of gossip in this not so attractive menu of sins:

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip (Romans 1:29).

Seriously, do most of us lump gossip in with hate, murder, and deception? Paul does. The church at Corinth also had an ugly list of problems, and gossip made the list:

For I am afraid that when I come I won't like what I find, and you won't like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior (2 Corinthians 12:20).

If Paul were to write a letter to the modern church he would surely include gossip in his list of rebukes. A follower of Jesus certainly should not spread gossip any further. Gossip is a parasite that requires a host organism to survive. Don't give gossip a place to live.

Solomon wrote this in Proverbs:

Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops (Proverbs 26:20 NLT).

Think of how many times you have believed something to be true only to find out the information was mostly or even totally wrong?

God takes seriously how we communicate about others. Peter said to "Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless---that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing" (1 Peter 3:8-9 The Message). So there is an added bonus for your Godly communication . . . a blessing at no extra charge.

God is not glorified when we spread gossip and idle chatter. The test is very simple. If I am not part of the situation or a part of the solution I should not be talking about it. That applies beautifully to the workplace. James is typically to the point in this brutally honest assessment:

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 3:6 The Message).

The Biblical truths that we should live by in church apply at work. Let me be honest. I am a work in very slow progress on this one. Hearing something about another person that makes me feel better about myself is still a temptation to spread and sinfully enjoy. But such actions deny the power and grace of the Cross. I am a new creature. That old insecure and needy man is no longer who I am in Christ. I need to tell myself that every day and then several times a day. Living out of that identity will make an impact in the workplace, at home, and at church.

Can't wait to see where this one goes.

Dave Burchett

Dave is a former WORLD contributor.

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