Gossip and Its Ugly Cousins

If we live in this world, as it appears we all do, then it is not uncommon to run into gossip, backbiting, busy-bodying, and all the rest of this family of tongue-sins. We are a fallen race, and our mouths show it, literally. Women are certainly not alone in sins of the tongue, but Scripture singles us out in a few places, which should alert us all the more to our temptations here. For example, Timothy particularly warns young widows who have too much time on their hands. This free time can set them up to “speak things which they ought not” (1 Tim. 5:13). In the book of Titus, older (or aged) women are urged not to be false accusers (Titus 2:3-15). Deacons’ wives must not be slanderers (1 Tim. 3:11). And of course Scripture has many general exhortations to all believers about sins of the tongue.

One of the questions that often comes up is how to behave when others are gossiping or slandering in your presence. And it’s easy to spend our time on that side of the coin rather than on our own behavior. Nevertheless, we do need to know what to do when we are witnesses of backbiting, slander, and all the other ugly cousins of gossip. Do we call people aside or openly rebuke them? Should we ignore them or walk away? What does a Christian woman do? It all depends.

First, we cannot expect unbelievers to act like believers even if they wanted to. They are sinners. So don’t be shocked or surprised when unbelieving co-workers, neighbors, or relatives say ugly things. Don’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians. They can’t. When my  husband joined the US Navy, he was not expecting a bastion of holiness on board the submarine. We are to be evangelists, which means we are not to rap people on the knuckles, but rather share the good news of forgiveness. And Christians are far from perfect in this area, so we should not be surprised when our fellow Christians sin with their mouths. So principle number one is do not be surprised. This is as common as dirt.

The second principle is to bear in mind that there are always two sides to the story. For example, if a woman tells me her husband yelled at her, I ask two things: What happened before he yelled? How did you respond? Now even if she was cussing him out before he cussed her out, it still does not excuse his sin. It merely makes it clear to me that both parties are in it deep and not just one. But if she tells me that she was cheerfully making him dinner, and he came in and yelled at her for no good reason, and she just bit her tongue and kept cooking, then I think she has good grounds for looking for help. If what she says is true, she is being mistreated by a bully of a husband. And someone needs to get his explanation for this bad behavior.

Another principle is this: Gossip usually does not want help finding a solution to the problem. When a woman complains about her husband publicly on a website, and all the women join in feeling sorry for her, I don’t really blame them. She is looking for some sympathy, and she is getting it. I would not rebuke her on a website for over-sharing. Rather, I might suggest that she go to her pastor for help. She needs to look for someone who can provide accountability for her fathead of a husband. But often women do not want to find accountability for their husbands; they just simply want to complain about them. If they ever actually got a pastor involved, he might ask sticky questions and find out that she is a major exasperation to her husband. I think I’ve told the story of my mother-in-law getting on the gossip chain when they first moved to a new town. She offered right away to go talk to the person who had done the evil deed that the hot story was about. The lady sharing the gossip backed down immediately, and thus ended Bessie’s short stint on the gossip chain.

And here’s what may look like a contradictory principle: Sometimes bad-mouthing a husband is a way of sending up a flare for help. If you have a Christian friend who is complaining about her husband to you,  I might suggest you use the same tactic as above. Rather than rebuking her for sharing such things with you, ask her if she would like you to help. Suggest that you call the pastor. She will either decide that it is way too small of an issue (which it may be) and quit talking about it, or she make take offense at you for suggesting it. But if you explain that you want to help her deal with her meat-head husband, she may get the idea. Many women really, truly need help, and they don’t know how to get it. Some of the complaining and back-biting might be offered in the hopes that someone might offer to help. So offer to help.

Gossip isn’t good. But it is not as though we are going to catch cooties if we hear it. Try to interpret it. Is this person just a grumbler? If so, you can move on, change the subject, or  pray for an opportunity to address it.  Is this a woman who needs help or encouragement and doesn’t know any other way to get it? Then perhaps you should offer to help. Whatever the case, if we are quick to offer to help, we will eventually find out that most women don’t want help, and they will take their gossip and complaining elsewhere.

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7 thoughts on “Gossip and Its Ugly Cousins

  1. I was just thinking about this subject this morning, and wondered what you would say about it. Then, lo and behold, you write another encouraging, helpful article for us to read. Thanks!

  2. My mother is such a wise woman, and I have never known her to entangle herself in gossip of unkind talk of any kind. Additionally she has always been well thought of and respected by everyone who meets her.. really!
    She always told me two things, the first is that if you sit and listen to gossip and say nothing others will interpret your silence as tacit agreement. Sometimes people may not even remember who all in a group actually participated actively in the gossip, but they remember what was said, and they usually remember who was there. It is important to not just sit idly by when such talk is going on.
    She advised me to try and find something positive to say about the person who is being spoken ill of. For example if Sally is a terrible housekeeper and the talk at the ladies fellowship is centering on the deplorable state of her house, maybe mention what a good cook she is, or how tenderly she cares for her children. There is always something good to be said… search for that good thing and say it! This accomplishes several things.. first it serves as a gentle non-confrontative rebuke to the gossiper. It clearly shows that you are not willing to participate in such behavior. Perhaps most importantly, it changes the tenor of the conversation in the group and gives the other gals “permission” to not participate in unkind talk and gives them an avenue to follow in their own speech. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used this strategy and I love it. I love my mama! ;-}

  3. Should you do anything when you discover that other Christians are gossiping about you – especially if the things they are saying aren’t even remotely true? Or should we just let love cover over such things? (We do have enough other faults that they are not mentioning.)

  4. Ellen’s question is one we’re dealing with now with our 14 yr. old daughter. Her transition into a classical Christian school has been painful because of this.

  5. I have a related topic about which I’d love to hear your wisdom.
    What is the best way to approach a Christian brother or sister who has gossiped and slandered against you?
    Understanding that we are always to approach those who offend us in a spirit of forgiveness, how do we proceed if the slander continues, and there is no hint of remorse.
    I see the attitude of David in Psalms, praying that God will not allow his enemies to prosper in their sin.
    And there is prayer for the destruction of his enemies as well. But this is not productive.
    I understand that we are to pray for those who despitefully use us. And there is a good start, so I make a point of attending to that every day….through the day.
    And at the same time, I heard your husband’s sermon not long ago about David as he was fleeing Saul, when Michal lied in order to help him escape. In this sermon, Dr. Wilson said something to the effect that lying is like declaring war on someone. That is how it feels, and it does awaken so many ugly responses in my heart.
    I am, obviously, in this situation. And I am also, obviously, muddled by it.
    If you ever had any thoughts on this topic, I would love to read them.
    Thank you.

  6. I also echo Ellen’s question. So often, it’s easier to deal with non-Christians because you know where they stand. But when it’s “one of your own” so to speak, it can get murky,and your intentions might be misconstrued as divisive.

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