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April 2015 Underscore: How are We Addressing Gossip?

Gossip is a Concern in the Church. How are We Addressing the Issue?
Story by Rhonda M. Covington / Graphic by istock

During the 16th century, the word gossip was oftentimes attributed to a woman who enjoyed idle talk, a tattler. By the 19th century, the term “to be a gossip” first appeared in Shakespeare. Today no one gender is thought to have a monopoly on the activity.

There are various opinions on gossip and its’ affects on society. Some view it as trivial, hurtful and unproductive, while others see it as a lighthearted way of spreading information.

Marissa Leslie, MD, medical director for Outpatient Services at Adventist Behavioral Health in Rockville, Md., defines gossip as essentially casual discussions among people about other people, usually involving information that has not been verified but is often speculated. Interestingly, she says gossip can serve as a means to develop social bonds and increase closeness. It can also be a way for people to take the focus off of themselves by focusing on the fortune or misfortune of others. Gossip also fills in gaps when facts or details are unknown. When events are shrouded in mystery or lack transparency, Leslie says gossip abounds because most people want to know or understand.

Leslie, a member of Potomac Conference’s Restoration Praise Center in Bowie, Md., cites a recent study by researchers from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley1 of 216 participants who divided into groups to make financial choices that would benefit their group. They discovered that gossip and ostracism can produce very positive effects. They are tools by which groups reform bullies, thwart exploitation of “nice people” and encourage cooperation.

“Unfortunately, it is often difficult to refute gossip that aims to deny false claims or place true claims in context for others,” says Dr. Leslie. She also notes that some people thrive on the negative experiences of others. She suggests avoiding gossip altogether or “changing the conversation when negative discussion starts.”

Read and share these other articles from the April Visitor:
April2015VisitorCover_400pxFeature: Love Me Tender
Underscore: How Are We Addressing Gossip?
Peggy Lee Departs Her Favorite Port of Call—CURF
Editorial: Parable of the Lost Band
5 Tips for Approaching Missing Members
6 Practical Ways to Stop Gossip
Creating a Path Home: Williamsport Church Member Seeks After Missing Members

Gossip in the Pews

Most Christians don’t believe there is a good use for gossip in church life. Roger Hernandez, ministerial and evangelism director for the Southern Union, has devoted several entries to his blog ( on the topic. Under a February entry titled “The Pain of Internet Trolling,” he writes about how hurtful and destructive gossip is, pointing out that it usually involves someone posting inflammatory comments and videos to invoke anger.

“Maybe I am naive. Maybe I have not been living in the real world, but it seems to me that the level of vitriol, accusations and slander inside the church has risen in recent years,” Hernandez wrote. “It is common. It is painful. It must stop.” He states he has conversations with at least one pastor a week about how they have been injured by another Christian’s accusations.

Hernandez believes Internet access and the rising popularity of social media has created in people the illusion that everyone with an opinion can say whatever to whomever. In reality, since it is disconnected from the person, he believes it is easier for people to offend and say things they would never say face to face.

Elliot Smith, associate pastor of Ohio Conference’s Kettering church, believes the subject of gossip is “a vital issue” and says, “It goes directly against Jesus’ prayer and plan for the church, as found in John 17:21.”

Graphic from istock Click here for 6 practical ways to stop gossip!

He adds that all forms of gossip are harmful, but that the most insidious form is when we feel we are simply telling the truth to others. “We feel we can do this because it is not a lie, and perhaps we are hoping to ‘protect’ others,” he says. Furthermore, he says when we gossip, we not only hurt each other, but we also give a reason for the world to doubt our faith.

Pam Consuegra, Family Ministries associate director for the North American Division, adds that while most people agree that bullying on school playgrounds is destructive, members oftentimes fail to realize that our own churches are breeding grounds for bullying through gossip. “The truth is that the church pews have probably heard more gossip than the seats on the school bus,” she notes.

Consuegra and Leslie also note that we engage in gossip just by listening to it. Consuegra wonders, “How many church pews are now vacant due to the consequences of gossip? How many opportunities have we missed to speak words of love? How many chances have we passed by to bring someone to Jesus?”

Ellen White had this to say about it: “The spirit of gossip and talebearing is one of Satan’s special agencies to sow discord and strife, to separate friends, and to undermine the faith of many in the truthfulness of our positions” (The Adventist Home, p. 441).

Build Healthy Relationships

Christopher Thompson, pastor of Allegheny West Conference’s Hillcrest church in Pittsburgh, recently conducted a series themed “Love Lifted Me.” The entire event centered on building healthy relationships. He says that although they didn’t directly speak on the topic of gossip, they definitely addressed it by discussing how God relates to His children.

Pastor Thompson says God’s method of communicating with us can be seen as a model and impetus for how we relate to those around us. “And so, if God accepts me, loves me unconditionally, etc., then we ought to strive to do the same for those around us,” he says.

Thompson also addressed the importance of communicating, forgiving, and recognizing how and when a situation has gone too far. He says he sometimes has to directly address gossip issues when they arise in the church. When doing so, he first confronts the person(s) making the accusations, publically states the facts then speaks with the affected person when necessary to clear up any misunderstandings.

Thompson usually instructs members to use the “4W approach” to know if they should use or share information obtained from others:

  • What? What is this about? Is it pertinent, positive and productive information to share?
  • Who? Is this the appropriate person to share this information with?
  • Why? Would it be appropriate to share this information now?
  • When? Would there be a better time to speak about it?

As a rule, he says, if the persons involved haven’t discussed it, then it probably isn’t appropriate to share it with anyone else who isn’t a mentor, counselor or spiritual leader.

Pastor Hernandez leaves us with this challenge: “Let’s be the church, where unbelievers are critical of what we believe but amazed about how we love one another.”

 1 Clifton B. Parker, “Stanford Research: Hidden Benefits of Gossip, Ostracism,” Jan. 27, 2014, Stanford News,


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