Over the past few years I have become more and more convinced that to follow Jesus is to walk in the way of nonviolence, but if I could find the inventor of the cliché “Sticks and stones … but names will never hurt me”, I would be tempted to turn him over to one of my less enlightened friends!
Words hurt deeply and one of the most devastating weapons formed against community is gossip! My New Oxford American Dictionary defines gossip as “Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” Such as definition cuts fairly close to home for many.
A few years ago I felt the very sharp end of this weapon. A small cabal of folks began gossiping about me. I was aware of it and tried to speak to these folks. I was assured that things would change but sadly they did not. I chose rightly or wrongly to bear with being misunderstood and misrepresented. I was wounded by these folks but I determined not to respond in any way other than I had. This might have ultimately succeeded but among those hearing this continuous ‘bile’ was someone who was unstable. That person physically assaulted me. Those who should have ‘had my back’ had aimed a loose cannon at me and I was unsafe in my own place of ministry!
Gossip seems casual but unconstrained it has horrible consequences. This is why God takes it so seriously. He gives us admonishment to refrain from “bearing false witness”. Jesus teaches a method of resolving difficulties which begins with constraint. We ought to examine our conscience asking “Is this true?” Is there room for the possibility that I may be wrong, misunderstand or that my emotions are driving me. “Is it helpful?” Will saying or sharing this help resolve or change things for the better. This question challenges my motives. Too many words are said and texts and emails sent with unclear motives. Such seldom help resolve things. The last question is “Is it loving?” It is not always wrong to speak up but it is always wrong to be unkind!
If our issue passes the test of these three question Jesus sets out a pattern of resolution. After going to God in prayer (I believe we should always give first place to Him.) we ought to go directly to the other or others involved. Though Jesus goes on to set out a second step I think it is a mistake to think that one attempt at resolution on a private plane gives us permission to take this to the next level. We ought to work diligently to resolve issues personally and only after that is exhausted should we go with a few others who are also interested in resolving things. Too often we leap to this inclusion of others and we ignore the ideal that these others should be keenly interested in resolving issues. With a sense of our own rightness we too often seek allies to take our side rather than seek out those whose sole ambition is resolution and reconciliation. It is this mistake above all others which is a chief weapon formed against the Church.
The final step involves going publicly to the church. This needs only be done in rare occasions and is included as an antidote to gossip because gossip thrives in the shadows but reconciliation happens in the light.
We all know from sad personal experience that words can hurt. Unconstrained words are a weapon of the Prince of Darkness. We are to live as children of light! As I write this I admit to being convicted of unconstrained speech. I cannot throw stones but I hope I can shed some light.