In Anglican circles we all too often find ourselves dealing with the issue (sin) of gossip—spreading rumors and reports about others without first confirming the facts.
Recently, Archbishop Foley Beach addressed this issue on the ANCA website in an article titled, “A Christian Code of Ethics for Using Social Media.” He states:
Most of us have done it!! We have posted something on the Internet when we had thought, incorrectly, that we had heard all the facts. Or we have written something slamming a brother or sister in Christ personally without talking to them in person first.
Sadly, this is so true. Most of us have indeed wrongly spoken against a brother or sister at some point. Or, having spoken the truth, we look back to find that we have not spoken it in the Spirit and love of the crucified one.
In our day, articles from Christian news outlets sometimes appear to be little more than gossip dressed up in its best Sunday clothes. Many of us have participated in sharing such articles, carelessly commenting and passionately passing our verdicts without ever speaking with the individuals involved, without taking the time to pray for them.
To top it off, with the advent of social media, even the smallest piece of gossip can unleash a firestorm of slander—spreading false statements that are damaging to the reputations of others. But there is hope!
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).
This is not a new problem. For those who have studied early liturgies of the Church, they will know that some of the earlier liturgies mention slander and ask for God to have mercy on them to be free from it.
Why? Because the early leaders of the Church knew this was a strong problem in the hearts of God’s people that needed to be dealt with on a daily basis.
Perhaps the problem is that many modern evangelicals have little connection to these early Christians who so clearly saw the threat that gossip and slander pose to our spiritual lives.
On the other hand, because Anglicans have a strong connection to the early Church, we should have ears to hear these ancient warnings against gossip. It does not take much to realize that we need to avoid gossip and slander if we are going to grow as Christians.
But Can’t We Judge Others?
But can’t we judge others or correct them when they sin?
My answer is yes and no. Yes, but it has to be done in the right spirit and the right way. The Bible does not give us license to gossip, slander, or criticize others. Correction should be done in gentleness, prayer, and a spirit of humility, realizing we will be judged by the same measure in which we criticize and judge others.
Consider Matthew 18:15–17:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
When we hear “tell it to the church,” we might think of posting the sins of the individual on social media and the internet, exposing them to the entire world-wide Church.
Sadly, that is so far from the truth of what was meant in that passage. Telling it “to the Church” was to address it to the ordained leaders and, specifically in this case, to the Bishop of the region of the Church. To publicly defame other brothers and sisters before all is not only a shame to them but to ourselves for entering into activities that God does not condone.
For those who have not had as much experience with older writings of Christians, here are some earlier witnesses who gave these types of solemn warnings:
St. James, one of the early Church leaders, said, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (James 4:11).
Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speeches and railings. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbour.
Abba Dorotheos, a desert Father, says, “There’s nothing that angers God more, nothing that exposes us so much and leads to our isolation than gossip, than condemning and slaughtering other people.”
Saint Luke the Blessed Surgeon says, ”Open a grave and you’ll see the filth and stench that’s in it. The same stench, spiritual stench, comes from our mouth when we censure other people.”
Ouch! Does that hurt? A bit too close to home? We should realize that our speech matters as does the way we conduct ourselves on the internet with other believers.
I spoke about this issue to the larger body of Christ recently in a short free book titled, “Disagreements in Christian Life.” Here is an excerpt:
Out of our mouths can come blessings to believers but then death and accusation which is a poison or unclean thing. The one that desire to stir up dissension against authority is actually accusing God himself who appoints leaders in the body of Christ. What is worse than biting and devouring brethren is to seek to do so to shepherds of the Church.
If we do not choose at times to carefully bridle and stop our tongue, we will never progress in godliness.
Love calls for us to seek to do good to other brothers and sisters, to build them up and encourage them according to their needs. When we use our words to condemn and criticize, St. Paul called that unwholesome talk. What profit is it for us to claim to be disciples of the Lord and yet tear down others in the body of Christ?
Just visit most Christian news websites on the internet and you will find plenty of slander and gossip to read. It is grieving to see the ways Christian brothers and sisters accuse others in the body of Christ, but I can assure you that it grieves the Holy Spirit of God much more.
We would change our actions and words quickly if we were able to see the reaction of our words against the body of Christ in the face of our Savior Jesus. For it is his body we speak of.
5 Ways to Stop Gossip in the Church
Here are some practical ways we can eliminate gossip from the life of the Church.
1. Pass the Peace
When you greet one another with the peace of Christ during the liturgy, you should check your heart to ensure that you have not gossiped against anyone. A good question to ask is, “Can I, with a good conscience, greet all believers here with the peace of Christ?
2. Examine Yourself
When you see a fault in another and you are tempted to speak about them before others, look to yourself and see your own faults. Recognize your sins and do not focus on the sins of others.
When preparing to partake of Holy Communion, remember that sins you commit against other Christians are also sins against Christ. See the wounded Christ there and confess your faults that have hurt him and not only others.
3. Fast from Gossip
If you fast from gossip, it is possible that you may experience physical healing. Many who have habitual problems of slander and gossip are sick in their bodies as they carry deep levels of unforgiveness, anger, resentment, and hurt. Allow Christ to cleanse you of all of these and cease to speak or write against others in the body of Christ. Consider another remedy of silence instead of speaking about others that K.P. Yohannan, Metropolitan of Believers Eastern Church recommends: “Silence is a habit to be learned, and the Season of Lent is both the classroom and the teacher of it.”
4. Forgive Others
We usually gossip about those who have hurt us or made us feel uneasy. It is easy to hold a grudge against such a believer. Forgive from your heart as Christ has forgiven you.
Consider saying these prayers aloud to allow the Lord to help bring repentance. (Drawn from “A Litany for Christian Unity.”)
Oh, Precious Christ,
I lament the wounds I have caused You.
My jeers, mocking, cursing, hard words spoken to others,
Angry statements, evil thoughts, my disunity and discord in speech
towards others in the Church, Your very body.
Grant Your Church Unity, O Father.
That there may be one flock and one shepherd:
Gather together Your separated people.
O God, to confound the pride of Satan and his assaults:
Gather together Your separated people.
That we may lift our voices as one.
Come, Holy Spirit.