On rare occasions, my wife drags me to the supermarket. Since I’m the primary beneficiary of what’s purchased there, she figures I should occasionally share in the burden of actually purchasing it. After thirty minutes of mindlessly pushing a wobbly cart up and down the aisles, I find my attention drawn to the gossip magazines at the checkout counter, which usually carry a story on Britney Spears or one of the three presidential candidates. On a good day, they carry stories about all four.
And when I find my attention thus drawn, I ask myself why a graduate-school-educated pastor would let himself get suckered into interest in that trash.
But let’s be honest: Who doesn’t like to read a little gossip now and then?
The Book of Proverbs recognizes the enduring power of gossip, of saying things about others behind their backs in order to harm them.
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
they go down to a man’s inmost parts (18:8, 26:22).
Several months ago, some parishioners treated me and my wife to a dinner they had won from a professional caterer. The food was unbelievably tasty. Unfortunately, it was all marinated in so much butter that when we were finished eating, my stomach rebelled. Gossip is like that. It tastes good on the lips, but it does bad things to your soul.
Why? Well, sometimes it involves breaking trust with a friend.
A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy man keeps a secret (11:13).
A gossip betrays a confidence;
so avoid a man who talks too much (20:19).
Sometimes it destroys relationships.
A perverse man stirs up dissension,
and a gossip separates close friends (16:28).
As a north wind brings rain,
so a sly tongue brings angry looks (25:23).
Without wood a fire goes out;
without gossip a quarrel dies down (26:20).
Sometimes it results in damage to our own reputations.
Do not bring hastily to court,
for what will you do in the end
if your neighbor puts you to shame?
If you argue your case with a neighbor,
do not betray another man’s confidence,
or he who hears it may shame you
and you will never lose your bad reputation (25:8-10).
And sometimes it ends up blowing up in our own faces.
Do not slander a servant to his master,
or he will curse you, and you will pay for it (30:10).
In each of these cases, it doesn’t matter whether what we’re saying is true. Obviously, it would be wrong to say something false about a person behind his back. But gossip may be built around true information and still be morally reprehensible. It is quite possible, after all, to speak the truth with malice and contempt in your heart. In fact, that’s what wrong with gossip: Information, whether true or false, is shared in order to harm someone else.
The next time you’re standing in line next to a gossip magazine, don’t look! If you wouldn’t want others to say those kinds of things about you, don’t read them about others!