THE TERM, OFTEN MISUSED
In polemics conversations, there are often accusations of gossip against those reporting on theological or behavioral error. In this sense, “gossip” is often misdefined as:
Something spoken about someone that can be perceived as negative; something not helpful to their public image.
Slander is often a similarly misdefined term used as a synonym for the misdefined term, gossip.
EXAMPLES OF ITS MISUSE
A polemics ministry reports on the public filing of a RICO lawsuit against Mark Driscoll, and they are accused of “gossip.”
A discerning Christian shares an article about Perry Noble’s dismissal and NewSpring’s public statement regarding his alcoholism, and they are accused of “gossip.”
Photos surface of Benny Hinn and Paula White in an adulterous embrace coming out of a hotel in Europe, and the Christian firing off a blog-warning to stay away from their ministries is accused of “gossip.”
DEFINITION, INFORMED BIBLICALLY
The Hebrew word translated “gossip” in the Old Testament is defined as “one who reveals secrets, one who goes about as a talebearer or scandal-monger.” A gossiper is a person who has privileged information about people and proceeds to reveal that information to those who have no business knowing it. Gossip is distinguished from sharing information in two ways:
1. Intent. Gossipers often have the goal of building themselves up by making others look bad and exalting themselves as some kind of repositories of knowledge.
2. The type of information shared. Gossipers speak of the faults and failings of others, or reveal potentially embarrassing or shameful details regarding the lives of others without their knowledge or approval. Even if they mean no harm, it is still gossip (GotQuestions.Org)
EXAMPLES OF THE PROPER USE OF ‘GOSSIP’
A Christian publishes an article about Mark Driscoll’s controversies at Mars Hill, but cites anonymous sources revealing unsubstantiated (not undisputed) claims that cannot be verified. The undisputed, unverifiable claims are reported as fact.
A blogger writes an article replete with hearsay regarding rumblings of controversies in a popular megachurch. There are no facts presented, but only assumptions, as though they were fact.
A Christian had been confided in by a popular evangelical celebrity regarding his personal (but repentant) sin problem. Even though the celebrity pastor was repentant and was not disqualifying, the confidant decided to share his spiritual infirmity with the world on a popular blog.
WHAT IS NOT GOSSIP*
- Reporting or discussing already-public events, occurrences or scandals
- Reporting or discussing words or actions done in public (like in sermons, for example)
- Reporting or discussing words or actions done in private, if they are substantiated AND if they are disqualifying or worth warning others (both qualifications are necessary)
- Reporting or discussing words or actions done in public or private, if they are substantiated and if it is of signifiant importance to the public or the church at large
* It should be noted that within the confines of the local church, in which there is a system in place (Matthew 18) to do church discipline and address grievances, anything you read in this article is transcended by that process. Outside the local church, where there exists no mechanism or process to address grievances or do discipline, reporting and discussion of substantiated acts or words is often necessary.