Are you a member of a gossip club?
Do you have a regular group of friends whom you gather with over coffee or meet during lunch where the unsaid agenda will include discussing others, particularly in negative ways?
Do you plan on meeting after the official meeting in the parking lot to discuss what you didn’t like about the decisions made, but with no plans to share this information with the committee chair, the pastor, or the person in charge?
Do you enjoy sending group emails to others discussing a person or a group of people, with said emails filled with information you never plan to share with the people you’ve discussed?
Have you used the word “confidentiality” to mean “don’t tell people I’m talking behind their backs and have no intention of ever discussing what I’m saying to them personally” instead of a word that means an individual’s dignity is respected and honored with spoken words?
Have you, when asked by the person about whom you’ve gossiped, denied you said what you indeed did say, blamed someone else for what you said, or offered some other excuse instead of admitting the truth of your words?
Are you a member of a gossip club?
I wish I could take credit for such a perfect term to describe the groups of people who gather regularly to gossip about others, but I can’t. The Rev. Erik Parker, who blogs at The Millennial Pastor, in his post about church bullies gets the credit. He rightly recognizes gossip clubs as useful tools for bullies to keep up on church gossip and to create support groups for the gossip agendas.
Bullies aren’t the only ones who are members of gossip clubs. We all engage in gossip. We all find those who support our anger at the decision the pastor made. We all sway the opinion of others by sharing our version of the story about the member who disagreed with us about which hymns should be sung so they, too, will know to dislike her. We all fall into the pattern of gathering in parking lots after the meeting to discuss matters in unhelpful ways.
Gossip is a seductive sin.
One in which we have all participated, and one by which we have all be victimized.
Gossip clubs are harmful. They are almost always about self-promotion and power of one or two central members who are concerned with garnering support for their agendas at the cost of the dignity and reputation of the people about whom they gossip. Their gossip also sends a subtle message: agree with me, because if you don’t, I’ll gossip about you, too or, if I get caught gossiping, I’ll make sure you go down with me.
So how do we, especially those in faith communities, revoke our membership in a gossip club?
One way is realizing why we are members. Gossip and its counterpart triangulation (basically X talking to Y about Z) are often rooted in fear and anxiety. When we feel fearful that our value in a community is changing, when we have not gotten our way and feel dismissed, or when we are anxious, we resort to any number of ways to avoid feeling fear and anxiety. Many of those ways in our culture are unhealthy and damaging - including gossip.
When I talk about another person in ways that diminish her/him, I get a feeling, however short-lived, of superiority. When others agree with me about how tacky s/he is, what a bad pastor s/he is, or whatever thing I’ve found to attack, I feel even more validated, because now a community supports me. This left unchecked leaves to scapegoating, which has run rampant in our faith communities for eons and leaves battered and deeply wounded souls in its wake.
Sadly, after all the gossip, my feelings of inferiority, the validation I so desperately need, are still present.
We also gossip because we are hurt and, instead of exploring why we feel hurt and what we can learn from sadness - because anger is almost always sad’s bodyguard - we lash out, hoping to hurt the one who hurt us. Gossip is a sure way to do just that, and it has the side effect of creating more hurt, pain, and distrust among a wider group. This hurt, multiplied, always leads to more hurt and distrust. Gossip births a vicious cycle of pain.
And, in its most damaging form, we gossip to gain power. We become convinced that what we want is so correct, we work behind the scenes to subvert the community, promoting our agenda at any cost, even the well being of others. We chip away at the leadership of others to promote ourselves. We sow seeds of distrust and create alliances. I suspect this type of gossip is what got Diotrephes mentioned in 3 John in the Bible. He’s described as a man, “who loves to be first, will not welcome us…spreading malicious nonsense about us.”
Of course, how much power is enough? And when we’ve gotten what we wanted, we often feel as empty as we did before. Self-promotion and power are not substitutions for loving ourselves.
When we find ourselves in a meeting of a gossip club, what would happen if we asked, “What is the difference between what you’re sharing and gossip?” or said, “You know, none of us here can speak for the person you’re talking about, but I’ll go with you for you to share your concerns with him/her.”
We can also refuse to be present to gossip. Some of us become so enamored with the power rush gossip brings that we need to hear, “This is gossip, and I will not be present as you damage another brother or sister,” to have the harsh reality of the sin we are committing brought to light.
We gather as sisters and brothers in Christ, as children of God, to build each other up, to love and serve God as we love and serve each other. Gossip in no way does this. The Holy Scriptures constantly remind us of the damage gossip causes. Again, gossip is a vicious sin with a high cost.
We as people of faith need to revoke our memberships in gossip clubs.