Frank Viola posted this article on his blog, written by Jon Zens. The article talks about the insidious nature and impact of gossip. Here’s his definition
Gossip is second or third hand information that someone dumps on you without your prior consent and without the consent of the person being gossiped about. Gossip can be true, partially true, or completely false. It can be motivated by good intentions, but it’s always negative personal information about another that puts them in a bad light.
Zens then goes on to say how gossip usually involves slander, “The Bible defines slander as accusatory speech that is injurious to a person’s name and reputation. It’s essentially character assassination . . . the act of smearing someone. And of course there is a plethora of verses that admonish us about engaging in gossip.
To be honest, I don’t know of too many people who have not on some level been sucked in to the wiles of gossip, either directly as the gossiper or indirectly as the recipient of it. I confess to being a party to it more times than I care to admit. I found the article particularly convicting in that regard. As the article rightly points out, gossip can have devastating consequences for the individual (s) being smeared and to the health of the body of Christ, especially when it occurs within our church circles.
Since I read the article this morning, I’ve contemplated why gossip is such an easy lure that entices us into its harmful web. I suspect that it feeds our humanity that seeks the moral upper hand and self-righteousness justification. There’s something about tainting the character of the other person that validates us and puts us in the superior position when we engage in gossip.
I also could not help but take this concept of gossip further to reflect on theological discourse. If we apply the same definition of gossip and slander as stated above then the definition would go something like this
Theological gossip involves the airing of someone’s statements on a theological position through second or third hand information that may be partially true or even untrue, puts them in a negative light that involves assassinating their character.
It is the equivalent of going to others and saying about that author, pastor or theologian, “Hey, have you heard what so and so said or what so and so believes? I can’t believe they call themselves a Christian and take such an ungodly position!” AND without having all the facts; hearsay from others who have whispered in our ears, so to speak. I hate to say this but social media and the blogosphere can become an easy conduit for theological gossip, especially around new books. (No, I will not mention any names!)
Now, here’s where I think it gets tricky. Sometimes there are positions developed and held that are inconsistent with the historic Christian witness of faith and may lead to unChristian deviations. Michael recently wrote here about theological novelty. And while novel concepts might sound compelling, ideas have consequences and must be systematically thought through to their logical conclusion. This is why I love the discipline of systematic theology – because it forces you to put ideas through a logical, biblical and historical grid. There are instances when detrimental ideas couched in persuasive arguments and popular appeal need to be openly challenged.
But often we might be too rash, too hasty to air the “dirty laundry,” so to speak, without the benefit of sufficient analysis. I think the impetus to do this is found in the same source as personal gossip – gaining the superior, moral upper hand. It’s an easy trap to fall into, I’m afraid but one that can have consequences especially if one’s theology is defamed without merit. So what to do?
Going back to the article, I found that this solution to circumvent gossip might be appropriate.
For this reason, I have raised a standard in my life. To the best of my ability, I always evaluate people based on my first-hand experience with them, not on what someone else tells me about them – for the obvious reason that second-hand information can be very misleading and inaccurate (sad to say, I haven’t always lived up to this standard in the past)…If we are in conversation with a person and they begin to express words that put another brother or sister in a bad light, we have a responsibility to interrupt such speech and exhort them to speak directly with the person they are criticizing. If an email containing gossip is sent to us, we should disregard the content and ask the sender to go to the one being spoken against. In all circumstances, as much as lies with us, we should not be a party to gossip and we should confront those spreading evil speech.
If you’re dealing with a theological thesis someone has proposed and you don’t know them personally, of course you’re not going to go banging on their door. But here’s the transferable idea: read their stuff directly. Interact with them if at all possible and ask pointed questions. Stop relying on 2nd and 3rd hand information regarding facts. Go directly to the source. Stop relying on the book reviews and actually read the book. Find out why they promote this or that idea. Try not to be influenced by the “gossipers” or join in the gossip parties about, especially without sufficient information. Be quick to hear and slow to speak (or write Facebook posts or blogs)
I think this is challenging for those of us who are active in the blogosphere and social media world. But the admonishment of the article and relevant scriptural support warrants it, especially in demonstrating love for another member of the body of Christ. And I think it would be a big step to avoiding theological gossip.
Check out my blog at www.theothoughts.com. Follow me on Twitter @theochick