What is gossip?

One of the tools authoritarian churches use to control people is the mislabelling of gossip.  They instruct people not to speak critical things about the church or its leadership to each other.  This is considered gossip.

If someone were to observe the pastor lying and were to tell someone other than the pastor it would be considered “gossip.”  Does this really meet the criteria of “gossip” as mentioned in Proverbs and 1Corinthians.

Here are the passages.

Pro 20:19  He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.

2Cor 12:20  For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;

The Greek word used in the 2Co 12:20 is psithurismos which literally means “whisperer” but it implies slander.  The hebrew word used in Proverbs is rakil and it also carries the meaning of slander.

Slander is oral communication that is malicious and untrue.  (If it is written it is considered libel.)

A gossiper is someone who defames or slanders someone in secret.  For something to be considered gossip it needs to be all of the following:

  • Malicious: something communicated with the intention to harm another
  • Secret: the communication must be intended to go to certain people and not others.  Public communication like blog posts are not secret.
  • Untrue: what is communicated is false or perhaps reckless speculation

If a church member observed a pastor lying and told someone else, it can’t be considered gossip.

3 comments on “What is gossip?

  1. Thanks for this. I was part of a church situation where this issue arose. Some friends of ours talked with us about a meeting the pastor had with them and asked for advice on how to handle it. Later the pastor learned that they had talked to us about that meeting (he was innocently told by the very friends that came to us and had the problem in the first place, no malicious intent there!) and felt that we had taken part in gossip and should have stopped the conversation and talked to him instead. He insisted on sitting down to “talk” about it – read discipline – and that conversation was awkward to say the least.

    It came out that our pastor had talked to his friends about the situation, but because they weren’t a part of our church that it was okay. We couldn’t talk about the situation because we were part of the church. Talk about manipulation and abuse… dare I say, cult? Fortunately, we (and our friends) saw it for what it was and made the difficult decision to leave (after time and prayer). Unfortunately our friends were deeply hurt by the whole situation (as have we to some extent) and are leery of trusting any church leader.

  2. I like your reasoning and use of scripture.

    I have to ask for clarification on your final comment, “If a church member observed a pastor lying and told someone else, it can’t be considered gossip.” Your statement is general enough that I can see people using it as an excuse to gossip.

    1) If the person sharing their observation with someone else is trying to bad-mouth or otherwise criticize the pastor, by your definition it is malicious and, therefore, gossip.

    2) If the person sharing their observation shares it only with “someone else,” by your definition it is secret and, therefore, gossip.

    Do you wish to clarify your statement based on my remarks?

  3. Hi Keepinstep

    I wouldn’t consider it gossip because what the person was sharing about the pastor was true. If it is true then it probably isn’t gossip in a biblical sense. However it might be unloving.

    I don’t think people should feel free to divulge every sin they observe in one another or their leaders. We should always treat one another in ways we would want to be treated. I am a leader of a church, and if someone caught me lying I would hope they could approach me about it first. I hope that in that moment I would be humble enough to hear the correction and respond appropriately.

    However I understand that there are some circumstances where correcting a leader personally isn’t feasible. If I were an malicious authoritarian and had demonstrated a pattern of dishonesty then people should are better off just warning people about me.

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