Gossip: Sniffing the Stench of Manure
My brother-in-law, Bud Wright, is my hero. He’s a committed Christian leader, a savvy businessman and a wonderful father. I love him deeply because he has managed to put up with my feisty, fireball little sister Kathy for thirty years. And, believe me, she’s a handful! We all call him “Rich Bud” because his real moniker, Maryatte Steele Wright III, is too difficult to pronounce and it sounds like a stuffy English butler. “Rich Bud” toodles around town in his fire-engine red Ferrari and has never met a stranger.
But the real reason I adore him is because I have never, ever heard him say a disparaging word about anyone-friend or foe. He may vent to his three cats when I’m not around, but Bud spreads kindness wherever he goes. He sees the best in people. My pastor-hubby Roger always uses Bud as a sermon illustration when he preaches on gossip. Most folks delight in the flaws of others, but Uncle Bud sees the potential for good in those he knows just like Jesus did.
I wish the world was filled with Buds (not the alcoholic kind). Suspicion and cynicism seem rampant in our culture. Solomon penned a plethora of verses on gossip, and many a church has suffered the ravages of wagging tongues.N
Benefit of the slop or benefit of the doubt? Who did what to whom? The juicier the morsels of misinformation the better. Gossip can also fuel the fires of dysfunction and dissension in our churches. “Tattle-taleing” grows into “rumor milling” until innuendo becomes scandal. Apparently, gossip is an age-old problem.
Solomon writes, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, but gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 16:28
Here’s a brief excerpt from my book, Bored in Big Church: Recollections of a Church Brat and Tattletale. These are my earliest memories of the sting of poisonous gossip:
Gossip begins with an over-developed sense of nosiness. Snooping and sniffing for the dirt is hard-wired into our sinful natures. Noses are nifty little facial appendages. They sniff, smell, sneeze, snort and snore. Our noses are supposed to help us savor the scent of a flower or to take a whiff of Aunt Ivelle’s Summer Rose toilet water. They were designed to warn of danger and help us taste our food. But mostly, noses run, bleed and provide an endless supply of crusty nuggets for mischievous little boys to pick and flick.
Noses come in all shapes and sizes: pug, pointy, perky, flat, flared, hooked and stubby. One might think that human schnozzes would surpass the olifactory skills of God’s lowly creatures. Nothing could be further from the truth. My poodle doodle Shannon can sniff the hiney of a Doberman and immediately know if he is a fast friend or fiendish foe. My vet, Dr. Lindsey, tells me that a canine can take a whiff of a puppy pal’s poop and determine the sex, age and kind of kibble his doggie buddy scarfed. Boy doggies sniff chair and table legs to see if interlopers have invaded their territory and peed in their domain. Penny, my pesky, overly suspicious Cocker Spaniel, leaves a yellow trail around my grand piano legs to show whose boss of the house.
Why stick your nose where it doesn’t belong: in someone else’s business? “Curiosity killed the cat” is a warning for people and puppies alike. Some stones should be left unturned. Harold, the paunchy tabby down the street, became bald as a billiard ball when he “curiously” sniffed and pawed the Sunbeam hair dryer precariously perched on the bathtub ledge. Harold was never the same again. His litter box was moved to the garage.
Marge Mooshew, the hefty alto in the church choir, was overly “curious” about every member of Cockrell Hill Baptist Church. Somehow she forgot to read Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 5:13-14:”Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.”
Marge lingered in the bathroom stall to hear the latest tasty morsel about Art Palmer’s late hours at the office. She was convinced Jody Boyd, the church secretary, was swiping ten dollar bills from the Sunday offering plate. How else could she pay for that fire-engine red patent purse?
Pastor Jones must be a ladies’ man, Marge surmised, because he slathered way too much “Bedhead” mousse through his brown wavy locks. Behind every coat closet and water fountain, Marge would gleefully glean her gossipy tidbits. Armed to the teeth with half-truths and innuendo, she began her calling crusade. Marge phoned Peggy, Peggy dialed Betty, and Betty called the entire Women’s Missionary Union to warn them of chinks in the pastor’s armor and skeletons in the deacons’ closets. With each phone call, the tales were tattled and the sins of the saints grew. By the time Ethel Bentley got the scoop, Art Palmer was a pimp and Pastor Jones was an axe murderer.
Marge’s nefarious nose must be plugged. Pastor Jones preached a fiery four-sermon series on “The Tongue is a Fire” from the book of James but Marge remained clueless, even when her husband Ed elbowed her in the ribs. She “amen’d” and cried “preach it, Pastor,” glaring at the sinners and backsliders seated in the row behind her. Marge really needed a nose job. Someone should have lobbed that sucker clean off her face. Nothing seemed to face the self-appointed “Baptist private eye.” She was sure the finger pointing applied to someone else.
One reason Marge was oblivious to her shortcomings was because she always couched her remarks in the form of “prayer requests.” “Pray for Velma Peabody,” she moaned. “God has revealed to me that she has fallen off the wagon and hit the bottle again. Didn’t you see the rum raisin cake she brought to Wednesday night dinner?” Big deal. Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach. It was first-century Pepto-Bismol.
But the Good Book warns, “…you can be sure your sin will find you out.” Marge stuck her snoopy nose out too far. Elba McElroy wandered over to our little congregation from the Methodist church down the street. Not enough sewing circles…When Elba joined the Baptist biddies, Marge had met her match. Elba gave her a taste of her own medicine. If Marge had “roast preacher” for Sunday lunch, Elba had “roast Marge” for Sunday dinner. Elba invited Marge and Pastor Jones to her house for pie and coffee, and Marge had to face Pastor Jones eyeball to eyeball. The Holy Spirit did the rest. The moment Marge got back to her old tricks and started the phone chain on the latest scandal, Elba grilled her for the details and checked her story. Marge finally decided the manure she was shoveling wasn’t worth the trouble. She had been cut down to size and the snooping stopped. If I had given monikers to the seven dwarfs (not small in size but small in soul) I might have named them Grumpy, Grouchy, Lazy, Fussy, Sleazy, Nasty and, the worst, Nosey.
Now the only thing Marge Mooshew sniffs is warm chocolate cookies straight from the oven. We should do the same.
Identify gossip when it rears its ugly head. Refuse to fuel the fire. Set the record straight. Confront when necessary. Even if there is a grain of truth, give the person grace rather than condemnation. “Pray for the gossiper and the “gossipee”! Remember faith in God and others always brings healing.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 NIV