On the Subject of Gossip

I want to thank once again those of you who have been an encouragement to my wife. This year did not get off to a good start, and we ended up in a situation where we felt like we could not trust people who we once thought were friends. Hopefully this is all in the past now, and we have moved on.

When I got home today, Summer showed me a posting from Pleonast from a friend of her’s who was in a very similar situation. Put very briefly, she had been open about the way she raised her kids, and though there was nothing sinful about what she was doing, it was different than the way that her peers raised their kids, not following the latest fads in parenting. She was starting to feel shunned by her sisters in Christ, not knowing why until she asked one in particular, who said that she and the other ladies did not approve of how she raised her kids, and had decided to not invite her to certain events because if they did so, it would be like if they approved of how she raised her kids.

Now, it seems like a really silly thing to do, in fact very a unkind thing – shun a sister, and decide not to invite her to participate in a social event because of how she chooses to raise her kids. But the part of this over-simplified portion of this situation that I have shared with you that I want to focus on is the gossip that appears to have gone on.

This individual knew that she was opinionated, and knew that she was making choices that were not in line with the rest of her peers. Until this event, it didn’t appear that anyone thought her as being odd in what she was doing. Yet, at some point, discussions took place about her choices and her actions between people about her without her knowledge. Obviously, some people did not approve of how she raised her children, but instead of talking TO her about it, they decided to talk ABOUT her.

Was their conversation of the degrading form of “can you believe she does this?” or was it a means to seek a better understanding, such as “So and so is doing this, and I am not sure if that is right. What do you think?” The motives behind these two types of conversation are different, but the result can be the same – a negative view of the person being discussed is propagated.

One example in the Bible that we have of confronting a brother or sister is found in Matthew 18.

Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

However, this discusses a brother who has sinned against you. In this situation, other than having a differing opinion, she apparently did not sin. I am going to assume she was not condemning or condescending in how she expressed her opinion. So that leaves us with this: what if a brother or sister has a different opinion than you, and assuming they are not being forceful or condescending in their expression of that opinion, how can you talk to them about it?

Romans 14 deals with the matter of opinions, specifically when it comes to matters of faith. For those involved in this situation, parenting styles are a matter of faith (and probably rightly so). There is so much good in this passage as it relates to the situation, but here are some of the key verses:

1) As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 10) Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 13) Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 15) For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16) So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.

The problem with this situation was that a group (and I will admit maybe the woman in question, only one side of the story was presented) passed judgment on another. That judgment, and evidently a discussion amongst the group about that judgment, caused them to behave differently towards their sister, causing her grief.

What happened to Summer and I was a little different, but it came down to the same cause – opinions about how to raise children. We both voiced some opinions, and unfortunately they were said at a bad time that coincided with other discussions that were going on (that we had no knowledge of), and gave others good reason to believe that we were condemning their opinions. Sadly, the issue was not resolved immediately, and gossip started, more and more people became aware of what we said (Summer had posted her opinion on Pleonast, and people who never read pleo, much less her blog, were directed to read what she said) and more and more people developed a negative opinion of my wife (and I guess to a lesser extent myself).Thankfully, a few people did decide to talk to us, and did so according to Matthew 18, as in their mind we were being condemning in the expressing of our opinion. Thankfully this did not fester for weeks or months as it apparently did for Summer’s friend, but not after it had spread far beyond the limited audience that Summer had on her blog.

I am glad this situation is behind us, and though a part of me wishes I could tell those who spread the gossip how much damage it did to our family, without finding out who did it, we have moved on.

Lessons learned.

  1. Be very careful about what you say, especially when online. I have said this too many times before, and yet, I opened my stupid mouth (and Summer opened her intelligent mouth), figuratively, online.
  2. If you come across a brother’s opinion that you do not agree with, and have reason to believe they are condemning you in their expression of that opinion, go talk to them. Don’t seek council from friends or peers (what about elders, what about prayer?), even if you have pure motives in doing so – it only spreads a further negative opinion of others
  3. If you have the means to suppress what you said (ie: posted on pleo), upon first hearing that you have offended someone, go back and clear the matter up in the public forum, or remove the post entirely
  4. It’s ok for others to have different opinions, even when it comes to parenting. Don’t shun someone because their opinion is different – it will not convert them to your way of thinking, and will likely have an even more negative effect.

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