Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gossip Part 2: Appeasement, Correction or Rebuke?

Most gossip can be stopped by preemptive positive comments. We can’t anticipate what others will say, but if we are in a group we can sometimes sense the direction conversations might lead. Gossip – our untamed tongues - is a part of our old baggage that God is still working on, and for most it is an occasional lapse that we regret.

However, for some it is a very bad habit that is based in bitterness, insecurity or it is the only way they can make themselves look good - by lowering others. The gossiper often fishes for a response to see if others will volley. You know the guy. He makes a joke or a verbal slight, then looks around for approval and then he ventures further out on thin ice. Each time he goes through this routine he gets more and more comfortable with the wagging of his tongue. It just flaps in the wind.

Sooner or later the tongue will start a great fire, so as Christians it would serve us all if we did some fire prevention. The first rule is: Don’t volley! Just don’t answer. Don’t smile. Don’t laugh. This is kind of hard when everyone else is laughing.

I am from North Carolina where everyone is very polite. We just ignore stupidity and let people make an ass of themselves. Then we talk later about how they made an ass of themselves. However, appeasing the bigmouth violates community. It weakens our discernment and strengthens the root of evil because evil gets more comfortable and brazen with practice. As a young Christian and leader my common response to gossips was, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I just did not like confrontation.

The best and easiest way to stop gossip is to inoculate the situation. For example, a new acquaintance who has a loose tongue says, “Did you hear about what ______ did?” We can say, “I know him. He helped me in the past. Is he ok?” This immediately lessens what this guy is willing to say at the risk of offending you.

Sometimes, we have to be a little more direct in a group when the snowball gets rolling. “Listen, I know this seems important, but I know this guy and his family. It might be appropriate to discuss this issue, but it is not here and not in this fashion.” If we do this humbly we will only gain respect and set a standard.

Some people still don’t get it, so we have to take them to the side. “Friend, I don’t know if someone has offended you, but what you are saying is really hurtful. Can we talk about this? Maybe I can help?”

Some have crossed the line so many times that they are brazen in their public tongue wagging. I have encountered this only a few times in 15 years of pastoring. Someone, usually a guest with an axe to grind, tries to dominate a meeting with bitterness and accusation. First I would say, “Sir, this is not the appropriate place for this. We can talk elsewhere.”

If they don’t heed this then I say, “We care for you, and you are welcome but what you are doing is not welcome. Let God touch your heart and heal you.”

Finally, I might have to say. “Sorry, you have to leave. No discussion.” This was done to maintain order and protect the fellowship. I have only done it twice.

Appeasement is a cancer, but constant gentle correction as well as setting positive standards will stop the snowball before it gets too big.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! James 3:5

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