[Note: This is the prepared text for a speech given to the Portland UCG Spokesmen’s Club on January 11, 2015. The speech received the award for Most Effective Speech.]
Today I would like to talk to you about an evil that is so universal that it is condemned in every section of scripture. Whenever the New Testament mentions a list of sins that will prevent someone from reaching eternal life, this sin is listed. However, unlike some sins so mentioned, this is a sin that is seldom condemned from the pulpit, seldom spoken of as a horror that will bring a society down, and seldom do people who commit this sin show the slightest bit of shame for being caught up in the grips of its destructive power. It is a sin that one cannot avoid witnessing, from one’s fellowship at Sabbath, to water cooler conversation at work, to watching television or going on the computer, to even taking an innocent trip to the grocery store. What is this horrible sin that is grossly overlooked, universal in nature, and so destructive to our spiritual lives? It is the sin of gossip, a sin condemned in scripture, lasting and damaging in its effects, and yet almost always overlooked in our spiritual reflection.
Gossip is a sin that is consistently condemned by God over and over again in the pages of scripture. It is condemned under a variety of names, from gossip and whispering to backbiting and talebearing. Whatever name it is called, it is consistently condemned. One example among many will show what God feels about it. Romans 1:28-32 is typical of such examples in its scope and its harshness: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” Here we see gossip put on the same level as murder, sexual immorality, disobedience to parents, a lack of love and mercy, and a lot of other sins that receive far more attention and condemnation.
How damaging is gossip? Let me tell you a story. More than twenty-five years ago, a woman separated from her abusive husband with two children had made friends with a kind single man who would frequently come over to where she lived with her parents despite living about an hour away. During one Feast of Tabernacles she and her children stayed at his house, which, when it became known after the feast, caused a great deal of gossip about her moral character. The fallout from this bout of gossip was intense. A marriage that had been tottering fell apart, the woman’s relationship with her parents suffered because they believed she had behaved immorally when she had not, and the woman and her friend were not close again for several years, during which she had at least one more relationship that was the source of great trouble. To this day, the woman remembers the incident and the gossip about it, and uses it as an object lesson to warn the one son of hers who is single about the importance of behaving above board. I should know; the woman is my mother.
It is easy to condemn the National Enquirers and TMZs of the world for gossip and to pass the buck on our own responsibility. Let us look at ourselves, though, instead of choosing such easy targets. How many people have we cut down with our gossip about them? How many friendships and relationships have we harmed through the words we have spread? How many lies have we uttered about others in order to deflect attention from ourselves, or to see to it that someone we disliked received justice? How many families have we helped split through our poison tongues? How many congregational splits or larger church splits have we been involved in? How long will we let this universal evil live in our own lives without repentance? How long until we say enough is enough?