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Saturday, February 26, 2005 AD
Did you hear about Robert Barnes? Well, lean a little closer and I'll whisper some juicy tidbits in your ear. Just remember...this is all between you and me, and I'm only sharing it out of concern. First of all, Robert was recently ordained, so I suppose I should call him the Rev. Robert Barnes. Second of all, I think he's a pretty durn wise fellow. I dug up a bit of dirt on him to support that assertion. Elsewhere online I asked some folks to share their thoughts on the topic of gossip. Here's what that scoundrel wrote:
Gossip has context
Gossip, like murder, is a highly contextual sin.

Defining gossip, therefore, is not easy because it is so similar to other forms of communication, just as similar as the outwardly slim difference between murder and killing.

Most staff members are approached by people who are bitter/bothered by certain aspects of the leadership. People want to talk about the problems they are having with certain decisions or more specifically, the pastor.

I see it as an important part of their service to the church to say, "Friend, I understand. Follow me, I want to listen to you as we walk. [walking over to pastor's office] "Pastor, look who I ran into--and she was just mentioning how she wants some variety in your illustrations! It sounded really interesting--Becky, why don't you tell him what you told me?"

At staff meetings, we called that a gossip-stopper.

Doing something like that avoids two sins at once--the sin of receiving gossip and the sin of allowing it.

The pastor (in this case, Jack Arnold) also covered my back from gossip attacks with the same sort of tactics.

Gossip is a matter of authority. Negative information may be exchanged without sin; but like murder/killing, there is a matter of lawfulness, authority, and motive.
And you won't believe what he did next. When I asked him to expand on that "Gossip is a matter of authority" bit, he wrote more:
Gossip and Authority
This is not easy explain and it may not be easy to hear. Let me summarize:

Negative talk about other people can be right, wrong, or unclear. One of the factors that helps us understand its type is authority. In the Kingdom, with the general authority we have as Christ's Word-guided ambassadors and with the covenantal obligations we have (husband, father, elder, bearing the rod or the keys).

We need to speak about things under our jurisdiction; speaking negative things about our peers and those "above" us calls the authority issue into question. Thus, warnings about speaking against Godís anointed, and in a civil situation, warnings against speaking against your commanderóinvites mutiny.

For instance, this is why when I moderate forums, I do not allow admin/moderator issues to be discussed on the board. It invites mutiny.

Now, my thoughts:

The difference between murder and killing is, simply put, the murderer does not bear the sword of governmental authority. But for a citizen to legally end another citizen's life, he must be acting in the place of the state.

Itís not the place of every citizen in every situation to wield the sword of the state. There is a time and place for itóself-defense, protecting other citizens.

In the Kingdom, this same sort of thing seems to be true. There are times and places circumstances for communicating negative things about others; there are others where it is unclear and we prayerfully either stay silent or speak--this is why where there are many words, there is much sin. There are other times where we are forbidden from speaking negatively about others.

[Itís not just negative words; positive ones are also dangerous. Note the difference between praise and flattery.]

In these cases, we are always acting as God's representative. We are always his ambassadors. Thus all our words either flow from--or against--God's regal command. All our words must be in line with Godís ordersóhis Word.

But it goes beyond this. An officer of the church, a husband, a mother--these can speak with more freedom about the faults of others under their care.

Think about this: Why can a pastor, in good conscience, share with his Session about his struggles with a sinful father or a counseling matter or other sin in the flock, but his wife can't take the same information (that the pastor may have told her, rightly or wrongly) and do the same thing in her Tuesday Morning Bible Study?

Part of the gossip-problem is that people without authority or obligation or need-to-know (as they put it in the military) are reporting negative things about others to people who donít have a need-to-know, who donít have any authority to remedy the situation/sin.

This is why women, when they get together, gossip more than a group of men. Women have less authority, less duty, different covenantal obligations--it is not by accident that women are specifically instructed to avoid sins of the tongue (be quiet, etc).

Is it because women are morally weak that this is given? You know better than that. I believe it's because their unique covenantal obligations, their place in God's kingdom, that their negative words are more often out of place.

SO: When you are speaking of someone elseís faults, you need to ask whether you have the authority to publicly tear down their reputation, their glory, their renown. If you do, then you need to ask whether the audience you have chosen has the authority or obligation to remedy the situation.
Well, you need only imagine my response to such a shocking batch of good sense. First, I expressed appreciation, especially for the diagnostic questions he proposed (Do I have the authority to publicly tear down so-and-so's reputation, glory, renown? If so, does my audience have the authority or obligation to remedy the situation?) which I plan to commit to memory. Second, I asked him if I could share it here. And would you believe that scallawag consented? The nerve!

As if that's not enough, here's another morsel that goes to show his sagacity: That wife of his. I mean, she's practically as prudent as her husband!

I know, I know...what's the world coming to with such sensibile folk allowed to run amok amongst us?
Posted by Valerie (Kyriosity) at 2/26/2005 11:11:00 AM • Permalink

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