Malicious gossip and backbiting are the weapon of choice for many professed believers in the modern church. Sometimes it seems like a person can hardly spend any time in a church today without becoming a recipient of malicious gossip or backbiting about another person at one time or another. This distorted, unfair and often untrue view of another person not only damages that person’s reputation and fellowship within the church, but it often taints and pollutes previously beneficial relationships among the believers. When this happens, and it becomes clear that a lie has been told and accepted, there is the need to rebuild the bridges. Unfortunately, genuinely conscientious believers are often not very good at doing this. Here are some ways to rebuild the bridges to someone who has been hurt by rumor and gossip within a church.
Understand that accepting and participating in a campaign of malicious gossip definitely puts you in a place of spiritual danger.
Here are the ways in which it is dangerous:
- It gives Satan, the Father of lies, access to one’s heart through believing a lie, and not holding to the truth (John 6:44, II Thessalonians 2:10-11).
- It means that the professed believer in Christ is now doing the work of Satan in being an ‘accuser of the brethren’ (Revelation 12:10).
- It is an action not of Christlike love but of hate, and means that the professed believer is living under deception, with a internal stumbling block (I John 2:9-11).
- It is an action for which each participant will give account personally to Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:10).
- It is SIN, and distances you from God (I John 1:8, 10).
- It pollutes the unity of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3).
This participation can in fact become a spiritual stronghold of demonic influence in the life of both the original perpetrator and each one who receives the same lies.
Repent Before God of Accepting Evil Words Without Question or Contradiction.
The first task is to get one’s own heart right before God. Rebuilding the bridges is not something to be approached with one’s own wisdom, power and compassion. Rather, it calls for the exhibition of the Christlike fruit of the Spirit, and this calls for humbling oneself before God before anything else. Understand also that scripture holds the recipient of gossip as being as wicked and deceptive as the person who spreads it: “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue” (Proverbs 17:4). It calls for confession before God of this sin of listening to evil words and receiving, believing and often passing on to others a lie.
Pray for Restoration to Christlike Love Through the Holy Spirit
Pray that God will give a forgiving heart for the other person. Whether you are certain of a merciful reception on or, have the moral courage to seek forgiveness by yourself even if no other participant comes forward.
Pray for Wisdom for Restoration
“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city . . . “ (Proverbs 18:19). Scripture rightly describes the offended brother as someone who has his heart barred and shut against easy reconciliation. Understand that there is no glib pat answer that will heal and restore this situation. Wisdom from God is necessary to know how to approach this situation. Take hold of his promise to provide wisdom for the asking (James 1:5).
Take Personal Responsibility to Restore the Relationship
Dash any thoughts of trying to preserve your own reputation, since that is not is what is at stake. Rather the issue is living with integrity before God and man, and the goal is to make the reputation reflect real and not counterfeit integrity. Rather make your goal to follow Christlike love according to I Corinthians 13, and take personal responsibility to restore the relationship.
Initiate a process of spiritual discipline of the person who instigated the campaign of malicious gossip, if this has not already begun.
This may call for more spiritual courage and fortitude than you might normally exercise. The initiator of these campaigns often turns to tactics of either fear and intimidation, or feigned victimhood, or vicious and lying counterattacks when exposed and confronted. Nevertheless, the fear of man must not be what guides the believer here, but the commitment to follow the will of God according to the scriptures. Here are the basic principles of scripture to guide this process.
- Recognize that according to the scriptures, the person sponsoring the campaign of malicious gossip has the real spiritual problem.“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” . . . (Proverbs 16:28).
- Follow the scriptural pattern of Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1 in partnership with the scripturally designated leaders of your church — those who fulfill the scriptural qualifications of elders and who have accepted the spiritual responsibilities of eldership.
- Recognize that the goal of spiritual discipline is the restoration of the wayward believer to a closer, more obedient walk with God (James 5:19-20).
Offer simple, gentle expressions of regret, remorse or compassion
One of the worst things to do is to offer exaggerated expressions of regret, remorse or compassion for the brother or sister who has been wounded by rumor and gossip. This may not even be verbal, but an exaggerated concern, and often this seems to be more from a desire to preserve a reputation than to heal a wounded relationship and a wounded brother or sister. Sometimes, the reaction can almost be a kind of ‘love bombing.’ Unfortunately, overly nice seems very insincere and untrustworthy to a wounded brother or sister. Moreover, false and unfulfilled promises of making it up are do not actually heal the relationship. Gently offer the simplest apologies without excuses.
Encourage the Wounded Brother or Sister According to the Truth
If the wounded brother or sister is aware of what has been said, take care to contradict the lies, the false and exaggerated gossip and backbiting you have heard. But do it with grace and encouragement — otherwise this could be simply the source of deeper wounding.
Never minimize the reality of the sin or of the pain of the target. Never attempt to talk the wounded brother or sister out of his or her pain at the smear campaign which has erupted against him or her. There is no persuasion which can ever deny the reality of this kind of pain. Never deny that gossip is not ultimately malicious or destructive, or claim that you had ‘good intentions.’ Rather, genuinely good intentions would have resulted in more Christlike conduct, and not attempts to squirm out of having been caught in a lie.
Take the Lessons Forward in Your Own Life
Any fall or failure in the Christian life is a lesson to be learned for the future in following Christ. The first lesson to be taken forward is a fresh recognition of one’s own faults and vulnerabilities. Each sin and mistake is a reminder of the need of the believer to abide in Christ (John 15:1-17) moment by moment. Moreover, it means developing a truly Christlike forgiveness and patience with others. It removes the personal pride that is the basis of the foolish gloating, giddiness and glee over the faults and vulnerabilities of another person.
Another lesson to be taken forward is to become truly a peacemaker among your brothers and sisters in church. This is the opportunity for obedience that was missed through disobedience in listening to and passing on gossip and backbiting! In each of these situations, God has given you a very precious opportunity to show the reality of your relationship to him in this way: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Still one more lesson is to refuse to have anything to do with these kinds of dark plots and sinister campaigns. The Word of God is plain on the correct reaction of the believer: refuse and correct (Ephesians 5:11).
Take care to avoid absorbing the behavior or excuses of the ringleader.
If you were personally close to the person who instigated the gossip, then take responsibility before God for any patterns of behavior that you may have picked up from that person. The tendency is to believe that person’s self presentation and then to pick up the excuses and follow the behavior of that person — but rather there needs to be an understanding that, “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips . . . “ (Proverbs 26:24).
Here are the excuses:
- The deception to yourself and others of “I/we really had good intentions.”First, this is a denial of the basic sinfulness of the human heart. A professed Christian may attempt to use this to excuse sinful actions, but the apostle John rightly exposed this as self deception and a slander against God for his adjudication of human sin: ” If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us . . . If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (I John 1:8, 10).
Claims of good intentions do not whitewash malicious, harmful or negligent actions! The source of the lying tongue is the hateful heart.
“A lying tongue hates those it hurts . . . “(Proverbs 26:28)
- The deception to yourself and others that, “We were not really serious; it was only a joke.”“Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows
is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” (Proverbs 26:17).
“A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor . . .” (Proverbs 10:12).
- “He/She/They are crazy”The allegation of mental illness by a person eminently unqualified to offer any such diagnosis is often part of the campaign of vicious gossip against someone else. Since being the target of this kind of deception and rejection can lead to great personal heartbreak, the symptoms of the heartbroken victim are often cited by the perpetrators as evidence of the supposed mental illness of the target. The perpetrators are themselves more and more being recognized even by secular psychiatrists as the ones who have the real problem. (See George K. Simon, In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, for the groundbreaking work in this field. The evangelical authors of Boundaries, Henry Cloud and John Townsend, often show some influence from this work.)
- “There’s a grain of truth in what was said.”That ‘grain of truth’ is often so covered with embellishments and fabrications that it ceased to have any value as truth. Moreover, the real significance of any ‘grain of truth’ practically never bears any resemblance to the purported significance. So, the grain of truth does not whitewash the mountain of lies!
Work to establish your church as The Gossip Free Zone
Answer stories about another with these questions — or ask them of yourself before you say anything (based on Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander, Setting Your Church Free):
- What is your reason for telling anyone/me this?
- Where did I/you get your information?
- Have you gone directly to the source?
- Have you personally checked out all the facts?
- Will you allow yourself to be quoted on this?
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.