September 6, 2007
It just might be the softest sounding word for any sin in the world. It seems so harmless that even many Christians grab their morning paper and pour over columns named for it. This sin cuts like a hot knife through butter crossing over all cultural, racial, religious and economic lines. It takes no prisoners and can kill on a whim.
The sin I’m referring to is gossip—and it has fast become the forgotten sin despite its devastating ability to kill three people at once: the one gossiping; the one being gossiped about; and the one listening, soaking in every word like a sponge. If Christians were given the option to ignore one of the Ten Commandments, I guarantee most would look the other way on the one making clear that we are never to bear false witness.
Before becoming a Christian eleven years ago, I often excused my own forays into gossip by writing it off to my chosen profession of journalism and entertainment, where discussing the successes and failures of others is the bread and butter of the paycheck. Today, I write such venomous ventures off to being a hopeless sinner in need of the infinite grace only Jesus can provide.
Let’s face it. All of us gossip. Some manage to justify it with a straight face by convincing the eager listeners of the story’s veracity. Just as Satan salivates at the sight of idle hands, so he thirsts for the pitter-patter of idle chatter. And given our fallen nature, too many of us actually like gossip, confirming Proverbs 18:8: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”
A few years ago one of my co-workers recognized a nationally known sports celebrity roaming around an out-of-the-way, mom-and-pop antique shop with a beautiful blonde woman less than half his age. For more than five minutes, my friend watched every move of this star (who would be readily recognizable to all of you).
A couple deliciously sinful cell calls later and the damage was done; gossip unleashed.
But there was more to this story. The door behind my friend opened. Another attractive woman—even younger than the first—emerged from the ladies’ restroom, strolled over toward the counter, playfully hugged her dad and asked her girlfriend if she’d purchased anything. Yes, a dad had taken his daughter and her friend shopping. No scandal; no story.
By the time these three had exited the store, how many subsequent phone calls might have been placed as a direct result of my friend’s unwitting sin of gossip? God only knows. I have no doubt the Lord was deeply pained by both the irreparable harm done by the gossip and the seeming ease with which the false witness was born.
Gossip is deadly. The mother of murdered Jon Benet Ramsey died as a strong suspect in the eyes of many Americans obsessed with gossiping about the little girl’s killer. Never mind that only the most determined conspiracy theorist still considered her a suspect.
But with the new football season upon us, the one story forever indelible to me is the cruel, wrenching tale of one football player’s battle against the public perception that he was gay. At the peak of his pro career, but in the depths of a long losing streak, this exceedingly polite young man was forced to endure vicious rumors about his sexual preference, an indecent exposure arrest that never occurred, locker room gossip about both, and a very public feud with his head coach.
In the only interview he ever granted on the subject, he smiled while answering a question I hadn’t even asked, but everyone in town was dying to demand of him. “I believe in Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” this much-maligned quarterback said softly.
When I followed up with the obligatory “What gets you through it?” question, he paused with eyes welled up and said, simply, “The faith I have in Jesus.”
What this gentleman needed most was Jesus’ peace. What everyone else who was part of that shameful media circus needed most was Jesus’ forgiveness.
Within a whisker of reaching the Super Bowl, his career faded into premature retirement. His reputation, however, had long since been murdered by the sin of gossip—the sin that keeps on killing.
Thor Tolo is the host of “Live >From Seattle.” His program is heard daily on KGNW-AM 820 in Seattle and at KGNW.com. Contact Thor at firstname.lastname@example.org.