The story is told of a noble woman in medieval times who confessed to her priest that she was having trouble with gossip. Her priest, desiring to help her understand the gravity of her sin, told her to go home, tear open a feather pillow and dump the feathers out an upper story window, and then to come back. Upon her return, the priest told her “Now go and pick up all the feathers.” The woman protested that the feathers were now scattered all over the town and could not be picked up. Whereupon the priest said “And so is your gossip”.
The sin of gossip – the spreading of rumor or reports of an intimate nature – has the ability to destroy careers and lives. It also has the ability to render the gossiper as being untrustworthy. It is no wonder that the apostle James says “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) Those who do this are in reality hypocrites. Later James says “But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of poison.” (James 3:8). He likens the tongue to a small spark that sets an entire forest on fire. Gossip is like that. One little bit of gossip can spread in a similar manner until it becomes a consuming fire. Gossip’s chain is exponential. It spreads from one to two to four to eight to sixteen, etc.
How often do we think of our speech in this light? Do we start gossip? Or do we only pass on the tidbits of gossip that come our way? It makes no difference whether we are gossiping maliciously or merely passing on titillating information. In either case, the result is the same. We have sinned against both God and our fellow man. Although we can ask for, and receive forgiveness from both, the effects remain. We can never pick up all of gossip’s feathers.
We have all likely heard the dictum “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Remembering this helps us avoid gossip. It also is a reminder of James’ statement that with our mouths we can both praise God and curse men. This should cause us to be careful of what we say. While we must always speak the truth in love, it should be done in a way that doesn’t lead to gossip. Gossip is particularly destructive in the church. It destroys relationships, causes pastors to leave the ministry, and causes churches to split apart. Once it has started, it cannot be corralled. The damage is done, and the body of Christ suffers. As part of that body, we all suffer and our effectiveness as Christ’s church is diminished.
The recovery, if it even can occur, is a long and tedious process. It begins with confession of our own sin of gossip, both to God and the person we have gossiped about. We need to seek their forgiveness in order to be reconciled. It then requires us to confess to and seek forgiveness from all to whom we have spread the gossip. This requires great humility. It will take considerable time for trust to be reestablished within the body as all wonder about the truthfulness of what is said. But there is one thing the church has that society in general doesn’t. That is the love we have for each other in the body of Christ. A God given love can overcome the effects of gossip over time. As we think about the effects of gossip, two questions remain. How many feathers am I spreading abroad? How many have spread so far they are impossible to pick up?