You are not to repeat false rumors; do not join hands with the wicked by offering perjured testimony.
📚 Exodus 23:1 CJB
We often take the 9th commandment to be simply about lying, diving into topics such as “little white lies” and scenarios where it seems lying would be the right thing (e.g., lying about knowledge of escaped slaves during the antebellum years of the US). However, this commandment is really about testimony provided about a person. Specifically, it’s about false accusation. Throughout the Bible there are many verses emphasizing the need for multiple witnesses to convict a person over the concern that someone may falsify an accusation. Included in this, is the act of gossiping.
What is Gossip?
Gossip can be a noun or a verb and actually has a few definitions I never knew. In British English if means Godparent and it can also mean companion. However the most commonly accepted definitions (as a noun) in the US are “a person who habitually reveals sensational facts about others” or “a rumor or report of an intimate nature.”
We often think of gossip in a very specific way—essentially we see it as an intersection between the two definitions above which the caveat that the facts are unknown or untrue. I realized this during the “entanglement” scandal that occurred with Will and Jada Smith. People were ready to discuss the couple’s marriage and the affair at length because they put themselves out there, but this is still a “report of an intimate nature,” and even though the information may be online if the person hasn’t already read about you are still revealing sensational facts. I found that celebrity gossip is often written off as the price of fame, but I believe as Christians we should be wary of this type of gossip as well.
Why is Gossip Harmful?
Gossiping harms both the gossiper and the subject of the gossip. The main way gossip harms the subject is that it can cause irreversible damage to their reputation. In fact, if serious enough the government would consider this slander and it becomes a crime! Less obvious is how this hurts the gossiper. Gossipers are less trustworthy—if you know I’m a gossip, are you going to share your inner most thoughts with me? This effects our ability to maintain friendships.
Below are some real examples of harmful gossip and how they hurt the subject and the gossiper:
💬 The Gossip
🗣️ The Gossiper
👤 The Subject
John Doe told a bunch of his male friends that he slept with Jane Doe. Jane Doe countered the rumor by claiming John Doe raped her.
The issue eventually went to campus police and John Doe was banned from campus on suspicion of rape. John Doe lost his scholarship and an email was sent to everyone on campus explaining why he was banned from campus. Though he was eventually acquitted of the charge, no follow up email was sent. Many people still believe he is a rapist.
Jane Doe was so embarrassed that people were talking about her that she began telling people she was raped. According to John Doe there was video evidence that this was a lie (presumably to protect her reputation). Those aware that John Doe was acquitted of the crime believed Jane Doe lied about being raped and she was blackballed from joining selective organizations on campus.
Jane Doe told John Doe that he should ask Janet Doe out and implied that Janet liked John.
When Janet found out she no longer trusted Jane to be around her and began to distance from her. When John realized Janet did not like him he too began to distance himself from Jane.
Janet did not like John and had never suggested such to Jane. Not only was she embarrassed that a grown man thought she had sent a friend to play matchmaker, but she had to deal with the awkward conversation with John in the aftermath.
Jane Doe told Janet Doe’s parents that someone told her that someone told them, Janet was gay.
Janet as well as Janet’s parents lost respect for Jane.
Janet said she was not gay but people still think she is; the someone who allegedly sparked the rumor says they never said such a thing, but people wonder if they are being truthful. Luckily Janet trusts that the person did not begin the rumor and their friendship remains in tact.
Refraining from Gossip
While I can’t think of situations where I have engaged in rumor-based gossip, I am guilty of speaking about things I know are true to people other than the person. In most cases it seems harmless, such as telling my parents that a friend is pregnant. However this sets the precedent of speaking out of turn. The older I get and the further I go on my journey to tame my tongue, I realize that even when discussing something positive there are times when its best left unsaid. In fact the commandment not to bear false witness could be a reference to gossip more so than to lying.
References and Footnotes
- “Gossip”. Merriam-Webster Dictionary; visited July 2023
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