The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Proverbs 11:13. “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 16:28. “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9. “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.” Proverbs 20:19. “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20 (All verses NIV)
Dear Church Family,
On February 17, two employees of a New York newspaper published a forgery intended to embarrass the president. Did you hear about that? The outrageous charge was that the president has a secret plan to mix all races into one amalgamated “American” race of people. Did I mention that the year was 1864, and that the president in question was Abraham Lincoln? The document was a pamphlet—sort of the “blog” of that day—which pretended to be a recommendation to republicans to make their race-mixing plan public. This blatantly false conspiracy theory dogged the president throughout his life.
I bring this up simply because the obvious parallels with the kinds of things that happen in our time; the more things change, the more they stay the same. The hoaxers used the media of their time, then they handed over the “evidence” to Samuel Cox, a pro-slavery congressman from Ohio. Then they sat back and watched an eager public believe whatever they wanted to believe.
That last part is key, and it is one of the main things I want you to consider today. Gossip plays on a willingness to believe the worst. Now, I’m ultimately not concerned in this letter with presidents, although every president has had to deal with lies in one way or another. My main points are sketched in the collection of Proverbs quoted above. At every turn, gossip is a transgression of spiritual human relationships.
Proverbs 11:13 indicates that spreading gossip usually involves a broken trust—a broken confidence. Proverbs 16:28 and 17:9 tells us that gossip is destructive of relationships. Proverbs 20:19 is blunt: stay away from people who talk too much. Proverbs 26:20 reminds me of people I’ve known in my life who love to “stir the pot” or “stoke the fire.”
I think the common thread in all of these proverbs is that spreading gossip about others is destructive of interpersonal relationships and of community as a whole. One other thing comes up in these proverbs, however, that I think is very important. Although the “gossip” about President Lincoln’s plan was false, these proverbs speak of sharing secrets, repeating matters, and breaking confidences without ever indicating that gossip is necessarily false. In other words, it’s not okay to spread gossip as long as it’s true. In fact, it seems to me that these proverbs assume that the “secrets” being told are true. That doesn’t make it any less harmful that they are told. Don’t use “it’s true” as an excuse to harm others through gossip.