“Gossip is a hit-man, slander is a serial killer.” We live in a time when that which was once considered an ultimate evil is not only praised, but rewarded financially. Consider the exposé, the gossip column, the “reality” show. It is easy to forget that what we say, what we convince others of, the story we pass along, can kill. It not only kills reputations, but it also kills through false convictions in the courts, and suicides caused by despair. When the ancients tried to find a word to describe ultimate evil as they defined it, they named it Satan, the “devil” from diaballein “to slander.” If we believe the gospel accounts, the root cause of Jesus' death was slander. He was quoted out of context. He was involved in inappropriate relationships as others judged them. His was a “kingdom of paupers, simpletons, and rouges. The whores all seem to love him, the drunks proposed a toast!”[i] And people were persuaded to feel good about themselves by passing on the stories that destroyed his life in the courts of power.
This is not just a “Christian” problem it is a human one. When we engage in slander and gossip, we not only kill people, their reputations, and sometimes their bodies, we do something even worse in the bigger sense. We fill the world with more evil, a little less hope, and we thwart redemption. All to feel good, or superior, or to exact revenge. “I was flabbergasted by the headlines. People in glasshouses throwing stones.
Gaping wounds that will never heal…”[ii] The damage done by this one simple “little fox” is far worse than nearly all the other flaws we humans engage in. For those who thrive on passing on stories, the greatest gift of understanding why it is evil would likely be to find themselves the brunt of salacious slander and tales for which they have no defense. But maybe there is a better way? I write this in hope that my readers might find it.
If you are still reading at this point, I would like to comment on what sharing gossip or engaging in slander says about you (us), and some of the things that it does in the larger world.
First, no matter how benign and enjoyable sharing that bit of a bad story about someone may feel to you, it tells the world that you like to hurt others. It says that you are going to enjoy the fact that someone else will lie awake at night feeling the angst and hurt of your tale as it spreads. It says that you enjoy that they get further isolated, lost, and alone. You feel no shame that you are causing hurt to someone who has no defense against your casual whispers. Even Jesus could not defend himself against slander. He understood that and stood silent. Is this the kind of person you wish to be?
To slander others with a clear conscience you must assume that your faults are, of course, forgivable and those of your chosen targets are not. You of course are a good and well-intentioned person, but those whose reputations you destroy are not. We want others to judge us by our good works as we see them but in turn, we judge others by their last bad act. And sadly, often revel in the telling of that act, whether true or not. The joy of adding just a bit at each telling is even more delightful. But, let’s not think too long about what we are doing to them.
Finally, you must consider that you do not know. Knowing would force you to make a lesser tale. You presume to know what you don’t and yet deceive yourself into believing that you do. The people who charged Jesus with inappropriate relationships and motives did not know. You do not know the heart, the motives, or often even the actions of another. Yet you presume to speak as if you were a god. How do you know something? How do you know what they intended? Humility screams from the corner begging you to stop. But arrogance and lust for the joy of the scandalous story drive you to ignore the shouts.
The world filled with gossip and slander is a world that cuts off hope. It is a world in which there is no redemption. It is a world in which there is less love. If you truly wish to make the world a little better than you found it, please stop passing on evil tales about others. It is not your business, let it go. These little ones that you hurt are not political leaders whose policies we can criticize, they are people just like you and me. People who want to be loved, and live good lives. They may indeed have made a mistake, fallen in some way. You don’t really know. That is a judgment that lies in the province of the gods. Holding a person forever to your perception of their guilt, when you demand others to see your works as acts of redemption, is simply a sign of a darkened heart. Stop.
As the author of the first letter of John wrote so eloquently, “let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” iii This is a reminder that God is love. I wish for you a world in which you can be healed. A world in which you can find peace. A world in which you can live and learn in safety. A world in which you can find redemption and do your own good. A world where people will believe the best for you. Let’s try and create such a world. Can we? At least in our little corners?
[i] Rich Mullins, Surely God Is With Us.
[ii] Van Morrison, Rough God Goes Riding.
[iii] First John Chapter 4.