Having had the privilege of counseling hundreds of pastors, I know that I have received sacred trust.
A few weeks ago, a pastor I have met several times complimented me when he introduced me to another pastor.
âDon knows more about my life than I do,â he said with a laugh.
Letting out a big breath, he added: “Thank goodness he can stay confident.”
Keeping trust is a very high value for me. If not, my consultations with pastors would end tomorrow.
A few days later, I ran into a parishioner who had bumped into me once or twice.
âSay, I saw you in the back of a cafe the other day talking with our pastor,â he said. âIt sounded like a serious conversation. How is he ?
“You should ask him,” I said.
âOops,â he said, âI didn’t mean to push. “
Well, I thought, maybe.
With so many well known pastors in the countryside falling out of favor over the past two years, several people have asked me about situations in their own church. They seek advice on sensitive issues in their church.
A sincere person approached me seriously and said, âI don’t want to chat. Even after we spoke, he again said, “Hope this isn’t gossip.”
Church people, the group I have worked with the most, know that a vital part of church life involves interpersonal relationships, conflict management, discerning true teaching versus false teaching. and the decision to stay or leave a certain church.
They wonder who they can talk to about such matters in a way that does not constitute gossip.
Since I’ve been pretty much a clergyman my whole life, I know how easy it is to speak behind someone’s back, especially a pastor or a church leader.
Talking face to face is good but not always as easy or convenient as you think.
Recently, an article by Dr Barry York, president of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, as well as instructions from Westminster Larger Catechism, helped me refine my ideas on how to think gossip.
A question in the catechism asks: “What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?” “
The ninth commandment is “Bear not false witness against your neighbor.” Essentially, don’t lie, for God places great importance on truth.
As I reflected on the Ninth Commandment, I thought of five guidelines to help discern the essence of the gossip.
It is not gossip when:
- The case is common knowledge.
Some people are reluctant to pass on information that is recorded in civil or religious documents as public information. I have known a person who was accused of not following the principles of Matthew 18, where Jesus said to speak to a person in private about an ongoing problem. But the problem was already known in the print media and had been published on social networks. This situation is not gossip.
- You are looking for advice on a matter.
If a deep Christian concern about someone causes you to quietly seek advice on how to handle a case, that is not gossip. It becomes gossip when it’s done for the sake of revealing juicy news without caring about the individual. It is no gossip to seek advice on a risky matter from someone whose personality and wisdom you trust. In fact, it is love.
If we are called by a civil or ecclesiastical court to testify, it is not gossip to reveal the truth under oath regarding the matter, no matter how much some claim the information is “private.” Who among us hasn’t heard, âI swear the proof I give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me Godâ? Not to do so is to take a false oath. It would be an affront to God.
- You protect your neighbor’s name.
Talking about someone’s business is not gossip. The Westminster Catechism says that by talking about someone else we can actually counter the gossip by “preserving and promoting the truth between man and man, and the good reputation of our neighbor”. If you do not slander or speak ill of a neighbor (Psalm 15: 3), it is not gossip.
- You are a whistleblower against evil.
I’m journalist Julie Roys, whose âThe Roys Reportâ sheds light on abuse in the church. Roys calls out those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. She is clear and frank, but not mean. What Roys exhibits sometimes makes me cringe and sigh. And yet, his mission seems honorable to me. The apostle Paul said, âSpeak the truth with love.
Stopping the gossip is like trying to stop eating sweet corn and peanuts. It takes discipline and intentionality.
That’s why i can’t already stop praying the prayer of Psalm 19: âMay the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. “