What’s the heart issue behind slander and gossip? The narcissistic duo of self-love and self-promotion. When we traffic in slander and gossip, we tear others down and build ourselves up.
Joseph Stowell calls them “catastrophic cousins,” and it wouldn’t be difficult to make the case from mere observation that they destroy more relationships and cause more church splits than any spiritual disease: slander and gossip.
Oh, how the sons and daughters of Adam love gossip.
An old cliché says this sin is primarily the domain of women, but I disagree. We men are highly skilled at gossip as well. Think about how your ears perk up when someone begins a conversation with “Hey, did you hear what’s been happening with our old friend Jim?” Such words tend to grab our undivided attention.
Gossip appeals to us because sinners love dirty laundry. We love it when people lose, especially those whom we may (secretly but sinfully) view as being a few layers above or below us on the social, economic, educational, or celebrity strata. We love to hear—and spread—bad news about them. Don Henley nailed this truth in his 1982 hit song “Dirty Laundry.” The lyrics were intended to critique the perceived yellow journalism of mainstream news media, but what Henley saw as true of reporters can be said of us all:
Dirty little secrets, dirty little lies;
We’ve got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pies;
We love to cut you down to size;
We love dirty laundry.
Solomon’s inspired wisdom put it this way:
The words of a whisperer (gossiper) are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body (Prov. 18:8).
Gossip is appealing to us because we love stories—about us and others. As Matthew C. Mitchell points out, we read our children stories from the time they were born. Gossip is telling a story—one that communicates bad news about another person behind that person’s back. Scripture depicts gossip as whispering that ruins relationships and separates even the closest of friends:
A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer (gossip) separates close friends.” (Prov. 16:28)
When you hear gossip about a friend, it plants suspicion in your mind, which builds a barrier of doubt. By the same token, if your friend gossips to you about somebody else, you’ll certainly wonder if he gossips about you. It destroys trust and creates cynicism within relationships. Gossiping words are killing words.
Even the Preacher in Ecclesiastes makes a whimsical reference to the certainty that all sinful humans, at one time or another, will talk about another person behind their back. He warns against being thin-skinned when you hear that things have been said about you:
Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. (Eccles. 7:21–22)