A deadly dragon lives among us. The dragon slithers along telephone lines and breeds in magazine racks. Hissing and chattering, it ignites fires with its breath and leaps upon its victims when they least suspect danger. Do you know its name? Even its name hisses. The dragon's name is Gossip.
We joke about gossip. "I'm not a gossip, I'm a news analyst." "I don't repeat gossip -- so listen closely the first time." "There are no idle rumors. Rumors are always busy." Some people seem to have the motto: "If you can't say something good about a person, let's hear it."
I. Breath of the Dragon
We joke about it but a dragon is deadly. The dragon of gossip is a killer.
Gossip kills reputations. Gossip can forever smudge the reputations of people. Others may never know whether the rumors were true or not, but the taint is never forgotten.
Gossip also kills relationships. Consider the young teenager who tells her mother about a boy she likes, and the following day she overhears her mother on the telephone poking fun at her adolescent crush. With trust mortally wounded, the girl thereafter tells her mother little about her personal life.
Gossip can even kill people. G. Franklin Allee relates a story of a small-town family filled with happiness and love in spite of the young mother's poor health since the second child's birth. The village gossip one day started an untrue rumor about the husband being unfaithful to his wife. One day the young wife heard the story. Sick and in despair because she believed the gossip, she took the lives of her two children and then her own. When her husband came home that evening, he found the three of them hanging from a basement beam.
Like a nuclear-armed missile thundering up from its silo, gossip once unleashed can never be recalled. Like radioactive fallout scattered to the winds, lethal words of gossip spread everywhere.
In one small farming community a woman spread a slanderous story about her pastor and soon the whole community heard it. Some time later she repented and confessed the story was false. She went to the pastor wanting forgiveness. The old pastor said, "Of course I will gladly pardon you if you will comply with a wish of mine. Go home, kill a chicken, pluck the feathers, put the feathers in a basket, and bring them here."
In half an hour she was back. The pastor said, "Now go through the village and at each street corner scatter a few of these feathers, the remaining ones take to the top of the bell tower and scatter them to the winds, and then return." She did so. "Now go through the village and gather the feathers again, and see that not one is missing."
The woman looked at the pastor in astonishment and said, "Why that is impossible! The wind has scattered them over the fields everywhere!"
"And so," he said, "while I forgive you gladly, do not forget that you can never undo the damage your untrue words have done."
No wonder James 3:6-8
says: "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.... No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." Romans 1:29-30
lists gossip with such sins as murder, strife, greed, deceit, and hatred of God. If a church member were an atheist, an embezzler, or a mass murderer, the congregation would be horrified. Yet in churches everywhere, gossips flourish. Indeed, nearly everyone is sometimes guilty of verbal murder.