Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are We Gossip Girls?

Note: ABC network recently announced that it will change the title of its TV pilot Good Christian Bitches to Good Christian Belles. But this doesn’t change the content of the show or its characterization of Christian women. It’s like giving a garbage dump a dressed-up name, like “repository” or “treasure-trove,” and thinking folks won’t see what it is … anyhow, below are some thoughts I wrote about gossip in the church before the name change was announced.

Are We Gossip Girls?

Good Christian Bitches characterizes believers in an unfavorable (and partially true) light.
By Holly Vicente Robaina

When a friend told me about ABC’s plans for the pilot Good Christian Bitches, I was shocked. Based on Kim Gatlin’s book by the same title, the proposed show is about a divorcee who’s life becomes the hot topic for the local churchgoing gossipmongers. Several Christian organizations, including the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association, are pushing ABC to cancel the show.

I should say that I was doubly shocked: First, that any station would attempt use the b-word as part of a show’s title. And second, I felt ABC was taking a slap at me.

Why am I taking this personally?
I wondered. The b-word had set me off, but it was the ordering of the words in the title that more deeply troubled me. I couldn’t pass it off as referring to nominal “Christians”—those who would self-label as believers, yet they haven’t made a commitment to obedience, submission, and the pursuit of holiness as Christ-followers. Rather, the title indicates that the show is about good Christian characters—presumably, true believers.

ABC’s writers could have chosen an ironic title, like “Good Christian Girls,” then filled the show with backbiting, judgmental characters. That would have annoyed me, but not stung in the way the actual title does. It’s the juxtaposition of “good Christian” with the b-word. The implication is that “bitch” is an accurate description of a good Christian woman.

In other words, it felt like ABC was telling me, “Admit it, Holly—you, like all Christian women, are a mean, gossipy girl. We’re just telling the truth and exposing Christians for what they really are—malicious, self-righteous [b-words].”

Thing is, I can’t blanketly declare that this is untrue. Christians have a reputation for discussing moral failings for the sole purpose of gossipy entertainment. And that isn’t just a false stereotype. For example, we Christian women sometimes put forth a holy purpose for sharing—such as prayer or organizing aid to meet someone’s need—and then spend more time talking about the needy person than addressing their need.

I’m certain that every true Christ-follower wants to avoid even the appearance of gossiping. So how do we become alert about the words slipping from our lips? And how do we keep gossip out of our churches?

A Natural Breeding Ground

We first have to acknowledge that the church is susceptible to gossip because of its structure. As one of my friends pointed out, gossip is promotional—it requires an audience and a meeting place where it may be promoted. So places where people gather regularly—schools, the workplace, gyms, and unfortunately, the church—are a natural breeding ground for it.

Second, every Christian woman needs to admit that she is capable of gossiping. We have the potential for committing any type of sin, including gossip. Rather than passing it off as, “I’m a Christian—I would never do that,” we need to recognize that our strength comes from God alone. We should regularly be praying that the Holy Spirit will allow us to speak only good words and will shut our mouths when needed. We should consistently be meditating on Scripture passages like Ephesians 4:29 and Philippians 4:8, and asking God to guard our mouths and minds.

And lastly, we must preserve the ability to speak frankly at church. The church is a place for confession and supplication. But too often, Christians keep mum about their struggles and needs because we’re afraid of being judged and becoming the focus of gossip. The sad result: Prayers are never spoken, healing never takes place, and needs go unmet.

My greatest moments of spiritual growth have occurred when I’ve shared my pain and shortcomings with other Christian women. My friend Trisha alerted me that the sleeplessness I’d been experiencing might be related to spiritual warfare. (I’d never considered this—and it was.) Yvonne prayed a bold prayer of healing after I lost part of my eyesight. (I wouldn’t have prayed this myself. My sight was restored.) And Kathryn is the trustworthy person I can run to whenever I need accountability. (She keeps my secret while praying for me and urging me to repent.)

So silence isn’t the answer. While we need to do away with gossip, we must maintain safe community and communication within the church.

To Share or Not to Share

Practically, what can we do to curtail gossip?

Gossip often hides behind the guise of prayer. In group settings, leaders should direct the group to spend more time praying, and less time discussing prayer requests. It’s a lot harder to gossip when we’re consciously including God in our conversation!

Individually, we need to consider: Are we really praying for others when they ask? When we get a prayer chain email or phone call, do we actually pray for the requests, or just digest them for personal enjoyment (Proverbs 18:8)?

And we Christian women should ask ourselves a few questions before sharing anything:

1) Should I be the one to share this?
Perhaps it would be better if the information came from another source, such as the person who has the need, one of their family members or close friends, or a church leader.

2) Do I have permission to share this?
Always ask the person who is sharing a need with you whether this may be shared with others, rather than assuming it’s OK to pass along the prayer request (Proverbs 11:13).

3) To what extent should I share?
Stick to details that help others to pray. Omit any information that you wouldn’t include in a public prayer (Proverbs 20:19).

4) What do I hope to accomplish by sharing this information?
There’s always a reason why we’re sharing something. Consider all of your intentions. Ask yourself if you’re in any way motivated by any of the following:

  • Comparing yourself with others
  • Convincing others to take sides
  • Expressing an opinion
  • Putting someone “in their place”
  • Shirking your responsibility for needed confrontation or restoration (e.g. triangulating)
  • To have something to say and be included in the group discussion
  • Getting the attention and admiration of others, as one who’s “in the know”
  • Proving that you’re a good listener
  • Trying to win friends
  • Demonstrating a connection to your church
  • Feeling like you have a purpose at your church

When we examine our words in this way, it may reveal areas of woundedness or lack in our own lives—we may be the one who truly needs prayer! We may discover unrecognized sin, such as a bias against someone that we hadn’t been aware of. We may find there’s a longing for connection or purpose that we need God to fill.

5) Do I need to share this for the safety of a friend or the church?
If a friend expresses thoughts of suicide or appears to be a danger to others, obviously, we need to share their secret—with or without their permission (Leviticus 19:16b). Similarly, if you know a church member who is unwilling to ask for help in a financial crisis, or who is unrepentant for sin (Matthew 18:15-20), it isn’t gossip if you ask a pastor to intervene.

Good words build up the body of Christ. Let’s strive to be known for the wholesome talk that really does fill the church—our words of exhortation and compassion, motivated by love. Who knows—we might even inspire a television show about Christian women who love God and one another