Saturday, March 10, 2018

Conflict and Resolution. Dealing With Gossip

“Pastor,” the woman on the phone said to me, “I just wanted you to know that there is a rumor going on in the church about you.” 

“Really. ” I replied. “And what are they saying?  Who is saying these things?”

“I’d rather not say,” she continued.  “I don’t believe what they are saying is true but thought you should know.”

My reaction to her, “If you don’t have the courage to tell me who is spreading gossip then you really shouldn’t call me.  It serves no purpose and I assume that perhaps you are part of that slander.”

That conversation took place over forty-five years ago when I was a pastor in the states and it comes to mind as I prepare to teach Conflict and Resolution in Kenya next month.  Gossip and slander is often the foundation of conflict in the church, in business and personal relationships. 

How should you confront gossip or slander?  My rule has always been if rumor or slander is circulating, first, find the source, pick up the phone or write a note and just ask the person, without accusation, the merit of the talk.  “Mr. So-in-so said you were involved in saying something negative about your boss (pastor or friend).  Is that true and if it is true, what is that you are saying so we can get clarity on the matter.”

Two things will take place when you confront slander head on.  (a) The truth will come out quickly and, (2) when it is known that all parties are named in gossip there will be fewer people in the future engaged in tongue wagging.

This actually happened to me about a year ago.  An individual, who slandered me in the past, told my brother-in-law that I was going to sue this guy.  My brother-in-law picked up the phone and asked me about it.  I laughed, not that it was that funny but a bit sad.  Pathological liars seemingly have no problem making things up. My reply to my brother-in-law was, “That’s news to me.  What day did he say I am suppose to be in court?”

In conflict the old adage is true, there are always two sides to a story.  If a person hears gossip and doesn’t try to get the other parties side of the story then they are as guilty of slander as the ones who promotes it. 

A few years back some terrible things were said about my wife and me.  For the most part I just ignored it, but it did deeply hurt some relationships.  The slanderer, which is most often the case, made accusations to justify him and gain sympathy for his position.  None of those who listened to his smears have contacted me to hear the other side of the story, which tells me a lot about them and their character.   As far back as the Old Testament the Scriptures admonishes,  “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness (Exodus 23:1).  (Note that if one listens to gossip and does not challenge or get the other side of the story, they are enablers of slander, as guilty as one who spreads false accusations).

Second, another advice to those who are accused, for the most part, just ignore them, if you can.  Those who would spread gossip about me I will either confront or I will ignore and, more times than not, its the latter.  Life is too short and I refuse to spend energy trying to defend myself to people whose opinion does not affect my relationships with those I really care about.  I will always deal with slander or gossip that touches my wife, kids and friends or impugns my work for Christ.  Those I am responsible to and those who pray for me I owe clarification and honesty at every level.  But, to those who don’t have the decency to ask me my side of the story and have no interest in my family or me on a regular personal level, I owe nothing.  In reality, to engage in defending myself for the approval of people who are co-slanderers would be a sinful pride issue on my part.