Renowned evangelist Billy Graham has said gossipping is wrong not only because it's often based on lies, but because it only serves to tear others down.
The 98-year-old evangelist recently shared his thoughts on the issue in response to a question sent from a reader, who said she left her last church because the congregants - including the pastor - continually talked about others.
"That's not the way Christians are supposed to act, is it?" she asked.
Graham first emphasized that it's "definitely not how Christians are supposed to act", because "when we commit ourselves to Jesus and become His followers, our lives should be marked by love and compassion, not criticism and gossiping."
"The Bible says, 'Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt' (Colossians 4:6)," he said.
Why is gossiping wrong? Graham says that one reason it's wrong is because it's often based on lies - and lying is forbidden throughout the Bible.
"Even if what someone says about another person isn't completely false, it's still only part of the truth," he said. "Gossiping and criticism also tear people down and hurt their reputation, causing conflict and suspicion. The Bible rightly says, 'A lying tongue hates those it hurts' (Proverbs 26:28)."
However, gossiping and criticizing someone behind their back is also wrong because it often stems from evil motivation, the Baptist pastor contended.
"Have you ever asked yourself why we like to gossip? The reason isn't simply because we like to tear others down; it's because we like to build ourselves up. When we gossip, we're claiming to be 'in the know,' and when we criticize someone, we're claiming to be better than they are. In reality, however, we're only tearing ourselves down."
The evangelist encouraged the reader to refrain from letting her bad experience with a handful of people keep her from Christ.
"Make sure of your personal commitment to Jesus, and then ask Him to guide you to a church where you can grow in your faith and be surrounded by people who love Him - and will also love you," he advised.
The Bible tells us the tongue is our worst enemy. "The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person," James 3:6 says. In the book of Romans, Paul includes gossip among the sins of murder, envy, greed, deceit and malice. He said "those who do such things deserve death."
However, a study titled "Why Churches Fail" conducted by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development (FASICLD) in partnership with Into Thy Word Ministries found that gossip is one of the biggest issues in the church today. In fact, sixty-one percent of 2,039 people who left their last church did so because of a conflict with another member resulting from gossip or strife that would not stop, was not true, or was not properly dealt with.
Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren recently offered some advice for those who have been affected by gossip - or are themselves guilty of engaging in gossip.
"Some of you have been deeply hurt by gossip and things that have been said around the office or a broken confidence between a friend or family member," he said. "Here's what God has to say to you: 'Pray for the person who gossiped against you so that you can be released from the hurt in your life.'"
"Or maybe you've been the one gossiping. This story is in the Old Testament to remind us how serious gossip is and how hurtful it can be to people, whatever side of it you're on. When you keep confidences, it enables you to connect to others in productive, healthy, and genuine ways."