A few weeks ago a story swept across my Facebook feed about a young Mennonite man from Indiana who went missing after a visit with his girlfriend in Arkansas. I quickly determined, after a brief look on Google maps at the points mentioned, that there was very little that I could do to help. There are plenty of situations where my own inputs and interventions are truly needed and this was not one of them.
The need for my personal involvement didn’t change after he was found. Yes, as a normal human being, I was curious about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and hoped to eventually hear more about what happened. However, there was no reason for me to pry or persist in an effort to find information, I was content to wait until his family was ready to share and truthfully didn’t need to know anymore than I already did.
However, some were not satisfied to simply rejoice with those who rejoice. Some felt entitled to information, they felt that they deserved an explanation and more or less demanded immediate answers. Making matters worse, the online discussion (including a page created to help locate the young man) quickly became and a cesspool of gossip and den of busybodies who seemed to take great pleasure in sharing their scandalous revelations.
Anyhow, because this does effect my newsfeed, and having had malicious nonsense spread about me in the past, and knowing what Scripture says on the topic of gossip, I want to make three points:
1) The young man didn’t ask to be turned into a public figure.
Family and friends decided to take their search public and the network of Mennonites on social media responded in force. But that doesn’t mean that we should not respect the privacy of the young man. The public handling of this was not his choice. If their best interests (both his own and those of the people more intimately involved) are better served by not sharing more than has already been shared, then so be it.
2) You are not entitled to anything more than has already been revealed.
I’ve seen the spreading of rumors explained as need for closure and blame being put on those closest to the young man for their not revealing more information at this time. That, of course, is complete nonsense. Being asked to pray and assist in a search does not give anyone a right to know the juicy details and nor does morbid fascination. There is no need to know anything more than what needs to be known. He has been found, he is with those who love him, and that should be everything a reasonable person needs for closure.
3) Gossip is a sin and busybodies are severely condemned.
Curiosity is excusable. I understand the want to know more about a story than is already known. I can even see good reason to share, in the right time and place, about unflattering things discovered. However, what I cannot excuse is sharing dirt on another person and publicly trashing them for no good reason. True or not does not matter, what does matter is that we show the grace we wish to be shown and handle such matters in the way appropriate for a Christian.
There seems to be some confusion about what is appropriate and inappropriate sharing of information…
Fortunately there are Biblical passages that offer us strong clues. In fact, being a “meddler” (1 Peter 4:15) or “gossip” (Romans 1:29) is mentioned in the same context as theft and murder and slander. We are even told to disassociate ourselves from those who are “busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11, 1 Timothy 5) as a result of their idleness. And, if that condemnation is not enough, there is also this clear instruction:
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 NIV)
The word “slander” in the passage above is also translated as “speak evil” or “speak against” and doesn’t simply refer to false tales. It comes from the Greek word “katalaleó” (καταλαλέω) and is defined by International Standard Bible Encyclopedia as follows:
Slander (etymologically a doublet of “scandal,” from OFr. esclandre, Latin scandalum, “stumblingblock”) is an accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect of damaging the reputation of another. As a rule it is a false charge (compare Matthew 5:11); but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose…
It is important to note that this goes beyond the modern definition of slander. It is saying something, true or untrue, in a way that is unnecessarily harmful to another person. In other words, this means *not* revealing things in public about an individual that detract from their reputation. That in contrast with sharing only what is helpful to another individual and of benefit:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
There is a time and place for confronting sinful behavior. However, unless the sin is already public knowledge and obvious (as in 1 Corinthians 5) or something that must be reported immediately to civil authorities like sexual abuse, the process of confrontation should always start one-on-one with the offending individual in private:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
In light of this, spreading scandalous information about another person just because you can is never appropriate for a Christian. It goes completely against Biblical instruction to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” and to “mind your own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and amounts to a sin as bad as any other.
As for closure…
There are certainly those who should be working with this young man to help and restore him. But there are many more (in the online crowd) who have no role in that and should be mindful of what Jesus told those who brought an adulterous woman out to be condemned: “Let anyone of you who is without sin cast the first stone…”
Christians should have no time for gossip and no place for busybodies in their ranks. There is no duty to tell the world about things than can (and should) remain private and absolutely no need for salacious appetites to be fed. So, if you desperately need closure, use the opportunity to reflect on your own attitudes and actions.
16 thoughts on “Mind Your Own Business — The Christian Response to Gossips and Busybodies”
Joel, Thankyou for this timely reminder. This is truth & so graciously written.
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Thanks! It is hard sometimes to say only what needs to be said. Believe me, I do have my further thoughts…lol!
I see your point but i believe you are in the ditch on the other side my friend. First of all the family promised an update and when they failed to do that then people were left to speculate what had happened. They did nothing to prevent the rumors.
Secondly there is the law of sowing and reaping. He made a mistake and he was going to need to reap the consequences. We need to forgive and move on. But that doesn’t mean we have to justify the mistake like you are trying to do.
First, I’m not sure why you are calling me “friend” while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity. Second, I made no excuses for anyone, but you seem to be making an excuse for what is clearly defined as sin and there is no excuse for such behavior. Third, there is no other ditch, whatever he did (or didn’t do) does not have anything to do with me, there is nothing useful to be gained by people exposing his private life to me, and what the Bible defines as sin trumps your own personal opinion. If he (or his family) did something wrong, that is a matter for them and their local church community to sort out—not a matter for your or my titillation.
Anyhow, if you choose to respond to this (I see no need for that) you will need to identify yourself and not hide behind a cloak. If it is your right to know who he is, despite his not asking to be a public figure, then it is all the more my right to know who you are in my own space. As fair warning, I do moderate the comments here… 🙂
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It’s also a sin to lie about giving an update then not giving one. You can’t say one sin of gossip is greater than lying about an update because Jesus said sin is sin. No different degrees.
And I know him well because I was in Bible school with him so i know what happened. So it’s not like i wondered what happened because I know. But the people in charge of the news brought it upon themselves when they promised an update then went in hiding once they found out what really happened.
I saw the update with my own eyes days ago. So I’m uncertain why you are accusing them of lying…
I’m not sure what they taught you in Bible school. But the Bible also speaks against false accusations and also tells the Christian to be forebearing and patient. I recall a story Jesus told of a man, who after being forgiven of a great debt, went out and demanded he be repaid by someone who owed him very little—I believe the point of that story is that we should not be like that man.
Anyhow, what is your last name?
Look i know all about rumors. I live in a Mennonite circle and almost left last year because of rumors floating around about me. I know what it is like.
I’m saying that i found out it was best to come out and say what had happened because trying to hide it had people curious and digging into it. So I sat down with the ministers and had to go over what happened. I made a mistake and needed to take care of it. I think you are trying to take 2 wrongs and make 1 right.
Joel, assuming that is your name and not a pseudonym, it is interesting what you ignored in my last message. First, I’ve asked for your last name. If we are going to friends then it would be nice to know what “Joel” I am talking with. Second, contrary to what you claimed, the young man’s family *did* give an update. I must say that it is extremely ironic that you made a false claim while accusing them of being liars. Third, you have yet to identify any “wrong” the family did, but that hasn’t stopped you from going full throttle ahead as if your accusations actually had any validity at all.
So, given that you are the only one here making verifiably false statements, don’t think it time to take the advice at the end of my blog?
Do you have a last name?
I’m not going to identify any wrong the family did. Then you’ll say I’m judging and Jesus said not to judge. So I’m not falling for your trap there.
If you or no else here needs to give there last name then mine doesn’t matter either.
Rather than admit your own false accusation you deflect, you launch into an unwarranted attack and accuse me of setting a trap. For one who used the word “friend” in reference to me you sure aren’t acting like one. Perhaps your claim to know the victim is likewise tainted?
As far as not making judgments, who do you think you are fooling? You are certainly not afraid of making judgments, you accused them of lying because they didn’t give an update, that is a judgment. And it is also a false accusation. Because, contrary to what you claimed, they did give an update and *before* you accused them of not doing it, but you have yet to repent of that false report where you made it. How is it okay for you to falsely accuse them of lying? Why do you hold them to a standard of truth that you fall far far below? Shouldn’t a person concern themselves with the beam in their own eyes before they point out a splinter in some other person’s eye?
It is little wonder, in light of your false accusations and double-standards, why you don’t want to reveal your true indentity. It is funny too, perhaps you are a little fearful because your own life isn’t pristine and there might be some scandalous information out there about you? Whatever the case, it is wildly ironic, one might even say hypocritical, that you don’t think I should know anything about who you are and yet are attempting to argue that the world deserves to know everything about some guy in Indiana.
I’ve only allowed your comments because they illustrate my point so well. Any reasonable person reading this conversation will likely see the irony of a person who wants everything about another person to be revealed and then claims a right to privacy for themselves…
Yeah you aren’t worth my time. You can’t even carry a decent conversation. I hope you aren’t a Christian because if you are then I want nothing to do with Christianity. I assume you are a typical internet troll. Good luck.
I would love to carry a conversation, but you have denied me every opportunity and refuse to even share your full name. So it is pretty funny that you take a shot at my faith and call me names. You started with a false accusation and it is fitting that you end where you started.
So very true! Thank you for being bold enough to stand up for truth! In this online world of “click and paste” it’s so refreshing to hear the sound of a clear trumpet! It was written with grace and truth!
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Thank you, Dan!
Right on. It totally burned me up. But I got banned for asking the admin to apologize.
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