Speaking evil of a neighbor

I have recently been troubled by a swirl of rumors and misinformation around an acquaintance of mine regarding a very personal and private matter. Sadly, this individual’s life has become fodder for gossip and evil speaking among neighbors.

Even more troubling is the possibility that information shared in confidence was disseminated to those who had no business knowing the information.

While performing a search on the word “gossip” on LDS.org, I came across an Ensign article written by Elder Gene R. Cook of the Seventy. The article’s title is Gossip: Satan’s Snare.

Elder Cook opens the article discussing a situation where a Church member suffered greatly when false rumors of immorality spread through and tore apart a branch. Those who spread the rumors were summoned before a Church disciplinary council.

Here is my question to you: When does gossip rise to the level where it requires convening a Church disciplinary council?

I’m also interested to hear how you deal with gossip in your branch, ward or stake. What is the best way to deal with gossiping without appearing self-righteous? Have you ever been the subject of gossiping? What did you do? How did you deal with it?

14 thoughts on “Speaking evil of a neighbor

  1. Just before my daughter was to be married, our Bishop called her in and said he heard that she was pregant. After assuring him she had done nothing to bring something like that on, he went to the source of the gossip, the person who had started the rumor. He required her to tell everyone that she had told this to that it was not true. I loved this bishop for taking care of it right away, and I believe it stopped the rumor from spreading more.

  2. Gossip is a terrible thing. I really try hard not to say anything but positive things about the people in my ward and avoid gossip. One of the fascinating things is that gossip and evil speaking has been Satan’s tactic ever since the restoration of the Church. If you read about many of the people who left the Church even in the 1830s, one of the main reasons was gossip and back-biting.

  3. To me it seems the bishops are often co-perpetrators of such nonsense by getting involved in things that are none of their business. I remember after my mission at BYU long ago some jerk reported me to the bishop because he saw a condom in my trash. The dorky bishop called me in rather than just letting the stupid thing pass but was smart enough to drop it when I said there was nothing to discuss. In short, it’s up to the sinner to make confession, not some gossiper by proxy, and bishops should be smart enough not to act on gossip.

  4. Margaret: thank you for sharing that. I would hope the bishop in this persons’ ward would do the same thing. There is nothing like finding the person who started the rumor and making them accountable.

    Geoff: So true about gossip and evil speaking as a tool of Satan. There is nothing that destroys unity in a ward or branch faster.

    Steve EM: I think it should be up to the sinner to confess and not confession via gossip. Good point.

  5. Some of the most damaging gossip I have ever witnessed has been about teenagers. Other teens usually start the gossip mill. The adults pick up the information and away we go. Teens, who have been gossiped about, have a difficult time not letting the gossip affect their life. The gossiped about Teen will often then do whatever it was they were gossiped about in the first place.

    As for my personal experience, I believe living well is the best revenge. Time has a way of proving the right or wrong of gossip.

  6. As for my personal experience, I believe living well is the best revenge. Time has a way of proving the right or wrong of gossip.

    I love that line, JA. Sometimes, though, time passes too slowly, especially if the gossip is cruel and unkind.

    One of my favorite hymns is “School Thy Feelings“, which was written by Charles W. Penrose after he was falsely accused of misdeeds while serving a mission in England. A wonderful story, really.

  7. It takes real courage not to engage in gossip – especially when in a situation where most of the people are participating. As for myself, I try to avoid situations that seem to foster that kind of behavior. Sometimes these things can’t be avoided, and I just try to change the subject in order to avoid gossiping.

    On the other end, I know that we can feel judged, and sometimes people are gossiping about us. I’ve always felt like instead of retaliating to this problem, I’d just let my actions speak for themselves. I think that most people want to be nice, and if we are just strong enough to overcome such difficulties – like gossip – and we have the Spirit with us, then others will see through the rumor to the truth of who we actually are.

  8. Exactly Catania. I agree Brian time does move too slowly in the gossiped about situation. There is no other way around the pain of being gossiped against. We feel hurt and justifiably angry. It puts a wedge between us and others. If we are not careful our hurt feelings can become a wedge between us and God. We can not control the actions of others. We can only react to the burden with grace and fortitude. A Christ-like reaction is our best defense.

    It would be great if church leaders would step in and stop the gossip. More often than not they do not. Usually we can only help ourselves.

    I am reminded of a Jewish story about a man who bore false witness against his neighbor. The man saw the error of his ways and felt great remorse. The repentant man went to his Rabbi and asked what he could to right the wrong he had committed. The Rabbi picked a handful of straw and threw it into the wind. The Rabbi told the man the words he had spoken were now like the straw in the wind. The straw was difficult to catch and it scattered all around the village and beyond. The Repentant man did a all he could do to stop the gossip, but like the straw once it hit the wind the straw had the power to scatter everywhere.

  9. When does gossip rise to the level where it requires convening a Church disciplinary council?

    Thanks, Brian, this is a good post. I’m sorry about your acquaintance, and I am sad to say that I know how you feel, because I have observed the same thing. One of the real challenges we have is the careful handling of personal information. How do we report our home teaching, especially when something is wrong? I’ve seen ward council meetings and ward welfare council meetings descend into gossip fests, where sincere desires to help became fodder for the rumor mill because the meeting lacked direction from the bishop. Fortunately, those occasions have been rare.

    To answer your question. I know a man who served as bishop when there was a persistent and negative influence in the ward that was perpetuated by gossip. He identified the sources as three different women. He visited with each of them individually and explained the damage they were doing with their mouths, and also explained that if it didn’t stop, a disciplinary council would be convened. Two of them were shocked to learn that what they thought was innocent conversation had such negative effects, and the were immediately contrite and resolved to do better in the future. The third one got huffy and mad at the bishop, and eventually insisted that her family move out of the ward. So, problem solved, I guess.

  10. Many years ago, a bishop was trying to get my inactive aunt back to church. She told him the reason she was hesitating was because she smoked and was afraid she would make people around her uncomfortable because she was sure they would be able to smell it on her. The bishop told her, in all seriousness, there were worse things than smoking. What, she asked in great surprise, because back in those days we talked about Word of Wisdom much more than we do today. Gossip, he said. He added: “If you smoke, you only hurt yourself (this was before we knew about secondhand smoke); but if you gossip, you hurt others — and often you don’t even know how many you are hurting because that person you are gossiping about has people who love and care for him or her.” Then he said: “If I had to choose between a smoker and a gossip, I would take the smoker every time.” Smart man, I think.

  11. Mark: Thanks for that comment.

    Ward Council has always been one of my least favorite meetings to attend simply because of the way information is sometimes mishandled. A good bishop should take the lead and guide the discussion in a positive and productive manner. Additionally, information shared in confidence must be safeguarded/kept confidential and not discussed outside of ward council or presidency meetings.

    I guess the sister who moved out of the ward helped solve the gossip problem in a good way for that ward. Always happy to hear when a problem is solved. :-)

    Ted: It is interesting that you should mention the comment about smoking. My SP recently said that he would rather sit next to a smoker in a meeting than someone who viewed pornography. He said you can at least smell the cigarette smoke and the sinner isn’t trying to hide the smell of smoke.

  12. I have been the victim of misleading information being implied about me. If that sounded carefully phrased, it was, because that is how my reputation was damaged. Carefully chosen words by a leader in a ward council and instantly I was a leper in a ward where I had served well and faithfully in two presidencies. The fallout didn’t stop there. My daughters became fair game for rumors and unkind actions. They were merely following the cues given by their parents (many of whom had front row seats in Ward Council) who compounded our sudden “spiritual bankruptcy”.

    The results? Daughter #1 will likely leave the church when she goes off to college. She has completed her 4 yrs of seminary and wants nothing further to do with our ward. Daughter #2 is more resilient and willing to look past several hurtful events such as being ejected from the YW’s car because they didn’t want her sitting with them and riding with the YM instead. Me? I am struggling, and quite frankly, losing the battle for the desire to be there anymore.

    I love the Savior, my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel is strong, but I can’t get past how much I don’t want to be there. I can’t feel the Spirit there anymore. THAT is what gossip does to a good person who did nothing wrong.

    However, I do feel the Spirit quite strongly when I attend church with my mother (another denomination) and right now I just need to be edified after 5 years of dying inside. So after praying about it and getting no obvious signs of “don’t do it!”, I’ve decided to go half & half to each church for the sake of my other children and because they need a mother who has oil in her lamp too. I don’t know what else to do.

  13. CiCi, I know of situations similar to your experience. It is unfortunate that individuals in leadership positions can use their *air of authority* to damage the reputations of others. We all need to harken to the council given in the scriptures.

    “That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” (D&C 121:36–37.)

    God bless you in seeking the peace you desire.

  14. I don’t intend to go to any LDS doctor in the future (unless I absolutely have to) in the aftermath of going to one who employed family members in his office.

    Let’s also remember, it’s still gossip even if you leave off the names, and it’s still gossip even if it’s true.

    If you feel the need to tell a story about someone that illustrates some important lesson, you need to have a lot of time and distance between you and the person involved in order to keep it truely anonymous.

    General Authorities sometimes write about individual cases to illustrate principles. Even Spencer Kimball did so in “Miracle of Forgiveness”. And some even talk about them at General Conference. But there is a lot of time and distance, and usually healing, between the event/person and the relating of the story so that it can be truely anonymous.

    Also, false impressions or false opinions can never be totally avoided. One of the things I took a long time to learn is that I’m not responsible for other people’s opinions and attitudes. If people tell lies about me, then I would want to counter it if it rose to the level of slander or libel. But I’m not responsible for what other people think. I don’t require people to like me.

    Sometimes, seemingly harmless information, whether it’s wrong or right, can be damaging. Even a seemlingly harmless “so-and-so is dating so-and-so”, if incorrect, can prevent that person from getting a date because people will think he/she is cheating on their girl/boyfriend.

    After I get re-baptized, I’m going to move to another state. Partly because I’m interested in getting to know someone who I’ve met on one of my travels, and partly to start over.

    My overall experience: generally speaking, Mormons are terrible gossips.

    Cici: I hope you’re in a financial condition where you can move to another ward or stake if you have to. I’ve come to believe that moving is better than leaving the church or going inactive.

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