Long before the Internet, I kept a file on juicy gossip that was sent my way:
-- Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s plot to end all religious broadcasting (1974).
-- The Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe (I first heard of it in 1966).
-- Procter & Gamble supporting the Church of Satan (1995?)
-- Scientists discover Hell in Siberia (1990)
-- McDonalds mixes earthworms in their hamburger meat (1980s?)
-- Social Security checks which can’t be cashed unless the bearer had a mark in the right hand or forehead (1981).
Now most of these would be amusing if it weren’t for the fact that people actually believe this stuff, sign petitions and pass them on. And that some of them are actually harmful!
There are plenty of rumor mills producing new ones too. Standing in the checkout at Wal*Mart last week, I read these headlines in the “news” rack:
-- Rednecks Shoot Down Flying Saucer (picture included).
-- Family Breakup in the White House (G. W. and Laura’s picture included).
-- Who’s Gay and Who’s Not in Country Music (Willie and Dolly’s pictures included).
But the greatest rumor medium of all is the Internet and e-mails. (Forward this to at least 10 of your friends or (a) horrible things will happen to you, (b) you will not receive a blessing, or (c) you don’t love Jesus.)
Much of the stuff that I receive is from my friends on the religious right. It seems odd to me that those who see themselves as the guardians of the morals of America apparently do not see gossip as a moral issue:
-- Al Gore claimed his favorite Bible verse was John 16:3 (2000).
-- John Kerry claimed his favorite Bible verse was John 16:3 (2004)
-- I apparently don’t have any friends on the religious left or I would probably have received the same rumor about G. W. Bush. My Internet source says it was floating around.
When I reply and question the truthfulness of the rumors, my friends sometimes give rationalizations such as these (any of which I suppose could have been used by the “witnesses” at Jesus’ trials):
-- “I didn’t know if it was true or not, but I thought I should pass it on in case it was true,”
-- “I knew it was at least partially true.”
-- “Where did you read that it wasn’t true? The liberal press?”
-- “Whose side are you on anyway?”
Well, I hope I’m on the side of truth.
“And he who spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18b).
“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip” (Proverbs 20:19).
“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth” (and your e-mail) (Colossians 3:8).
In Romans 1:26-31, Paul classifies gossips and slanderers right along with murderers, homosexuals and others as examples of the depravity of man.
The tempter in the garden used half-truths and lies to tempt Eve into sin. We don’t need to follow his methods even when battling with him.
Some questions we should ask before passing on a rumor:
-- Is it true? Don’t pass it on till you’re sure.
-- Is it necessary? Does it serve any useful purpose, other than titillation or making people I don’t like look bad?
-- Is it harmful to those it is concerned with? Many people and organizations have suffered irreparable damage from gossip.
-- Is it edifying to the hearers or readers?
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).