That’s how Matt Mitchell defines gossip in his book that releases today:
It’s convicting, edifying, accessible, and practical.
Again, here’s Mitchell’s definition: “Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” (p. 23, emphasis original).
Aside: Unless I missed it Mitchell doesn’t distinguish between sinful and non-sinful gossip. The phrase “sinful gossip” appears in the book over 35 times, but I’m not sure why the word “sinful” qualifies the word “gossip” since gossip is inherently sinful. [Update: Mitchell addressed this in a blog post five months ago.]
Mitchell explains, “Gossip tastes great going down, but it has lasting and poisonous effects on our hearts” (p. 23). “[O]ur hearts are spring-loaded to love bad stories” (p. 38), and “bad words overflow from our bad hearts” (p. 39).
Mitchell categorizes five kinds of gossips (ch. 3):
- The Spy. “The spy is somebody who loves to get the dirt on someone and then use that information to his or her personal advantage. . . . Spies are primarily motivated by a hunger for power” (p. 48).
- The Grumbler. “The grumbler complains. He criticizes. When she is upset about something—and misery loves company—she will talk about others behind their backs. We often euphemistically call this ‘venting.’ Yet there is no constructive purpose in this kind of talk, and no love in the speaker’s heart. Just grumbling” (p. 50).
- The Backstabber. “Like the grumbler, the backstabber is full of complaint, but his heart is angrier, more hateful. Backstabbing gossip overflows from a heart bent on revenge, retaliation and real malice. The backstabber actually desires the target of his gossip to experience pain. The backstabber usually begins by spreading lies, starting what we call a ‘smear campaign.’ Or a backstabber will hurt someone by simply publishing a shameful truth” (p. 52).
- The Chameleon. “A chameleon is a person who goes along with gossip to try to fit into the crowd” (p. 54). “Fear, not anger, is the main motivation for a chameleon’s gossip” (p. 55).
- The Busybody. “The busybody is a person who is idle, not engaged in purposeful business and wants to be entertained. He gossips for titillation and for the purpose of living vicariously through the stories of others. A busybody enjoys meddling in other people’s business” (p. 56).
So if we don’t gossip, what are we supposed to talk about? Five recommendations (pp. 80–89):
- Say nothing at all.
- Commend the commendable.
- Talk to people, not about them. [Mitchell notes reasonable exceptions.]
- Offer words of mercy.
- Talk to and about the Lord.