Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Ps. 34:13
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. James 3:6
Scripture has some pretty pointed things to say about the tongue and none of them are nice. I wonder why? It might be because the tongue is capable of causing and has caused more damage than war, disease, or natural disaster. The tongue has ruined friendships, reputations, families, churches, communities, businesses.
The is a very small member of the body with the power to absolutely annihilate and destroy. And unlike the results of war and natural disaster, the damage done by a sharp and wicked tongue often cannot be reversed. The damage is permanent. And it is permanent because in addition to the tongue, the willingness to listen and give credence to gossip prevents a recovery of relationships, families, communities. More now than ever an accusation equals automatic unquestioned guilt to the extent that no amount of refutation can sway opinion. If the accusation has been made, the target of that accusation is guilty. Because they were accused. Because someone decided that the desire to destroy another is more important than controlling the tongue. Because revenge takes precedence over reconciliation. Because we have convinced ourselves that by inflicting irreversible damage we will somehow feel better. We will be vindicated and vindication takes precedence over proper resolution.
More important, however, is that for Christians who engage in this type of behavior, scripture and church teaching has taken a back seat to the desire for "fairness". And it often couched in a "prayer request". Now I don't want to gossip, but please pray for__________ and then the seemingly well-meaning gossip begins to gossip. They tell the whole story to as many people as they can while "asking for prayer". This is not a prayer request. This is gossip. But it is more than gossip because in many cases they are one-sided and our perception clouds recall. Intentional or not, that gets very close to bearing false witness. It certainly crosses the calumny and division line. And that is a mortal sin. So what do we do when we feel someone has wronged us? The same scripture that warns about the evil of the tongue also contains instructions for these situations. *Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” I Peter 3:8 *A Psalm of David. I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure. ... Ps. 101:1-8 Don't repay evil for evil. As tempting as that may be, it is destructive not just to others, but to us as well. But its worse than that. Look at what David says: Whoever slanders his neighbor I will secretly destroy. I will destroy. Scripture also has something to say to those who willingly listen to gossip: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil. 4:8 We cannot think on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely if we are actively listening to gossip. It's impossible because gossip, while it MIGHT be true, is most often one-sided and untrue, dishonorable, unjust, and impure. It is impure because the motives behind it are impure. And presenting it as a prayer request neither justifies or mitigates the effect that gossip has. I leave you with the words of St. John Chrystotom, known as the golden tongued preacher: Of how many evils are we now full, without being conscious of them? We bite one another, we devour one another, in wronging, accusing, calumniating, being vexed by the credit of our neighbors. (Cf. Gal. v. 15.)And see the difficulty? When a man wishes to undermine the reputation of a neighbor, he says, `Such an one said this of him; O God, forgive me, do not examine me strictly, I must give account of what I have heard.')Why then dost thou speak of it at all, if thou dost not believe it? Why dost thou speak of it? Why dost thou make it credible by much reporting? Why dost thou pass on the story which is not true? Thou dost not believe it, and thou entreatest God not to call thee to strict account? Do not say it then, but keep silence, and free thyself from all fear.