Good Shepherd is definitely larger than it has been in the past and growing, but we're still small enough that I eventually hear about most gossip, even gossip about me...which has at least been more interesting now that we live right next to the church.
In any case, gossip being a proverbial and chronic church issue, I found an article on gossip on a website and thought it rather encouraging, both because it shows that we are not alone and because its a good biblically sound explanation of the danger and destructiveness of gossip:
Our Community has many strong points, and many indications of real spiritual growth. But there are some practical areas to which we have all paid insufficient attention. One of these is the terrible human tendency to repeat rumour, to draw unsupported conclusions, and to get disaffected with others until we imagine untrue things about them which we then state to others. I am not innocent in this area. And neither are any of us (not that this fact in any way comforts me). Let's not pretend that any of us don't gossip. And let's admit that our ears love to hear gossip. " The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's innermost parts" (Prov. 18:8 NIV), i.e. we dwell on what we hear very deeply. This is one reason to interrupt a gossiping brother or sister before they go further; for the words of gossip will go deep down within us, and we will ruminate on them. Gossip in the church is, sadly, becoming a real sin amongst us. If a community becomes full of gossip, allegation and counter-claims, very soon we will destroy ourselves. A house divided will fall. And don’t think gossip is just words. Proverbs teaches that gossip stirs up dissension; but Prov. 6:12-14 parallels “a corrupt mouth” with winking with the eye, signalling with the feet, motioning with the fingers (NIV). Our body language is effectively gossip. A flick of the hands, the slight suggestion of a shrug of the shoulders, a certain glance in the corner of the eye...it all gives negative messages...
The author of this article provides one of the better definitions of gossip that I've seen:
"To repeat rumour(sp), to draw unsupported conclusions, and to get disaffected with others until we imagine untrue things about them which we then state to others."
Gossip is not simply speaking about someone when he or she is not around. Sometimes that is necessary and even good. Gossip is malicious. It deals in unsupported suspicions and unfair characterizations. It often involves a desire to take away another person's good reputation or good standing--and results in a sort of thievery. The gossiper, intentionally or unintentionally, steals the reputation of another person.
One of the most humorous bits of gossip I've ever heard surfaced during my first year at Good Shepherd. Someone got it into his or her head that I wanted to shut down a ladies group of the church and that in order to do it I'd hatched a plot to move their meeting to the third floor (of the old building) because I knew that few of them could make the climb.
By the time I finally heard this particular bit of "news", I was already in deep hot water with a number of ladies who unfortunately believed what they had heard. As ridiculous as the rumor is in hindsight, it caused a great deal of turmoil in the church because it capitalized on and seemed to confirm certain currents of anxiety circulating at the time. People were worried about the changes the new pastor would bring.
That's generally why and how gossip works and spreads. It plays on existing suspicions or fears or prejudices or dislikes.
In any case, its worth our time to read and think about the article linked above. We're in a new place and at the beginning of a fresh mission to the people of the south-side, its a good time to make a clean break and leave sinful patterns and habits in the past.