This article was previously published on latterdaysaintwoman.com.
Elder Gene R. Cook relates the story of a group of valiant church members who were called to the mission president’s office to face a church disciplinary council. Most were shocked such a thing could happen to them. They considered themselves good, obedient church members. However, they had each committed an extremely serious sin. They had gossiped. It’s likely it never occurred to any of these people that gossiping was so serious it could cost them their church membership, but this was the very serious risk they faced that day.
Those conducting the court turned to the Lord’s explicit instructions on the subject. Through Moses, he told the people: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Lev. 19:16). The book of Proverbs describes the effects of evil speaking: “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Prov. 18:7–8).
Some may think they build their self-esteem and gain the attention and respect of others by bearing false tales, but they actually become Satan’s agents. The Book of Mormon records that before the coming of the Savior to the Americas, “Satan did stir them up to do iniquity continually; yea, he did go about spreading rumors and contentions upon all the face of the land, that he might harden the hearts of the people against that which was good and against that which should come” (Hel. 16:22).
Satan succeeded in hardening the hearts of the people, and some thirty years later, after the great destruction of the wicked, the prophet Nephi recorded that “the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain … of my people” (3 Ne. 9:2). (Gene R. Cook, “Gossip: Satan’s Snare,” Ensign, Jan 1981, 27)
If we remember that Satan laughs when we gossip because it makes his job so easy, it might be easier to refrain from gossip or from spreading false information about people, organizations, political parties, or events.
What is our responsibility when we hear something negative about a person, place, or thing? Our first responsibility is to not share it with others until we’ve verified for ourselves it’s true. That doesn’t mean checking with someone who is biased or who doesn’t have access to the truth. It means going to the source. It can also mean praying to know if something is true.
The second responsibility is to avoid sharing negative information, true or not, if it isn’t essential. It might be important for a bishop to know a person has done something wrong, but it is often not important for the general membership to know. Spreading gossip for entertainment is immoral.
The best way to decide if something is appropriate to spread is to picture it being said about you or someone you love. Does it still sound okay? Are you sure enough of its truthfulness to spread it even if it’s about you?
Keep in mind that the rules about gossip don’t include exemptions for gossip about famous people, politicians, religions we don’t like, and so forth. It’s not okay to lie or spread rumors if it’s for what you perceive to be the greater good. Gossip is gossip, no matter who it is about.
The best way to avoid gossip? Develop lots of hobbies. Read quality books. Check the truthfulness of any source you listen to often. Find something else to talk about. You can do it.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.