Some believe that evangelical pastors denounce gossip to protect themselves against its power to expose secrets and weaken their own status. Chrissy Stroop, an ex-evangelical and a co-editor of the book of first-person essays “Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church,” is a firm believer in that theory. “These men believe God has granted them authority and that women cannot have authority over men,” Ms. Stroop told me, “and that gossip is a threat to their reputations and power — reputations that are often undeserved and power that is often exploited abusively.”
The ousting of the celebrity pastor Carl Lentz from the Hillsong East Coast church at the end of 2020 is a good example of how gossip can bring a powerful church leader to his knees. One of the reasons given for his firing was “a recent revelation of moral failures” — but it wasn’t so new, as Ruth Graham reported in The Times. Gossip of Mr. Lentz’s infidelity had circulated as early as the fall of 2017, but it was ignored, and volunteers who reported it to church leaders were removed from their positions.
Ms. Stroop said that the emphasis on sin in evangelical churches makes it harder for women to speak freely, even to one another. “Sin theology adds extra layers of guilt, shame and fear to the patriarchal representation of gossip as a negative habit of women,” she told me. The result, she said, is that many victims and witnesses of sexual misconduct or abuse are “shamed into keeping quiet.”
Of course, demonizing gossip in order to protect power isn’t a problem of just the church. Rumors of the film producer Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior circled for years before reporters could confirm them in the fall of 2017. The #MeToo movement spawned lists online about abusive men in media, in academia and in politics. This was the codifying of gossip among women that already existed. The reporting of the former Senate candidate Roy Moore’s inappropriate sexual relationships with teenage girls in Alabama arose because a Washington Post reporter heard some gossip.
When I think back, most of the gossiping I did is unmemorable. It was about crushes or cafeteria food. It was neutral knowledge acquisition.
Evangelicals might soften their view on gossip by meditating on the New Testament Gospel of Luke, chapter 24. In it, Mary Magdalene and other women find Jesus’ tomb empty and are told by two men that he has been resurrected. They run to tell the disciples, and Luke wrote that “they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” The word “nonsense,” the biblical scholar Marianne Bjelland Kartzow writes, is translated from the Greek word “leros,” meaning “empty talk.”
It was gossip.
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