Spiritual Abuse, Gossip,
This is the third blog post referring to an article by Jonathan Hollingsworth, What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Been Hurt by the Church. The article resonated with a lot of people, so I thought it might be a good idea to discuss these unhelpful statements one by one here, and give people the opportunity to share their experiences.
I will be working through all six of Hollingsworth’s statements/questions of what not to say to someone who has been hurt by spiritual abuse. The first post, we covered when people say, “No Church is Perfect.” The second post, we discussed was Spiritual Abuse: When People Ask You, “Are You Working Toward Reconciliation?”
Here is the third question on what not to say to someone harmed by spiritual abuse, followed by Jonathan Hollingsworth explaining why it is not helpful:
It’s Not Gossip to Talk about Abuse!
If a pastor or staff member is mistreating someone in the congregation, it’s not gossip for that person to talk about it. In fact, it’s not even gossip for you to talk about it.
Imagine if you found out your brother-in-law was beating your sister. Would your first response be, “That’s none of my business”? The same way domestic abuse involves a whole family, spiritual abuse involves a whole church family. The abuse may have taken place in private, but that doesn’t make it a private matter.
As Christians, if we’re going to start taking spiritual abuse seriously, we need to stop comparing it to gossip. ~Jonathan Hollingsworth
This is one of the most common experiences spiritual abuse survivors will face. Controlling or abusive church leaders do not want you to tell the “story,” they want to be the one disseminating information. They might say that you may get it wrong, or that you may put the church or them in a negative light. They may ask what people outside the church will think if they hear the news. Leaders often say that outsiders having the information could compromise their Christian witness (heaven forbid any non-Christian figure out that Christians are not perfect).
The Bible talks about the Body of Christ – how we each are a part of the Body: one person might be a foot; another is like a hand. We all work together to form the Body. In our body, we know when one part of it is injured. If I sprain my ankle, it doesn’t isolate from the rest of my body. No! The rest of my body knows about that injury and compensates.
The Body of Christ works the same way. When one part of the Body is injured, the rest of the Body will help in what is lacking. So when a pastor or church leaders shut down conversation and call it gossip, instead of dealing transparently with congregants, the rest of the Body does not know how to compensate in a healthy way.
The no-talk or no-gossip rule presents an us-versus-them situation between the leaders and the underlings. The truth is hidden from the lowly congregants, and because the congregants know something is gone, they can only guess and speculate what is going on. This is not gossip! This is curiosity and probably genuine concern for what their church Body is experiencing. Had the church leaders addressed the situation openly, the Body could have come alongside the leaders and supported them and each other while going through the difficult situation.
Have you had church leaders tell you to not gossip or talk about a specific situation? What did you think when you were told to stop talking? Did you stop talking? How did you handle it?