Is It Gossip, Loyalty, Cover-up, or Getting Help?

Should you tell? Does keeping it hidden mean you’re being loyal – to the family? To the church? Does telling mean you’re a gossip, or being disloyal? What about asking for prayer? How do you know if talking is gossip or getting help? Figuring out when to talk or not talk, and to whom, is not always easy.

Perhaps you’ve asked for help from someone in the church expecting confidentiality and had your “prayer request” passed along the “prayer chain” (er, gossip line). You’re not likely to do that again.

Or perhaps you’re a wife living in a toxic abusive marriage constantly being told that telling anyone would mean being disloyal to the family. Or you’ve experienced sexual harassment or other personal violation and were pressured to keep quiet because talking would bring dishonor to the body of Christ.

There’s a cost to talking. We’ve seen the cost “whistleblowers” have often paid – in society and even in the church. Their “hero” status is often accompanied by serious attacks from those who don’t want the truth to be known.

There’s also a cost to not talking. If you’re someone who has experienced the abuse of power in your family or the church, you also know how horrendous the cost of keeping silent can be. Talking is really the only way to get help.

A few thoughts to help answer the question of whether talking is gossip or getting help.

Check Your Motives

The human heart is easily deceived. Pause to check your motives before deciding whether or not to talk about something you’ve seen or experienced that is hurtful. Here are a few possible motives to check your heart for.

Self-Justification. Perhaps you’ve been the recipient of negative gossip, and now you have some ammunition to tell that would turn the negative spotlight on the other person(s). Wouldn’t it feel sweet to be vindicated?!

That kind of one-upmanship rarely turns out well. And it’s certainly not the kind of thing Jesus would do.

Feel the Power. You know something others don’t know. If you tell, that might make them look up to you. Your social status might increase. You’ve got an inside track on something others don’t. You’re someone special.

Power or social status is a slippery and fickle thing. And again, fighting for it is not the kind of thing Jesus would do.

Protect Others. The harm you’ve seen or experienced may impact many more people than just you. Telling what you know may be the only way to lessen the chance others will be hurt.

Talking in this context may still have a cost, but if talking is important in protecting others, it’s worth it.

You Getting Help. If what you’ve seen or experienced is minor, an isolated event, and truly doesn’t harm others, keeping quiet may be wise. This is where “love covers a multitude of sins” applies. (1 Peter 4:8)

But if you’ve experienced trauma, abuse, or ongoing harm in some way you will need others’ help for your own journey of healing and growth. So many victims keep silent out of shame. That’s the exact time you need to talk!

WHO Do You Tell?

This question is at least as important as checking your motives. Venting on social media, telling appropriate authorities who are in a position to help, or seeking insight, support, and help from a godly friend or helping professional are very different things.

In deciding who to tell, ask yourself:

Are they part of the problem or part of the solution?

If the person who harmed you (they’re part of the problem) is unaware, start with telling them. (see Matthew 18:15-17) Some (not all) personal conflicts can be handled by calmly telling the person how their words or behavior affected you, and seeking reconciliation.

If there are authorities available who can be part of the solution, that’s the next place to go. In a healthy church or organization this should be effective. Keeping dysfunction or abuse hidden does not serve the family, church, or any organization well. In telling the person(s) who can help solve the problem you are actually serving the good of everyone.

It’s rare that telling the broader community about someone’s sinful behavior is appropriate. But based on Matthew 18, there are times it does become necessary. This can be a challenging decision, and one to make only with significant prayer and counsel with others. Otherwise it can easily become gossip. (See 2 Corinthians 12:20) Unhealthy corrupt power needs to be exposed. If you are the one to make something public, make sure you have others around to support you; you’ll need it.

And then there’s getting help for yourself. Too many have continued to suffer in silence because their shame or fear prevents them from seeking help for themselves.

Telling in Confidence

Some who abuse their power will use Scripture, God-talk, and appeals to “loyalty” to keep those they abuse from getting help. That only increases the shame. And if you’re in that position, know that the shame is not yours! The church has too often tried to protect those in authority while failing to care for those who have been harmed.

So if you are hurting, get some help. Tell someone! Doing so is not being disloyal, regardless of what you may have been told. Choose a safe friend who you trust can keep your confidence. Even better, seek professional help. A Christian counselor, for example, is both legally and morally obligated to keep things confidential unless you agree otherwise.*

You may be amazed at how telling someone your story and getting some help can begin to disinfect the shame and lighten the load you’re carrying. That’s exactly the kind of thing Jesus came to make possible! (Luke 4:18-19) Most of the time God works to set you free by working through other individuals in the body of Christ. That’s how you are healed. (James 5:16)

This applies to leaders as much as it does to the rest of us. “It’s lonely at the top” is only as true as you allow it to be. It takes intentional effort for a leader or spouse of a leader to find one or a few wise safe people to talk with. But it may just be life-saving!

Is talking about it gossip, or getting help? It’s not if you should tell; it’s how, when, and to whom you tell that’s important.

Your Turn: Have you struggled to know whether or not to tell something you know or have experienced? If you have told, how did that work out? Leave a comment below.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Deciding whether or not to tell can seem difficult. Is talking about it gossip, or getting help? These questions will help you know if, when, and to whom you should tell. Tweet that.

*If you’re concerned about confidentiality, ask your counselor about the rare circumstances when they are obligated to pass on something you’ve shared. It’s not likely this applies to you.

Do You Need to Talk?

Finding someone to talk to is sometimes difficult.

Among the things I do is individual coaching. If you’re struggling to make sense of the hurts you’ve experienced and need some one-on-one input, consider coaching with me. I answer some FAQs on my Coaching page, and you can leave me a confidential message right there.

I Need to Talk!