SHUT UP, CHURCH!

When I was in eighth grade, a girl in my class, who really wasn’t my best friend in the world (she wanted my boyfriend and we all knew it – and as far as I am concerned if she could find him today she can have him), came up to me and said, “Did you know your father is retiring?” The truth was I had no idea my father was retiring. Her father (who worked for the same company as my father) had been invited to the retirement party. Apparently it wasn’t a secret, because everyone was talking about it…but everyone knew about my father’s retirement…all except for us.

Even though my parents had been divorced for several years at this point in time, there was still “talk.” I remember their divorce. He was the town justice. Everybody knew him. He wasn’t very well liked, but people knew who he was. Everyone was talking when my parents separated. People, in fact, are still talking about it, to this day. My mom will run into someone and they’ll still call her by her married name and we’ve actually had people say, “Oh I’ve heard stuff!” We’ve started to get real bold and say to them, “Really? What stuff?” to which they get embarrassed and act like they don’t know what we’re talking about. I told my mom awhile ago, “Thank God you got divorced because you’ve given people something to talk about for 20 years! If you hadn’t gotten divorced, what would there be for all of them to talk about?” She laughed, but there is a truth in that that wasn’t always so funny. For 20 years, we’ve been the subject of idle gossip. I had to go to school amidst the whispers other kids spoke from what they’d overheard from their parents. It wasn’t fun. In fact, it was downright hurtful.

I’ve spent a number of years as the subject of gossip. I’ve just never been a part of the group and that makes me mysterious, apparently. People just got to wonder and got to talk. Maybe it should make me feel like a celebrity or maybe God is preparing me for my ministry to grow to where people will be talking all the time…but that is a digression. Just today I heard of a minister I spoke for last year spreading stories, rumors, and lies about me. I’m not sure what her motive is, as I haven’t spoken to her in a good nine months. Actually, I take that back…I do know what it’s about. She’s mad about the work of this ministry as hers doesn’t seem to progress or go anywhere. She is threatened that I might actually succeed or do something to help someone else succeed. For some reason, she is bothered by my friendship with this particular person and has always been bothered by it from day one. I was always polite to her, despite the fact that she told me what to do with my name, kept calling me a “baby” and making reference to my age (which for the record isn’t so young anymore – I may look good for my age but I do keep getting older as that clock only goes in one direction), announced she was my “new mother,” overstepped all sorts of boundaries, and then, to top it all off…her offering check to me bounced. Even though she did make good on the offering later on, it didn’t change the fact that she saw fit to talk to everyone about the situation except for me, which is the part about the incident I will not ever forget. I wasn’t a part of her “group.” I was not going to fit in and ever become a part of all the things they were. So I got left out…and now talked and lied about. She was disrespectful to me back then and continues to be disrespectful, even now. The joke is on her because what she is saying would be funny if it wasn’t so viciously intended. As “spiritual” as she perceives to be (I am so tired of how spiritual we all seem to think we are with nothing to back it up), she should know I knew what she was saying since long before now and knew I would get my confirmation that what I was perceiving in the Spirit wasn’t wrong.

To be honest, I had serious questions about her ministry based on what I saw of it and of her interactions with me, her attitude, and how she handled her event and her staff, but I never said anything to her about it. That was between her, God, and the gatepost. I was not her covering, with no intention or desire to be such. She made it clear she had authority in her life, and therefore, it was their job to deal with her about the inconsistencies or issues in her life; it wasn’t mine. I certainly never spoke of her negatively on a personal level. That wasn’t my place, either. So to find out the vile gossip she was spreading…just confirmed any thoughts I might have already had based on what I’ve seen.

This is not counting the other individuals who I know have spoken things, are speaking things, or are just behaving badly towards not just myself, but others, both online and offline in ministry. I am tired of seeing people who call themselves “Apostle so-and-so” or “Prophet so-and-so” or whatever else they think they are and deliver an entire word that is void of any substance and just a gigantic slam of gossip geared at someone specific because they want to air out dirty laundry. If we are Kingdom builders, we don’t have time for such nonsense because we are busy, well, building the Kingdom!

Sometimes I see ministry as nothing more than junior high with Bibles. I hated junior high so, believe me, it isn’t a trip down memory lane that thrills me with joy and rapture. So much of what I see in the church takes me back to my Catholic school days with us running around in our plaid skirts and wagging tongues. We knew everything that was going on from about second grade up through the infamous rumor mill, the friend-of-the-friend of our little brother. The friend of the friend of the little brother could have been six years old for all we cared, but for some reason, he was the “authority with the scoop.” For example, my French teacher asked me in front of the entire class one day if I was going out with a certain boy (I was, as much as we could “go out” at 14), and when I said “Where did you hear that?”, she told me from her first-grade son! We loved to hear it and carry it on to others – anyone who would listen got an earful. Fast forward to today…we’re taller (well, some of us are taller; I’m not – LOL), we’re older, we (hopefully) wear better clothes than we did back then, wear higher shoes, and…carry Bibles. Those are the only differences. In many ways, I don’t think we are remotely more mature, more sophisticated, or wiser. We’re still all running around, wanting to know who is dating who, who likes who, who is getting to preach, and who is here, there, and everywhere. We talk about each other’s clothes (“Girl, did you see what she had on? I would never go out of the house like that!”), each other’s looks (“Girl, get a load of that mole!”), each other’s relationships (“Did you hear the one about Sister So-And-So?”) and yes, even other people’s ministries…and what they are doing in them…whether or not we have the right information or are just making it up as we go along.

I am one of those really rare people who will say anything to anyone’s face at any given point in time. I call ’em like I see ’em. I have found in my personal and professional life people either are very drawn to me or don’t care for me much because I tell the truth – and there isn’t a whole lot of middle ground. I am not subtle. I don’t have time for it. As a result, I’m not much for gossip. I don’t have time to make up things about others because I’m not that interested in them. I don’t repeat stories. People who know me can testify – you can have an experience with someone I’ve had a problem with for ages and I never reveal my experience with that person because it has no relevance. I may talk in testimony but I never mention names. If I am asked how someone is I tell the truth as to what I know of someone’s well-being and nothing more. Because I’m not much of a gossip, it’s not something I understand. Proverbs 16:28 tells us: “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” (NIV 2010) It’s not an accident that the Bible lists these two facets together. It is a sign of perversity – spiritual, emotional, mental – to stir up such conflict. How is such conflict stirred up? Through gossip! That’s enough for me. It is not our place as Kingdom builders to stir up problems between people or cause offense. That means sometimes it’s just better for us to, quite frankly, SHUT UP.

In 2 Corinthians 12:19-21, the Apostle Paul raises his serious concerns for the Corinthian church: “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.” (NIV 2010) Notice that gossip is listed here – and regarded as seriously – as discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, arrogance, and disorder. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that what you say is not important or doesn’t matter because it’s just “talk.” We can think it’s a minor thing, but gossip has NO PLACE IN MINISTRY…yet it is so prevalent. We do not need to know every nitty-gritty detail of people’s lives to pray for them. Likewise, we do not need to give every nitty-gritty detail of people’s lives to have OTHERS pray for them. We should never, ever be filtering false information, lies, or untruths about what other people have said, how they handle the authority God has given them in their lives, nor should we be accused of things that are just not who we are. We should not randomly go around talking about other people in an attempt to discredit them. If we have evidence, that’s fine, but there is a course of order and decency by which we raise concerns about the integrity or character of Christian ministries, and it’s not accomplished through gossip!

If we regard ministry with such incredible disregard, maybe we need to check our own mouths…and our own calling. Where does our wagging tongue take us? Straight to hell, in a hand basket, as the expression goes. You want your ministry to grow? Check your mouth and what’s coming out of it! Nobody wants to be led or listen to by someone who acts like they are 12-14 years of age and can’t keep themselves under control. In keeping with my experiences of the past several days and the many different issues that have come out with so-called leaders, maybe what the church today needs is some good old-fashioned discipline and respect. Act your age! Develop spiritual maturity! Y’all want a word – I’m sorry this isn’t the spiritual “you’ll have two doors open to you this week, let’s make a deal” kind of word – but it is the kind of word that will grow your ministry if it is heeded. I want to see change. I want to see God’s power and glory manifest. I am ready for more! How do we get there? As Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, “There is a time to be silent…and a time to speak.” (NIV) Notice the “time to be silent” comes first. Saints, we talk too much! We are not heeding God’s wisdom. It’s time for a little quiet in the church. Maybe we’re not hearing from God in the way we would like because we never stop talking. Stop your tongues and your incessant talking and, as Emerson said, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whisper of God.”

(C) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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