March 27, 2004
Tongues of flame

Gossip is one sin that I never gave much thought to before. I was never especially attracted to it -- I'm generally the last to know what's going on -- so I guess I regarded it mainly as a temptation for other people.

The subject came up in Bible study a couple weeks ago because we were reading James 3, which condemns gossip and slander in no uncertain terms. We discussed it from the point of view of how harmful words can be to the person spoken to or about. That passage always makes me think about my job, and the responsibility upon journalists as "speakers" about other people, in a sense.

But I was thinking about the subject a little differently last night when I was listened to a drive-time show on a local rock station. Apparently Sting revealed that he and his wife of umpteen years "swing", and he's been known to cruise sex clubs for other interested parties. This brought on a lot of discussion between the two DJs and various callers, nearly all of it negative.

This was one of those moments -- I seem to have been having a lot of them lately -- when I realize how much being immersed in Christianity has changed my perspective. A year or two ago, I would have listened to this and not thought much about it. Celebrities put themselves out there, and if they talk about their private lives, the thinking goes, it's fair game. But this time the gossiping, backbiting, judgmental tone of the whole thing really bothered me. Not because I felt sorry for Sting, who probably doesn't care, and not because I approve of swinging. Just because there seemed to be something wrong with the rest of us in that we do this for fun. I wouldn't put it quite as harshly as James with tongues "set on fire by hell," but still, it seemed so not in the Spirit of love.

It's occurred to me since then that one reason people reacted so strongly to my recent opinion that churches should teach sexual morality, is that often sexual norms are enforced in this way: through scandal and public condemnation. Done that way, the complexities of human relationships tend to disappear under legalism and simplistic bromides: "It breaks the eighth commandment!" "Marriage is about monogamy!" etc. It's not surprising that many liberal Christians would rather go to the opposite extreme and never criticize anybody's sexual habits at all.

But it seems to me this would be a good occasion to cultivate the art of "fraternal correcton," as Catholics call it. If a friend, relative or fellow churchgoer were doing this sort of thing I don't think it would be out of line to have a discussion about the possible dangers, the meaning of marriage, what such behavior says about their attitudes toward themselves and whoever they pick up, and so on. The "fraternal" part of this is the key, I think -- it implies that this happens within the context of a generally friendly relationship. If you don't have and won't cultivate a relationship with somebody, I don't see what's to be gained by throwing rocks from afar.

It's true that sometimes people (especially famous people) deliberately provoke this by saying controversial things in hopes of getting attention. I don't see why we should take the bait, though. Seems to me that if somebody blurts out an awkward fact about their sex life in a public forum, publicly it might be best to treat it like a belch at a dinner party, and let it pass.

Posted by Camassia at March 27, 2004 03:26 PM | TrackBack

Discussions of marriage within the context of Christianity tend to center on fidelity and on whether or not divorce is allowable. I'm beginning to develop a sense that it is a more complicated thing than that. I'm reading a really good work by Kierkegaard entitled "Works of Love". I recommend it to any person who has an interest in exploring just exactly what is meant by the word "love", as a Christian should use and understand it. Marriage enters into this, of course. But so does gossip, in that gossip is relevant (as you point out) to how we love our neighbor. A point of Kierkegaard's is that in any human love relationship, God is a third element. It is impossible for you to love me, or for me to love you, without our each loving God and relating to each other on the basis of that love. This, to me, is controversial--as is the commandment to love your neighbor as you love your self. We say, "Yeah. Sure." We've heard it all our lives. But, how, realistically, are we supposed to actually DO that?

Posted by: Rob on March 29, 2004 10:29 AM

Yeah, I agree with you. People throw around the word "love" as if everyone knows what it means but it's really a very difficult idea. Rules like not committing adultery are good rough guidelines but they're not exactly all you need to know about being married. Just like "love your neighbor as yourself" is really more of a starting point than an instruction. I don't know the answer to your question, but I'm always working on it...

Posted by: Camassia on March 29, 2004 01:06 PM
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