A reporter from a major television news outlet recently called Christianity Today to ask how offended we were by the title of the proposed ABC television show Good Christian Bitches. We declined to comment on such a leading question.

The proposed show is certainly provocative. The American Family Association called it "a Christian-bashing version of Desperate Housewives," stating that "ABC has no reservations about creating hate speech against Christians, but you can be sure they would never consider a show called Good Muslim B-tches or Good Jewish B-tches." Meanwhile, Parents Television Council president Tim Winter called the b-word "toxic." He said it's "used to degrade, abuse, harass, bully and humiliate women …. Regardless of whether the title ultimately makes it to broadcast, ABC has publicly proclaimed its values …."

The groups' indignation is understandable, even though at this writing, ABC has not yet committed to the show, and may change the title if they do.

Nevertheless, it's not so much the show's title but its premise that should get our attention. The show is based on a book of the same name by Kim Gatlin, a professing Christian from Dallas, whose circle of Southern Baptist friends engages in a lot of gossip, some of it quite mean-spirited. "All Southern girls are taught to love Jesus, but just because we're Christians doesn't mean we're perfect," she told Newsweek. Gatlin says her book's title "is not mocking God. It's mocking those of us who love God and don't always make the best choices to honor him." On her website, Gatlin says she intends to "put a voice to the downside of gossip … but with a message that she hopes will resonate with women everywhere."

Her book's title is in bad taste, but her subject demands our attention.

The book's title is arresting precisely because it should be an oxymoron. Unfortunately, even "good" Christians do and say nasty things, which look ugly to fellow believers and puzzle a watching world that rightly believes Christians should be above gossip, slander, and general meanness.

Sadly, gossip runs rampant in local churches. We even gossip in prayer requests: "We need to pray for Bob and Sally. Did you hear that he had an affair? And that Sally just found out?" (One rule of thumb on this point: If you've not been asked by the parties involved to bring a private matter before others for prayer, then don't.)

Proverbs reminds us of what experience shows us time and again. Gossip "betrays a confidence" (11:13), "separates close friends" (16:28), and poisons our "inmost parts" (18:8). Paul names gossip in a list of heinous sins that includes "envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice" (Rom. 1:29). The prohibition against gossip is even included in the Ten Commandments: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."

Martin Luther came down hard on gossip when writing about the eighth commandment in his Large Catechism. He did not focus so much on the "false" as on the "against thy neighbor." The commandment is an application of the broader command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even saying something true about the personal or private affairs of another can violate the spirit of this command. Luther's counsel? Unless you are in a position of authority—either in the church or the state—with the responsibility to judge, you should keep it to yourself. Even if it is true.

Interestingly, the New Testament Greek word diabolos means both "slanderer" and "devil." Luther, who was unusually sensitive to the role the Devil plays in our lives, called gossip a "detestable, shameful vice … to which the Devil spurs us on." Slanderers are "not content with knowing a thing, but proceed to assume jurisdiction, and when they know a slight offense of another, carry it into every corner, and are delighted and tickled that they can stir up another's displeasure [baseness], as swine roll themselves in the dirt and root in it with the snout."

The analogy speaks for itself. The drive to judge—even when preceded by, "Who am I to judge, but …"—deforms our spirits.

Perhaps Good Christian Bitches will illumine a temptation that lures individuals in every church and Christian organization. We shouldn't be asking so much whether the show's title is offensive but rather whether it's true.

Related Elsewhere:

Other articles on Christian outrage include:

The Folly of Answering Fools | It's time to reassess the posture of perpetual outrage. (February 25, 2011)
The Enduring Church | Believers in every age worry about the collapse of the faith. (January 25, 2011)
Burned by the Qur'an Burning| Our media culture values outrage over truth. We can do better. (October 25, 2010)

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