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OTTAWA - Canada's largest Protestant denomination is urging congregants to stop gossiping, likening the chatter to gambling and "other evils of society."
"Gossip can cause people to lose their jobs and their good reputations," according to a motion under consideration at the United Church of Canada's 41st general council, held August 11-18 in Ottawa.
Idle talk can "lead to broken friendships and split families, and can be used as a malicious weapon against an opponent," the resolution continued, adding that mean-spirited gabbing "can cause people to switch churches or in some instances, to stop attending church altogether."
The motion aims to "encourage congregations to seek ways to raise awareness of the harmful aspects of gossip."
While not explicitly a sin, United Church spokesman Reverend Bruce Gregersen explained that spreading tales is contrary to Christian teachings promoting love, truth and honesty.
It falls into the category of "bearing false witness," he told AFP.
Anthropologists, however, see chatter as a way of sharing key information about others that affects people's social standing.
Reputation is determined by gossip, and casual conversations of others affect one's acceptability as a mate or a partner in a social exchange, said Jerome Barkow, an anthropology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
In his evolutionary psychology volume "The Adapted Mind," he said gossip is largely unreliable because people tend to disseminate information that bolsters their own social success, not objective truth.
"We tend to derogate rivals and mask our own weaknesses," he wrote.
Gregersen acknowledged that "it's hard to know what we can do about it as a congregation."
The conference, held once every three years, brings together 350 delegates and a couple hundred more guests and observers, representing 650,000 church members nationwide.
Participants also planned to discuss child poverty, homelessness, and economic disparity in Canada, as well as the hardships of rural churches in keeping up membership and staffing levels.
"An increasing number of people are spiritual, believe in God and prayer, but fewer and fewer people believe in the need to link that to an institution," Gregersen said.
The council will also tackle issues of national and international interest, including Canadian mining activities in the Philippines and Central America, climate change and a proposed oil pipeline in westernmost Canada.
The church plans to consider a new report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that drops a call for a general boycott against Israel, favoring instead one directed exclusively at products that can be identified as produced in or related to Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.