I was at the checkout counter of a pharmacy when I first saw the design on the back of Angelina Jolie’s gown and veil. The drawings of her and Brad Pitts’s children had been stitched into her custom wedding dress by the master tailor at Atelier Versace. I stood stunned. She had put children’s sketches into a Versace dress. A Versace!
The next time I gathered with my friends, our conversation quickly made its way to the Jolie-Pitt union. We laughed. We shared our disappointment. We wanted the Jolie-Pitt wedding to wow us, but our celebrity stalking left us underwhelmed. Our chatter never covered the union of two people. This only happened two years ago. And honestly, that behavior is embarrassing for more than one reason.
First, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are entertainers, but they didn’t relinquish their humanity when they signed the contract for their first film. Famous or not, they are people, and the only kind of people in existence – God’s image bearers (Gen 1:27). Yes, US Weekly was a thing when they pursued this career—famous people knew that success meant their marriage, divorce, children, addictions, slip ups, and even their grocery list could end up in a magazine. But when I treat their real life joys and sorrows like an extension of the silver screen, it’s I who rob them of their humanity.
Not giving people the respect inherent to image bearers feels bad enough, but I think there’s more to it. If we allow the Trojan horse of celebrity spectacle into our heads, it smuggles in the propensity to sensationalize the real life of everyone around us. If you are like me, this may sound a little far-fetched. Surely looking to the ups and downs of others’ lives as entertainment remains restricted to the rich and famous? They are just celebrities, after all. We wouldn’t treat “real” people like that. We know better.
The thing is, we might know better, but what we practice takes root in our lives. In 1 Timothy, Paul tells us to “train ourselves for godliness.” (1 Tim 4:7) If our training consists of making a spectacle of any group of people’s marriages, losses, family addictions, divorces, or general brokenness we get really good at one thing: gossip. And gossip isn’t godly. The Bible never flatters the gossip. In fact, gossiping makes its way onto multiple lists of ungodly characteristics (Romans 1:29, 2 Cor. 12:20).
I tend to think of gossip as ancillary to how I treat others; I can dip my toe in without reaping consequences on other parts of my life. But that’s not true. When we train ourselves to talk about people, we never learn to live alongside them. For a trained gossip, rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (Rom 12:15) comes as naturally as apologizing does to my three-year-old. She can get there, but it takes a lot of coaxing and most of the time she doesn’t mean it. Gossip breaches the boundaries we believe we set for it and makes us less likely to love others at a moment’s notice.
Two years have passed since “the dress,” and the headlines have changed from the couple uniting to the couple splitting. The initial reaction to the demise of the Jolie-Pitt marriage has been shock devoid of sadness. We talk as if their marriage was disposable, like their pain finds solace in their bank accounts, and as if the six little lives that were sketched into artwork for the wedding dress won’t cry themselves to sleep. But marriages don’t go away easily, bank accounts don’t have shoulders to cry on, and pillowcases don’t discriminate when it comes to tiny tears.
The joys and sorrows of those we love and those merely in proximity to us will find their way to our doorsteps. When they do, I pray we are trained in godliness instead of gossip.