A North Carolina church takes a tough stand on gossip. Senior pastor Phil Spry preaches against it once a year, and members sign a covenant in which they commit to getting along with one another. Those that fail to honor the agreement are asked to leave.

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"There are over 400,000 churches in the U.S. I estimate half of them started up because someone couldn't get along with someone else," said Spry, who leads Southside Community Church in Garner. During his 26 years of ministry he has seen churches split over silly issues, he told The Charlotte World, and many times petty gossip and slander are involved.

Spry takes the problem so seriously that he asks all new members of his three-year-old church, which meets in a local elementary school, to listen to his annual sermon on the topic. If they are unable to attend that day in September, then they are required to listen to the message on tape before they can be received into membership.

"Our membership covenant includes a section taken from Matthew 18. It states that all people will work toward harmony with each other. We must be committed to each other," he said. Because gossip is so divisive, those who do so "get shown the parking lot," Spry told the World. "Working toward harmony is our goal and intention," Spry said.

Spry said that gossip and strife are referred to in Proverbs 6 among the six things that God hates. "If God hates these things, then we must do everything we can to not be doing those things." Church prayer requests can often be a cover-up for gossip, he said. "Have you asked the person if you could enter them into a prayer request? Unless you have the permission of the first party, the third party should never even hear about it."

Spry believes that gossip and slander is an even bigger problem outside the church, the World said. Spry pointed to TV shows like "Hollywood Gossip" and said that there were more than 60 Web sites devoted to Hollywood gossip. His uncompromising stand seems to be appreciated, for whenever he mentions his gossip sermon on the radio, "my e-mail fills up with requests from other pastors who are planning on giving it in their church."

A graduate of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Spry has been an independent church planter since 1974. He has started six churches, two Christian radio stations, and a crisis pregnancy center. Southside began with nine people. Spry used a computer to telephone every home in the Raleigh suburb area to see who might be interested in a new church.

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