Thursday, September 25, 2008

And Let’s Be Careful Out There…

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
-James 1:26

With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor,
but through knowledge the righteous escape.
-Proverbs 11:9

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
-Matthew 12:36

You may notice that the blog rarely contains anything of a political nature. When it does contain something seemingly political, it usually contains a disclaimer pointing out that I have posted it for some other, non-political reason.

My reason for avoiding politics has nothing to do with an issue of separation of church and state. It has to do with my calling to speak prophetically. If I am understood in away way to be partisan, I lose my voice to speak theologically to both sides. Research shows that if I choose a side, half the people will stop listening to me no matter what I say. (See my post of my old weblog: Reinforcing our Prejudices:

So, you won’t likely read on the blog about policy opinions or evaluations of candidates. However, you may hear me speak about process. I believe one of the roles of an ordained elder, ordained to Word, Sacrament and Order is to point out and hold people accountable for behavior that is counter to the word and interferes with the sacramental life and order of the church.

As we get closer to the presidential election, the internet rumor mill is churning at a feverish pace. Ignoring for a moment the distortions of fact found in television advertisements, the forwarded email phenomenon is completely out of control. While political advertisements tend to bend and stretch the truth to try and score points with potential voters, forwarded emails often start with pure lies invented to discredit a person whose views do not align with the creative inventor of the lie.

Some examples, you may have heard (with one for each major presidential and vice-presidential candidate to be fair):

-Barak Obama is a radical Muslim who was sworn into the Senate on the Quran – I can’t believe this one is still alive.
-John McCain declared during a 60 Minutes interview that he was a war criminal – Taken out of context in his discussions of his treatment as a P.O.W.
-Joe Biden plans to drop out of the election after the VP debate so Hillary Clinton can fill his spot – Just made up.
-There is a photo of Sarah Palin standing poolside in an American flag bikini holding and assault rifle – Well, there is such a photo, clearly manipulated in Photoshop to place Gov. Palin’s head on someone else’s body.

I guess the real problem isn’t that these rumors exist, but rather that people continue to pass them along as fact. As Christians, whether we like it or not, we are called to live at a little higher level of discourse. Let me localize the thought a bit. If you heard that your neighbor, someone you have known for a long time, was doing something unseemly, say dealing drugs, what would you do? Turn him in? Tell all your other neighbors? Or, talk to your neighbor.

Let’s start with the reason you would care at all. If you neighbor was, in fact, dealing drugs, this would be worthy of a response. Your neighbor may not have wronged you directly but what they were doing would be potentially be damaging to you, others neighborhood, and possibly even you.

Let’s look at how scripture advises us to handle such conflict, from Matthew 18:15-17:

15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.

So, you would go to your neighbor in private and check it out. Maybe it is not true. Maybe you can show him the error of his ways. If not, you take some other neighbors and have the same talk. Now, if your neighbor is not a member of the church telling your congregation may not help, but the point remains the same. Perhaps at this point, it would be alright to warn other neighbors about the problem.

I think people react to rumors about politicians out of well placed intention. I will pick on Sarah Palin’s rumor because it is the most egregious. If she was the sort of person who hung out at the pool in a bikini with an assault rifle, that might affect my impression of her overall judgment. I might feel wronged if she were the Vice President of our country. Following this biblical model, I can’t exactly go to her in private. However, before I broadcast the rumor, I think I have the responsibility to try my best to see if it is true.

There are lots of places to check the facts. If something is true and you believe it is important for your friends and family to know about, than by all means you should share the information. If it is not true, I believe you have a responsibility as a Christian, if not to correct the misinformation, to at least not continue to spread the falsehood.

When something comes into your inbox or a friend or coworker shares a fact about a candidate or any other human being for that matter, before you share it with others as truth, take the time to visit one of the these non-partisan websites: – an urban legend clearing house – a service of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. It is also non-partisan as evidence in the fact that both major party campaigns have quoted their findings.


blog comments powered by Disqus