Written by Sam Logan
Wednesday, 22 August 2012 00:00
NOTE: This blog addresses a subject which will also be addressed by Dr. Bryan Maier on September 3. Comments about either or both blogs are welcome.
A recent editorial in the New York Times (August 5, 2012) was entitled “Truculence Before Truth” and was sharply critical of the ways in which both Democrats (in this specific instance, Harry Reid) and Republicans (in this specific instance, John Boehner) play fast and loose with the truth. Here is one conclusion in that editorial:
Spew first and sweat the details later, or never. Speak loosely and carry a stick-thin collection of back-up materials, or none at all. That’s the M. O. of the moment, familiar from the past but in particularly galling and profuse flower of late.
Oh, but that’s the secular press! Christians never do that kind of thing!
My perception is that Christians, evangelical and otherwise, are at least as guilty of such truculence as others.
But whether my perception of Christians is correct or not, surely we who bear name of the One who identified Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” have a special responsibility in public discourse and that responsibility remains the same no matter what others say about us.
What is that responsibility? Here are four suggestions:
1) Tell the truth.
Speak out vigorously in support of what we perceive to be right and in opposition to what we perceive to be wrong. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement is no less true for being famous: Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
In a forthcoming book entitled “How [and Why] To Be Missional and Reformed,” Basyle Tchividjian and Diane Langberg (both of them Adjunct Faculty members at Biblical) describe how critically important it is for Christians not to be silent in the face of sin and, while the specific sin they are addressing is sexual abuse, the points they make have broad application. Diane even draws a powerful link between silence and genocide, a point she made at Biblical’s conference on sexual trafficking in March of 2011.
As the Westminster Larger Catechism says in its interpretation of Exodus 20:16, the duties required in the Ninth Commandment include “. . . appearing and standing for the truth.”
2) Tell nothing but the truth.
One of the most common temptations in contemporary discourse, both secular and Christian, is the temptation to exaggerate by making blanket statements about groups of people. A recent comment on the Internet suggested that not many “Christians” care for the homeless. The following statement appeared in a prominent international newspaper, “Opposition to gay marriage from evangelical Christians is so rooted in homophobia as to be invalid.” Christians, especially evangelical Christians, are understandably and justifiably upset by such comments.
So what do we do? Well, often, we “give as well as we get!” And that simply is not right.
Here was the comment of a “Christian” in response to confrontations which occurred at the 2012 Arab International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan: “I abhor violence, but the Muslims seem to thrive on it; they may be laid to waste if they do not allow free speech, in my opinion. This is not a good situation at all. Those Christians have rights too.” And another example: “[A well-known evangelical Christian leader]. . . once again spoke out against American Muslims, singling out the construction of mosques and the purported threat of creeping Sharia law. [He] likened critics of Muslims to opponents of Nazis and rejected claims that his opposition to rights for Muslims is bigotry, asking, ‘I wonder what were people who opposed the Nazis, were they bigots?’” Muslims are understandably and justifiably upset by such comments.
The principle here is really quite simple – in our standing for the truth, we must always avoid making blanket statements about groups of people. Such statements nearly always contain exaggerations which distort the truth we are trying to tell. Address the specific actions of specific people, but be sure to treat groups of “others” exactly as we who are members of the group called “Christians” want to be treated. Of course, such a procedure may require more subtlety than the 140 characters of a tweet allow but “telling nothing but the truth” demands that subtlety. And this means that it probably would be the most Biblical course of action NEVER to "re-tweet" or to "share" anything which is critical of someone or some group. Find another way of "speaking the truth," a way which allows for telling nothing but the truth and which allows for telling the whole truth.
3) Tell the whole truth.
In some ways, this may be the hardest of all because it requires us to spend time actually making sure that the anti-Obama or anti-Romney e-mail that we received and were asked to forward to others provides the full story, whether that is the full story of Governor Romney’s taxes or the full story of President Obama’s job history (the two examples mentioned in the editorial with which I began this blog).
It is SOOO easy just to forward that e-mail or to share that Facebook posting. But if the Westminster Divines were right about what the Ninth Commandment requires of us (and I think they were), then the easy way is definitely the wrong way. Read again that extraordinary list of some of the actions which the Westminster Larger Catechism says are prohibited by the Ninth Commandment:
Speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice; . . . misconstructing intentions, words, and actions aggravating smaller faults; . . . unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; . . . neglecting such things as are of good report . . .
All of this takes effort and time. But if the result of that effort is honor and praise to the Lord, then it is effort and time well-spent.
Which leads to my fourth and final point.
4) Trust in the Lord with all your heart and not in your own understanding.
But if I don’t tell all those suspected bad things about candidate x, he might get elected (or re-elected) and that would be terrible! Our country might go right down the tubes.
Well, yes, that might happen.
But that is not the worst thing that could happen. Even worse than the total disappearance of my country would be any diminution of the honor given to the Lord when His word is fully obeyed.
My understanding might suggest to me that, if I don’t get others to vote the way I think they should, the cause of the Kingdom will be lost. But – praise the Lord! – the cause of the Kingdom does not ultimately rest in my hands. My Lord asks me to act according to His word and to leave the ultimate results to Him. That “leaving” is precisely where “trust in the Lord” happens.
Yes, speak the truth, speak it in love (another blog for what that means), but avoid broad blanket statements about other groups of His creatures and be sure that, when you do speak, you tell the WHOLE story and avoid the temptation to converse in tweets or sound bites.
As Jesus Himself suggested in the prayer He gave His disciples, when His will is done in the way we speak, His Kingdom comes . . . right then and right there.
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org ). He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan