Truth Telling Matters

Brian Williams’s leave of absence due to concerns about his truthfulness is just the highest profile of a long line of individuals who have stretched the truth.  It is interesting to me that the truth matters so much to Americans in a news anchor, but so little in our political leaders.  Politicfact.com has four pages of untruths told by our current president, but I don’t hear anyone calling for him to take a sabbatical.  President Obama’s recent comments at the National Prayer Breakfast –invoking slavery and the Crusades as examples of how people have “committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ”—may not have been strictly untrue, but they certainly were misleading.  Let’s dissect them.

First, if the President wants to compare Christianity’s failings to Islam’s, slavery is not a good place to start.  Islam’s connection to slavery is quite well documented.  I am not even going to get into the obvious argument related the pivotal role Christians played in outlawing slavery both in the British Empire and in America.  Second, as many fact checkers have already noted, the Crusades have been understood for generations as defensive wars against previous Islamic aggression.  Some historians have suggested that they were offensive actions driven by papal prerogatives, but even those assertions must be understood within the context of the previous half of a millennium.   Regardless of the veracity of the President’s poorly used historical allusions, those who use such arguments fail to recognize the long history of Christian actions since the Crusades.  One Presidential partisan tried to turn the statement around suggesting that he was actually slamming Muslims by suggesting they were 600 years behind Christians in their development of civilized living.  I have to give him credit for digging deep into the bag of tricks to find that one, but I am afraid he hurts the President more than he helps him.  The fact that we have to go back so many centuries (it is actually closer to 900 years), suggests that the comparison is hardly helpful today.

Second, why is the President working so hard to avoid offense?  I can remember back in the 1980s when a handful of mentally unstable individuals who called themselves Christians bombed abortion clinics.  Public statements about them were quick to align them with Christianity proper and, in particular, with the Pro-Life movement.  The Pro-Life organizations promptly distanced themselves from those individuals, but the tarring continued.  In today’s America, the nation’s president refuses to refer to the Taliban as terrorists.  Is it any wonder that HarperCollins published an atlas for schools in the Middle East that failed to include Israel?  The story was hardly a blip in the news cycle, but when the Texas Board of Education thought that the influence of Judeo-Christian thought on the development of the United States was worthy of inclusion in their school textbooks, the internet blew up.

Finally, I think it is worth stating the obvious here. While the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS members in Libya occurred after the President’s remarks at the Prayer Breakfast, the martyrdom of these men highlights the fact that ISIS claims to be acting in the interests of their faith.  The 21 men were killed because they were Christians.  Since September 11, 2001, we have seen this assertion made by various groups time and time again.  The numbers of those involved in these actions are significant and the connection between them and the Islamic faith has been made by the terrorists themselves, not by the West.

The Bible is clear about the importance of truth.  It can set us free (John 8:32).  The Son of God referred to Himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), suggesting that truth is at the very heart of the character of God.  The biblical principle applies very well this discussion.  If Islam is truly a religion of peace, then it does not need half-truths and misleading comments to defend it by our leaders.  The President, his pundits, and the media would do well to focus on telling the truth.  Both Christians and Muslims alike will benefit from having the truth prevail.  Apparently, the only way this is going to happen is if the American people demand it.  The Brian Williams story suggests there is still some hope that we can require the truth.  Perhaps we ought to be more consistent in our pleas.

13 thoughts on “Truth Telling Matters”

  1. Thank you for the integrative emphasis of your post, Tom—it brings to mind our Lord’s prayer for his disciples in John 17:7 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” May we all cherish and be changed by the Word of truth daily.

  2. Keep telling the truths that have turned America into a country divided where morals are loss, government is corrupt and leadership has failed.

  3. ” I am not even going to get into the obvious argument related the pivotal role Christians played in outlawing slavery both in the British Empire and in America.”

    To be fair and objective and indeed consistent with truth, shouldn’t you ALSO point out the pivotal role many Christians played in establishing [the transatlantic version of] slavery, defending slavery, fighting against efforts to outlaw slavery, establishing Jim Crow, promoting the 1920’s-era manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan, defending segregation, and then opposing the Civil Rights Movement?

    If we choose to ignore certain inglorious aspects of the history of the United States and of the history of Christianity we risk failing to learn some important lessons. Have a nice day.

      1. Pride goes before a fall.

        In particular, Christians have often approached their study of the Bible not with humility, but with hubris. As a result, Christians were responsible for great human suffering.

        In the past they were absolutely convinced that Exodus mandated that they should burn witches, because thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Tens of thousands of individuals were sent to deaths or, if they were lucky, lived the rest of their short lives in pain from being tortured.

        In the past Christians argued that the Bible defended slavery (and it does, if one interprets those verses as being historically relevant forever). They were absolutely convinced of it. They argued it in their pulpits. They found a civil war in this nation over it (largely over it); the slogan was Deo vindice,” Latin for “God will vindicate us.” Alas, despite their hubris, God was not.

        The lessons were still not learned. Jim Crow was instituted after Reconstruction ended, and once again, Genesis 9 was cited to support the resulting human rights abuses. Christians were absolutely convinced they were doing God’s will, as they reestablished the Christian terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan.

        Need I go into the [white] Christian opposition to the Civil Rights Movement and how BJU only ended its segregated dating policy only after national embarrassment? Bob Jones and his sons were absolutely convinced that the Bible defended their policy, and then, viola, the policy went away shortly after GW Bush’s infamous visit.

        Now we are in 2015, and Christians once again are absolutely convinced that it is OK to discriminate against homosexuals. How long will it be until evangelicals express shame at the Christians of today, Christians who today put THEIR pride over their humanity?

  4. It angers me that our President continues to hide away from the real reasons why ISIS is making their attacks. Everything is motivated by religion, and it’s sad that Obama will not admit to that truth. I’m tired of the political game where dishonesty has become a person’s best friend, with almost no consequence involved. The truth is clearly being hidden from the American people, but why? What is there to lose when labeling Taliban as they are, terrorists, or proclaiming ISIS as a Muslim revolt against Christians. Those are both true, so why shy away from what is factual?

  5. I agree that we should hold all politicians and news reporters to the same standard of truth. Half-truths and misleading comments should not be tolerated and should be set right immediately. It’s great that Brian Williams was finally made to answer for his dishonesty, and I think that standard should be applied to more leaders and reporters in our country.

  6. To respond to Mr. Adams, he asserts we must remember the “pivotal role of Christians” in establishing transatlantic slavery, defending slavery, fighting against efforts to outlaw slavery, establishing Jim Crow laws, opposing the civil rights movement, defending segregation, and supporting the Ku Klux Klan. He seems to want to do this to make a particular point of Christianity or the United States in general as problematic. But no one is ignoring those issues–in fact, among some it looks like we should be forced not only to remember them but somehow continually “atone” for them indefinitely.

    But even on those issues, let’s get the full truth. To implicate Christians in all of that as “pivotal” is misleading. For example, the beginning of transatlantic slavery cannot be blamed on Christians alone, or even primarily, as every single nation of the world, as well as tribal groups in Africa, participated. Yes it was abominable, but be careful in assessing blame disproportionately. Moreover, it was non-Christian slave traders who instigated this, aided by the sanction of rulers who were nominally monarchs of Christian nations, but only formally. Is that Christianity as it ought to be? No. But neither did it represent all of the Christian faith–to turn the words of those admonishing us not to implicate all Islam in terrorism. Remember these rulers were nominally Christian, and the state was nominally (only formally) Christian.

    I could go on, but this is just one example. My point is not to absolve Christians from any wrong-doing, but to make it clear that one cannot blame Christians for everything bad that has occurred. And just as one cannot blame all Muslims for terrorism, one cannot blame all Christians even in the eras in which these sins occurred–for example, there was fierce debate about slavery in the US before the Civil War, so obviously everyone was not agreed. Moreover, if one can make an argument that the current radical Islamic ideas are only one (unorthodox) interpretation of Islam (though whether it is considered unorthodox is open to question), so the actions of Christians (or so-called Christians) may also be said to represent but one really wrong interpretation of the Christian Bible, one not held universally even in those days.

    On another note, it might be useful to look at the Progressive/Liberals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for some illuminating examples of blatant racism, eugenics, etc. These people were not Christians and in fact disdained orthodox Christianity as primitive and irrational. So let’s remember that truth is also comprehensive.

    1. Marc, your response was filled with sophistry is unfortunate.

      I did not say that . Indeed, I pointed out here in this blog that Muslims enslaved Christians during the era of the transatlantic slave trade, in particular, in the Barbary Coast area.

      “the beginning of transatlantic slavery cannot be blamed on Christians alone, or even primarily, as every single nation of the world, as well as tribal groups in Africa, participated.” No, you are wrong about history here. Not every single nation in the world participated in the transatlantic slave trade.

      “He seems to want to do this to make a particular point of Christianity or the United States in general as problematic. ” Please stop with the mind reading. You are bearing false witness against me. Please address what I SAY.

      ” Remember these rulers were nominally Christian.” This ia fallacy of reasoning known as no true Scotsman. OF course, Christians today can say that, but

      Were Christians largely responsible for the rise of the KKK in the late 1910’s and 1920’s to the point that the Klan was invited to solicit members during worship? Yes they were.

      Were Christians in America primarily responsible for establishing Jim Crow, for USING THE BIBLE TO DEFEND IT

      1. The message above was prematurely sent. I did not press send; frankly, I don’t know what happened. Please replace with the message below. Thank you. :-)

        Marc, your response was filled with sophistry. That is unfortunate.

        I did not say that “the beginning of transatlantic slavery” should be blamed “on Christians alone.” Indeed, I pointed out here in this blog that Muslims enslaved Christians during the era of the transatlantic slave trade, in particular, in the Barbary Coast area.

        You said, “the beginning of transatlantic slavery cannot be blamed on Christians alone, or even primarily, as every single nation of the world, as well as tribal groups in Africa, participated.” No, you are wrong about history here. Not every single nation in the world participated in the transatlantic slave trade.

        “He seems to want to do this to make a particular point of Christianity or the United States in general as problematic.” Please stop with the mind reading. You are bearing false witness against me. Please address what I SAY.

        ” Remember these rulers were nominally Christian.” This is a fallacy of reasoning known as “no true Scotsman.”

        Was the Confederacy’s constitution nominally Christian as well, despite the fact that it is more openly Christian than the U.S. Constitution, which is generally seen as a secular document established on secular principles made popular during a largely secular movement known as the Enlightenment?

        You seem to address only my comments on slavery. Let’s get beyond that, please.

        Were Christians largely responsible for the rise of the KKK in the late 1910’s and 1920’s to the point that the Klan was invited to solicit members during worship? Yes they were. I wish that had not happened, but it did. Supremely confident Christians thought that God was on their side.

        Were Christians in America primarily responsible for establishing Jim Crow, for USING THE BIBLE TO DEFEND IT? Yes, they were. I wish that had not happened, but it did. Once again, supremely confident Christians thought that God was on their side.

        Did white Christians largely support the Civil Rights Movement, esp in the South, or did they generally stand in the way, often arguing that the Movement was an ungodly communist plot? The evidence is that in general they opposed it. Some still do.

        Indeed, I find it sad that CPAC invited a white nationalist group to its upcoming conference. I will await this blog’s condemnation of such a choice. Have a nice day.

  7. I literally read almost this entire article out-loud to my roommate. It is shameful how the current administration attempts to villianize Christians and laud Muslims. I do not get the connection. Yes, Christians have made mistakes, but to take events from history out of context and therefore associate all Christians as racist bigots is entirely untrue and unfair. Thank you Dr. Mach for such a great article!

  8. To Jeff Adams:
    I like the term “sophistry.” Maybe not, but my response was not mere rhetoric. OK, let’s get down to “brass tacks.” What is it you want to accomplish here? If it is to get us Christians to admit that Christianity has not always been prefect, you have no argument from me. It isn’t perfect and hasn’t been. But if you want me to relativize Christianity and Islam, I do have an objection. They have always been quite different and their differences continue, especially in the realm of war, terrorism, attitudes toward women, etc. The Bible does not for example teach racial slavery–and it never did, except of course among some who did misinterpret it. But who among Christians does that now–really you couldn’t find more than a handful in the world. Slavery in the Old Testament was not based on one’s race at all, but other criteria (even voluntary sometimes).

    Note: No, I didn’t mean literally every nation participated in slvery, of, course. But it was widespread and we both know it.

    As for Jim Crow laws, and Civil Rights, you generalize as to support and opposition. Christians did support KKK, Jim Crow and Christians did oppose Civil Rights, but your words imply you meant only Christians and all Christians in the South. Is that what you meant? Surely not, but…

    That leads me back to my question: What exactly is your argument? I have seen criticism of others, but no actual argument from you. I would be very interested to know what you do think on issues such as Christianity in general, Islam in contrast or comparison, the “war on terrorism,” and how the US government ought to be thinking about Islamic terrorists.

    As for inviting a “white nationalist”group to CPAC, well that is bad. But I don’t know under what circumstances they are there. If applications are open, then what do you do? We have free association in the US. So I don’t know whether they were actually invited. If they were and if they are “white nationalists” that was wrong. But you will forgive me if I would like to know who it was first, since just because one defines a group as “white nationalist” does not necessarily mean they are.

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