It’s not uncommon for Americans to debate whether the Ten Commandments should be posted in public schools or on other government buildings. However, I’m much more concerned whether American Christians are posting what Protestants commonly call the 9th commandment – “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” – on their hearts.
Please don’t get me wrong; I love conservative Christians. Some people would look at my Southern Baptist heritage, not to mention my childhood spent in a military community in Kentucky, and describe me as one. However, it’s because of this heritage that I’m particularly grieved when my fellow Christians pass along lies in the name of “God and country.”
It grieves me that during the last presidential election my fellow Christians circulated rumors and e-mails calling Barack Obama a Muslim and denigrating his faith with almost violent emotion. A simple check of Snopes.com or Politifact.com could have cleared up the matter easily for them. (And we won’t even talk about how unkind it is to only perpetuate dark, violent portraits of Islam.)
I think we’ve forgotten to write, “Do not lie” on our hearts.
It saddens me when I log into social networking sites only to see messages such as “The President is cancelling the National Day of Prayer, but he allows Muslims to pray. If you think we should be allowed our own day of prayer, then repost this.” The same lie ran rampant through e-mail forwards, but a simple check at Snopes.com shows that there is no truth to the story. This rumor circulated for some time, which makes it extremely ironic that currently the president’s administration is fighting in federal court to keep the National Day of Prayer.
When I pointed out the facts of the matter to some Christians propagating the rumors, how did one respond? “Who cares? He still needs to go!” Who cares indeed, Christians, if we obey the Jesus who called himself “the Way, the Truth and the Life”? And who cares if we write the 9th Commandment on our hearts?
I’m bothered also when pro-life groups, highly affiliated with conservative evangelicals, send me messages saying that President Obama is a liar and the health care bill is anti-life – despite the strong anti-abortion measures in the bill. Who cares if we’re truthful, as long as we win? Is that the deepest we can go in our moral discernment?
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I’m also concerned that conservative groups like ParentalRights.org so easily ignore the fact that the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child puts parental care and guidance at the heart of caring for children with its provisions in Articles 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14 and so on. I’m worried, for example, because they pass around fear-based myths saying children can sue their parents for all decisions they disagree with under the international treaty.
It scares me that some are so willing to denigrate the most valued human rights document in history – one signed by every U.N. member nation except the U.S. and Somalia. As a little girl in a Southern Baptist church, I memorized Matthew 28:18-19, which says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Was “tell the truth” not supposed to be part of this global witness?
I’m grieved when professing, born-again Christians use inflamed rhetoric and call the president a socialist, Marxist or Communist. Were we absent on the days that our teachers taught the real definitions of those terms in middle school social studies? Sarcasm aside, I’m concerned that we so easily give into name-calling, hyperbole and “false witness” whenever we don’t get our way.
Christians, we should be the first to uphold our neighbors in truth, including the present administration as much as the last one. I know there are a lot of Christians hurting in our nation, that many of you wish the last election had turned out differently, but that’s not an excuse to set aside God’s teachings. If anything, it makes it all the more important for you to cling to them, check out rumors and to pray to the God of truth to equip you with kindness, hope and forgiveness.
Sisters and brothers, you have the right to express your views in political forums as much as anyone else. You have the right to cherished beliefs, but don’t lose what makes your faith vibrant in the process of expressing your anger. Be careful that you don’t lose your integrity – and your community’s integrity – in how you express your politics.
Don’t forget that God wants the Ten Commandments written on his followers’ hearts much more than buildings, and that he wants this in victory or defeat – even in the arena of politics and – before you say it – yes, even if others aren’t acting this way. Dear Christians, without honesty and kindness, without integrity lived out in faithfulness, what good can we truly be for our Jesus?
Laura M. Rector is a doctoral student in Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary.